Except for a chance to tell stories about braving temperatures of 40 below and winds that whip across the Canadian tundra from Hudson Bay, there seemed to be little reason for 15 Quebec politicians to travel 1,000 km last week to the northern Quebec mining community of Schefferville. The provincial parliamentary commission was ostensibly there to examine the Iron Ore Co. of Canada’s decision to close its Schefferville operations at the end of July, throwing 151 miners out of work and devastating the one-company town’s economic base. But from the outset the saga of Schefferville was merely the backdrop to the real show. The two days of hearings focused instead on partisan gamesmanship among four Parti Québécois cabinet ministers and 11 PQ and Liberal back-benchers. Attention also turned to the political aspirations of IOC President Brian Mulroney, the once and almost certainly future contender for the federal Conservative leadership.
Mulroney insisted that he was not in Schefferville to speculate about whether he will run against Joe Clark. “Politics is my vocation and my hobby. Business is my responsibility. In seven years I’ve never once mixed the two,” he said, in his first public appearance since the Winnipeg Conservative convention. Then Mulroney emphasized what he described as his “shyness” to answer political questions and he teased commis-
sioners with glimpses of how he might solve national economic problems if “I only were a politician.”
Brandishing a bright red pointer, he tapped out a feisty defence of IOC policy on an elaborate series of charts, as Quebec Energy Minister Yves Duhaime asked questions and miners wearing SAVE THE NORTH buttons softly catcalled “Brian Baloney.”
Mulroney argued that although IOC was badly hurt by the falling world price of iron ore, it had invested $1.3 billion (U.S.) in its northern Quebec and Labrador operations as of Dec. 31,1981, and an additional $500 million (U.S.) in the past year. The shutdown also affects operations at the company’s mine 200 km south in Labrador City, where 2,500 workers will lose their jobs, 500 of them permanently.
Mulroney noted that from 1971 until 1979 the company was unable to pay dividends to its shareholders. And he added that 1980 and 1981 dividend payments of $82 and $92 million respectively did little to compensate for the losses.
Few observers expect the provincial commission to produce any concrete solutions to the problem. For one thing, it has no independent power to take remedial action. For another, it does not even have a mandate to file a report. “When a government wishes to wash its hands of an issue, they appoint some kind of commission,” said one cynical resident.^
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