As northern Saskatchewan braces for massive layoffs with the indefinite shutdown of Cameco’s McArthur River and Key Lake operations, impacting 550 employees, Athabasca MLA Buckley Belanger says it’s time the government invest now into affected communities.

“Quite frankly, I think it’s time for both levels of senior government to step up. We’ve long maintained the province cannot simply continue counting on Cameco, that they must have an action plan that involves the north as well,” Belanger said. “They chose to ignore the north and as a result of that, you’re seeing the one mainstay of the provincial economy, that being Cameco is struggling.”

Cameco CEO Tim Gitzel says the layoffs are the result of weaker than expected markets and net losses of $76 million. The uranium mining company says about 200 employees will remain on at the McArthur River and Key Lake sites. Cameco expects to incur as much $45 million in severance costs as a result of the layoffs.

Belanger says the Cameco decision is just another challenge northerners will have to grapple with.

“Our thoughts are with the employees and families who are affected by this news. Saskatchewan’s Rapid Response Team will be reaching out to Cameco to offer and provide assistance to the employees impacted by this decision,” Minister of Energy and Resources Bronwyn Eyre said in a statement.

“The mining sector plays an important role in bringing jobs and economic growth to our province. Saskatchewan accounted for 22 per cent of the world’s primary uranium production in 2017. Cameco is an exceptional corporate citizen, providing employment opportunities to many of Saskatchewan’s northern and First Nations and Métis people. The company has traditionally been the largest employer of Indigenous people in Canada.”

Belanger being the optimist says that Cameco did not use the word “permanent” in describing the shutdown and hopes the operations will resume production soon.

Gitzel says the price of uranium must improve to justify restarting McArthur River and Key Lake.

(With files from Fraser Needham)

(PHOTO: McArthur River uranium mine. Photo courtesy of Cameco.)