Preserving Nova Scotia’s Communities

Nova Scotians are anxious to protect and preserve the many aspects of our province that make it such an attractive place to live, work, and play. We do not always ask ourselves to list what those aspects are.

We would like our streams and rivers to flow with clean water that supports abundant wildlife. We want to preserve the natural beauty of our coastlines, and our farms and forests.

Sometimes the urge to protect those from every form of resource development puts other treasures of our province at risk.

Nova Scotia is blessed with attractive towns and villages in every part of the province. Most of them have long histories.

Many of them, especially those more than 100 kilometers from the urban core of Halifax, are already in decline. In 2016 Liverpool’s population of 2,549 was down 16% over the last 20 years, and down 31% since 1961. The decline in young people is much greater; 30% of the population is 65 or older.

The comparable declines in Springhill are 35% in the last 20 years and 53% since 1961. For Cape Breton Regional Municipality, the declines are 18% and 28%.

Declines like these are occurring in many more communities. Some of them are due to the greatly reduced coal industry because major employers like Sydney Steel or Bowater close. As well, greater mechanization means that tree harvesting requires fewer, higher-paying jobs. Larger boats with better gear mean that fewer, better-paid fishermen are needed to harvest most species.

There are nevertheless many opportunities.

Aquaculture is a rapidly growing industry worldwide. By far the largest portion is marine based finfish, primarily salmon. Nova Scotia’s production has been stagnant for several years as a result of a moratorium on new sites begun in 2013 and continued until recently. During that period a much more robust regulatory environment has been put in place.

Most Nova Scotians are now supportive of the industry, but we can still expect some shrill voices of opposition to be heard. Nevertheless, Fisheries and Aquaculture Minister Keith Colwell is now strongly supportive of strong, responsible growth of the marine finfish industry.

Forestry is the most geographically diverse industry in the province with harvesting and/or processing happening in every county. There are 6,100 direct jobs, almost double the employment at Nova Scotia’s three Michelin plants. There are between 25,000 and 30,000 private woodlot owners, who own and control what happens in 65% of the forests.

Knocking down trees reduces habitat for wildlife. So does every other human resource development, such as wind turbines which continue to kill birds after they are built. The trees grow back.

Some people flying into Halifax find it upsetting to see evidence of a clearcut from the air. The trade-off is that it is safer for workers and helps the industry to be cost-competitive. Some of the wood is used as a bio-fuel, which is not great but is much better than fossil fuels. The trees grow back. We are in no danger of running out.

Mining and quarrying, which provide about 3,000 jobs, are enjoying a bit of a resurgence in Nova Scotia with gold-bearing properties on the Eastern Shore being newly exploited.

Most mines are invisible except from the air. Few Nova Scotians would know about the 40-hectare gypsum mine employing 100 people a few miles east of highway 102. It and similar projects employ progressive reclamation schemes using overburden from new areas to backfill areas where the resource has been exhausted.

It is instructive that the Cabot Links golf course (ranked #43 in the world outside the US) is built on an abandoned coal mine. Building its sister course Cabot Cliffs (ranked #9) required a lot of trees to be knocked down. Most of the discomfited birds, being mobile, will have found new habitat in the plentiful neighbouring forests.

Those courses have brought enormous benefit to Inverness and the surrounding areas. They have revived what was a dying town. Yet, at the hint that a third course may be built, there are already voices of opposition.

Finally, there is fracking. The just released Onshore Petroleum Atlas points to a potential $20 billion-$60 billion resource. Replacing coal with that gas can substantially reduce our carbon footprint.

The best land-based opportunities are in west Hants, Cumberland, and Colchester counties, including many lightly populated areas.

It would be wrong for the province to bulldoze ahead, given the present political climate. But if fracking was half as bad as the opponents make out the people of Saskatchewan, Alberta, and BC would be up in arms.

In fact, NDP governments elected in Alberta, and more recently in BC, have continued to welcome the industry. People there generally understand and accept the tradeoffs.

It would be instructive for groups of Nova Scotian politicians and community leaders to visit those provinces, where the risks are well understood and managed. Perhaps that would lead to better informed decision making.

Resource industries do not ask for handouts to create jobs for communities. They just want a sound and predictable set of rules to follow.

Activists like to call for environmental impact statements for almost any resource initiative, even if the proposal is clearly within the established regulatory framework. Often, this is just a delaying tactic.

If they must happen, let those investigations include impact on the viability of the communities, and the people living in them, that would profit from the proposals. Jobs are necessary for human habitats to survive. The people living in those communities deserve the opportunity to remain and prosper.


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