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St. Marys mayor expresses disappointment in Maple Leaf Foods plant closure

A rendering of the new Maple Leaf Foods poultry processing facility, slated for construction in the spring on Wilton Grove Road at Highbury Avenue. Liny Lambrink / Global News

While the new Maple Leaf Foods plant will be a boon for London, it’s coming at the cost of three other facilities in Ontario.

The company’s plants in Brampton, Toronto and just outside of St. Marys, Ont., will be shuttered over the next few years, leaving 1,600 people out of work.

Maple Leaf Foods president and CEO Michael McCain has said the company will provide the employees with job opportunities at the London facility or the other plants it operates as well as services to help them eventually find new employment.

READ MORE: Maple Leaf Foods planning $660M, 1,500-job poultry-processing facility in London

The company said in a statement released Monday afternoon that Maple Leaf would work with local communities to find alternate uses for the facilities.

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McCain acknowledged the jobs being introduced in London aren’t really “new,” but they will be more secure.

“It’s the same number, but they’re more secure jobs for the next number of decades,” he said, adding that employees in St. Marys, Brampton and Toronto have between two to three years to transition into other jobs, either inside or outside the company.

St. Marys Mayor Al Strathdee admitted he was surprised by the news and said commuting or moving to London may not be an option for many of the company’s current employees.

“We’ve been told these people will be offered jobs and so forth, but if you have to commute, there’s weather conditions in the climate we live in so it’s not always better for people to be relocated, and it means upheaval,” he said. “If you have a kid in daycare or all these type of things, it can mean a total lifestyle change so it’s very disappointing.”

READ MORE: GM Oshawa plant closing could affect nearly 15 per cent of auto industry jobs

Strathdee is disappointed with the upper levels of government for forgetting to support rural areas.

“I take my hat off to London. They have a good strategy and so forth, and good for them, they have good transportation and other things that sometimes we lack, but the reality is that as these rural communities continue to struggle, it’s not good for us as a country,” he said.

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“Bigger isn’t better, and in politics there seems to be a focus on numbers, on mass numbers, and we’re urbanizing at a rapid rate when, in reality, what built this country is rural areas with the food and agriculture and so forth, and sometimes they forget where this country came from,” Strathdee added.

The St. Marys facility will shut down by late 2021, while the others will be closed by mid- to late 2022.

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