Top executives from Essar Steel Algoma's global parent were in the Sault yesterday, charting a course to reclaim ownership of the local mill and mingling with Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne at a Bellevue Park barbecue.
SooToday's Jeff Klassen reports that about 10 representatives of Essar Global from India, the United Kingdom and New York joined Premier Wynne and 100 or more locals last night over burgers and sublimely mystical Pino's sausages.
The Essar brass included Rewant Ruia (declared by the Mumbai Mirror three years ago to be one of India's most eligible billionaire bachelors) and his executive assistant Amar Kapadia.
Also on hand was Waseem Iqbal, Essar Global's deputy general manager.
"We put in a bid for Stelco and are preparing to for Algoma Steel," Iqbal told Klassen. "We remain committed to Ontario and the rest of the community."
If the large contingent of Essar Global brass is an encouraging sign of the parent company's ongoing interest in the Sault, there was little concrete hope offered by Premier Wynne when asked earlier in the day whether she'd be willing to consider further assistance to the steelmaker.
"We're already there. We've already put supports in place. $30 million that was in place for Essar Steel," the premier said.
But when pressed by reporters, Wynne confirmed that the $30 million was a provincial grant announced one year ago, three months before the Sault steelmaker filed for court protection under the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA).
"Because there's a process going on right now, I don't think it's helpful for us to wade into the details," Wynne said.
"We've been working with this company, and in fact, when I was in India, I met with the [Ruia] family. We're very aware of the work that the family's been doing and have been supportive and working with the company for a number of years."
"We've been working with Essar for some time on the [CCAA] process that is underway right now. We have to let that unfold. We're committed to the steel industry in Ontario. It's very important to me that we have a steel industry. This is an international concern, particularly North American concern, that we have a strong steel industry. My hope is that the process will be a good one and that we have a strong industry and we'll be able to see a great outcome," the premier said.
Sault MPP David Orazietti said that he has met recently with Mike Da Prat of Steelworkers Local 2251 and the Ruia family has also held talks with union officials this week.
A Toronto judge will be asked on August 18 to open the Essar Algoma restructuring process to other prospective purchasers.
The same day that the province announced its $30 million grant one year ago, the federal government committed to loan the same amount.
"We would all like to see that converted to a grant as well," Orazietti said.
"I think it's great that the leader of the Opposition has shown up in Sault Ste. Marie," said the Sault MPP, referring to a visit last week by Ontario Conservative Leader Patrick Brown.
Brown said he'd be willing to consider provincial aid to Essar Steel Algoma, provided that all of the steelmaker's local debts are satisfied.
"I didn't hear that they would, if government, commit to a certain amount of money either," Orazietti told reporters today.
Premier Wynne is on a week-long jaunt to more than a dozen Northern Ontario communities.
Today, Premier Wynne and Thunder Bay-Superior North MPP Michael Gravelle will enjoy a blissfully media-free morning at Pancake Bay Provincial Park, followed by an afternoon meeting in Wawa with Mayor Ron Rody.