An election tussle has now erupted over the long-dismantled Skeena Cellulose pulp mill on Watson Island, shown here in a 2013 photo. (File photo The Northern View)

An election tussle has now erupted over the long-dismantled Skeena Cellulose pulp mill on Watson Island, shown here in a 2013 photo. (File photo The Northern View)

Wilkinson, Horgan tagged over pulp mill file and legal battle

Case dates back to attempt to re-open closed Skeena Celluose pulp mill

A years-ago abortive attempt to re-open an aging pulp mill on Watson Island has surfaced in these last days of the provincial election campaign with both the NDP and the BC Liberals trying to attach the names of each others leaders to what turned out to be a protracted legal saga.

At issue is the purchase by a Chinese-owned company called Sun Wave in the mid-2000s of the closed Skeena Cellulose pulp mill and its property under a promise to restart operations of what was once a key economic driver in Prince Rupert and in communities east along Hwy16.

That re-opening never happened and after a lengthy legal and expensive battle between the City of Prince Rupert and Sun Wave over unpaid property taxes, the City, in 2018, took complete possession of the property.

The events featured in an Oct. 17 news conference held by Stikine NDP candidate Nathan Cullen and North Coast NDP incumbent Jennifer Rice in which they said BC Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson worked on the re-opening plan when he was employed by the former BC Liberal government in 2005 and 2006 and then, when in private legal practice, represented Sun Wave in its court case with the City of Prince Rupert.

Part of the re-opening plan agreed to involved a tax holiday granted Sun Wave by the City of Prince Rupert.

“When Sun Wave backed out of the bad deal Wilkinson put together, he cashed in and helped the company sue the taxpayers of Prince Rupert,” Cullen said in a release.

“He looked out for himself and BC Liberal donors, and the people of Prince Rupert paid the price.”

The NDP release was accompanied by supporting documents indicating companies involved with Sun Wave donated $15,000 to the BC Liberals.

It also stated the legal case cost the City of Prince Rupert $3.5 million.

In response, a BC Liberal statement said NDP leader John Horgan worked for the NDP government of 1991-2001. During that period Skeena Celluose slid into bankruptcy and the NDP government of the day, in an effort to keep the mill functioning, “spent $500 million on the mill and drove it into the ground.”

Following the NDP government’s defeat in 2001 by the BC Liberals, the mill was closed, placing the assets and property into a position that Sun Wave made the deal for its purchase.

The BC Liberal statement also defended Wilkinson’s hiring by Sun Wave to be its legal representative.

“Andrew Wilkinson was a practising lawyer when he represented Sun Wave, not a public servant, and they had the right for fair legal representation,” the statement said.

“The NDP is trying to vilify him for doing a job that he was hired to do and it’s quite a stretch to blame him for the Watson Island pulp mill fiasco.

“The BC Liberals also worked to secure an LNG plant for Prince Rupert but that was decisively rejected by Jennifer Rice and the NDP.”