MONTREAL - AbitibiBowater accused the Newfoundland government of hypocrisy Tuesday for turning to the courts to gain access to the insolvent paper giant's data room while denying the company a similar right during last year's expropriation.
As part of the expropriation of the Grand Falls plant, the province expressly denied Abitibi's access to the courts, leaving its only recourse to be a trade claim filing.
"They're going to pursue their rights in court and frankly that's a right that we don't have," AbitibiBowater spokesman Seth Kursman said in an interview.
The company said it is owed more than $300 million from the expropriation of its various assets.
It has yet to make good on its April filing of a notice of intent to submit a claim to arbitration under the North American Free Trade Agreement.
The ongoing spat between the province and Montreal-based AbitibiBowater will play out in a Quebec courtroom after the government formally sought access to the electronic data room to keep tabs on the company's financial health.
The province said it is being "unfairly discriminated" by AbitibiBowater's refusal to afford it access to information that allows stakeholders and creditors to assess the ongoing condition of Abitibi's business.
"The province must be treated in the same manner as Abitibi's other stakeholders and creditors," it said in a motion to the Quebec Superior Court.
Newfoundland and Labrador claims reimbursement of more than $24 million spent on severance and termination expenses to former AbitibiBowater employees.
Newfoundland also said Abitibi has incurred environmental obligations resulting from its activities that spanned several decades.
For example, AbitibiBowater's plans to spend more than $2 million on remediation work at a mine in Buchans were disrupted by its filing for bankruptcy protection last April. Residents of the small central Newfoundland community were told to get blood tests to find out if they've been poisoned by lead.
The two sides have entered into an agreement giving the province's environmental consultants access to locations where Abitibi had operations to determine the extent of its environmental obligations.
The Department of National Resources said Tuesday that the province "has a public duty to inform itself about AbitibiBowater's present and potential ability to compensate Newfoundland and Labrador for costs and liabilities arising from their economic activities in the province."
That can only be done if it can make its own assessment about Abitibi's financial status in the same way as the company's other creditors and stakeholders.
A hearing date has not been set.
But Kursman said it's up to the court to determine Newfoundland's status.
"We've got a range of issues in Newfoundland and hopefully we in short order are able to come up with a global resolution to all of our issues in the province," he said.
Meanwhile, AbitibiBowater is seeking a court order authorizing a $230 million interest-free super-priority secured loan financed from proceeds of its sale of a hydroelectric facility in Manicouagan, Quebec.