The provincial government has identified a potential buyer for the Tolko Industries kraft paper mill in The Pas and approved a new regulation aimed at helping secure the deal.

Tolko announced in August it planned to close the mill by Dec. 2, throwing more than 300 people out of work.

Tolko confirmed last month it had received a letter of intent to purchase the mill. The potential buyer has now been positively identified as American Industrial Acquisition Corporation (AIAC).

A new statutory regulation passed by the provincial government would allow AIAC to defer payments to the pension reserve fund — worth approximately $20 million — for a period of three years.

“This is a step in the right direction, but … this is not a done deal,” Premier Brian Pallister told reporters Friday. “We’ve made progress to date, but today is just another step … This is hopeful news for people of The Pas and the people of Manitoba but more work remains to be done.”

Workers, as well as those already collecting a pension, still have to vote on the deal, Pallister said.

“The approval of this offer hinges not solely on buyer and seller, but is in the hands of the workers,” Pallister said.

AIAC “has a positive record of turning companies around … (and) meeting its obligations,” Pallister said.

If the deal is ratified, workers could “seamlessly” transition from Tolko to their new employer, said The Pas Mayor Jim Scott.

“That’s gotta be seen as fantastic news,” Scott said.