01/16/2012 05:51 EST | Updated 03/17/2012 05:12 EDT

White Birch Paper Mill: Stadacona Plant Closure Prompts Meeting Quebec Government Action

MONTREAL - The Quebec government is exploring ways to revive the closed White Birch paper mill but doesn't want to hold out false hope to laid-off workers.

Economic Development Minister Sam Hamad met with company president Christopher Brant in Montreal on Monday.

Hamad said he told Brant he was disappointed the situation had deteriorated to the point where 600 people have lost their jobs.

Hamad also said the solution to the mill closure will be reached "between the owner and the workers."

U.S.-based White Birch Paper Co. announced late Thursday that the idled Stadacona plant was being closed permanently after its 600 unionized workers rejected a final company offer that would have slashed wages and pension benefits.

Brant said last week the rejection of the offer left the company no choice but to close the mill, which was already struggling amid the economic deterioration in the newsprint industry.

A government mediator is trying to bring the company and the workers together.

The mill's union says the company is demanding pay cuts of 20 per cent and reductions in pension benefits of between 45 and 65 per cent.

Hamad reiterated Quebec's willingness to help the company, either through financial assistance or with pension-fund relief.

Hamad will meet with representatives of the union on Tuesday.

Last week, Natural Resources Minister Clement Gignac said taxpayers won't be put on the hook to keep the facility open and that the private sector would have to make any major investments.

The company was the second-largest newsprint manufacturer in North America when it filed for bankruptcy protection in February 2010.

At the time it had about 1,300 employees at three pulp and paper mills and a saw mill in Quebec and a fourth pulp and paper mill in Virginia. The company manufactures high quality newsprint, directory paper and paperboard.