Northern Pulp | Ecology Action Centre

Northern Pulp

Photo: G Farrell

On December 20, 2019, Premier Stephen McNeil confirmed that the commitment made to Pictou Landing First Nation will be upheld. Northern Pulp will need to stop pumping effluent into Boat Harbour as of January 31, 2020, to allow work to begin on the clean-up of half a century of toxic mess. 

The Ecology Action Centre commends Premier Stephen McNeil on the principled decision to uphold the Boat Harbour Act. For the first time in Nova Scotia’s history, a government has said no to a pulp mill’s coercive demands in defence of environmental protection, Indigenous rights and human health. It is a watershed moment -- a turn away from the old ways of allowing mass extraction and the pollution of the air, land and water. This decision could mark the start of a new, cleaner future and a livable planet for our decedents. 

A Brief History:

Since 1967, the pulp mill at Abercrombie Point has been polluting the air, land and water in Pictou County and beyond, including the once-pristine tidal lagoon known as A’se’k or Boat Harbour. In that time the succession of five different owners have failed to invest in the necessary pollution control equipment to reduce the mill’s emissions. The mill had a maximum industrial lifespan of 25 years. It is now 53 years old and breaking down badly. It had to come to an end.  

When the Boat Harbour Act was proclaimed in 2015, it was the responsibility of Northern Pulp to create a proposal for operating without using Boat Harbour. The latest owners had five years to come up with an environmentally acceptable alternative to using Boat Harbour as an industrial waste dump. They only ever offered one proposal -- to dump their treated effluent into the ocean instead.  

The proposed pipeline would have pumped up to 90 million litres of toxic pulp effluent each day into the Northumberland Strait, impacting the air, land, water and marine habitats along the Northumberland Strait. This was rightly seen by many Nova Scotians as an unacceptable demand. But all other alternatives were summarily dismissed by the company.  

Their ultimatum to the province was "no pipe equals no mill". They didn’t even bother to file their Environmental Impact Assessment documents until the final year.  

A Commitment Upheld:

We recognize how difficult a decision this was for the Premier. We applaud both the decision and his principled reasoning. This was not a mess of his making. He is simply the one who had to deal with it, and he has done so with integrity.  

We are proud to support the Mi’kmaq, the fishermen and their families, residents and tourism operators and we thank the thousands of citizens from across the province and beyond who stood up to help put an end to decades of pollution and environmental racism.  

We also support the forestry and mill workers who, through no fault of their own, have been hard hit by this situation. We strongly support and endorse the government’s creation of a $50 million Transition Fund to help support and retrain workers in the forestry industry and remain prepared to support further measures as needed as Nova Scotia works to implement a new Ecological Forestry paradigm. We encourage the government and the forestry industry to embrace this opportunity to now rapidly move towards Ecological Forestry and the commitments of the Lahey Independent Review of Forestry Practices and the Natural Resources Strategy.  

The government must avoid making the same mistakes of the past by simply trying to replace and feed the same overly high levels of industrial forest consumption for low-value products. Nova Scotia needs to move away from low-value pulpwood and woodchip production and towards a forest economy focused on producing high-value wood products from ecologically healthy forests.  

In making his announcement on December 20, 2019, Premier McNeil said “This industry needs to diversify. This is an opportunity for Nova Scotia to transition the forestry sector to a new future. This decision today will have the minister of Lands and Forestry looking at how do we address the recommendations from the Lahey Report in a shorter timeframe. This is a step towards making sure that as we continue to build an economy in Nova Scotia that we do so while protecting the environment for the future.” 

Soon after, in an interview on News 95.7, he said, “The message is that the environment and the economy can coexist and needs to coexist but one should not trump the other. We want investment in Nova Scotia but we also need to leave an environment for the next generation. It is not good enough for us to say that we’ll take the economic benefits (of a project or industry) but won’t leave an environment for our grandchildren and great-grandchildren. That’s just not acceptable to Nova Scotians.”  

We heartily agree. We hope to see more of this kind of holistic and forward-thinking leadership in 2020 and beyond as Nova Scotia works to do its part to combat the twin existential threats of the climate crises and biodiversity collapse.  

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