Balancing The Environment and The Economy

The Stanfield government agreed to take responsibility for the effluent going into Boat Harbour when the pulp plant was built in the 1960s. Then they did nothing about it. Neither did any government of any stripe for the next five decades. It is a disgrace and one that tarnishes the credibility of government’s environmental stewardship.

Premier McNeil’s decision to close the mill was the right one. The company had five years to put in place a satisfactory effluent treatment system. They did not even come up with a satisfactory plan. Looking at the history, they bet that the province would blink again. It didn’t.

The decision is enormously difficult for the many affected workers. Some commentators have argued that the province should be solving the effluent problem itself. That is wrong. That would be rewarding Northern Pulp for their failure to act. It would be a repeat of the original mistake fifty years ago.

Workers in the mill and forests may have likewise expected that the government would cave in. It has offered $50 million to help with the transition. The committee to oversee this appears to be just getting started, which is also a disgrace.

A year ago, it was evident that Northern Pulp would, at best, be late. A transition committee that included woodlot owners and truckers should have been active and visible for at least that long. That might have persuaded both the company and the affected workers that the government was serious.

The impact of the decision goes well beyond the forestry sector. It was necessary if the government is to have any credibility on environmental stewardship.

With that as context, consider CBC reports of a possible golf resort at Owls Head on the Eastern Shore. It is an area that had been earmarked for possible park status but was removed from that list so that the golf proposal could be evaluated.

The proposal is for up to three courses, hoping to emulate the enormous success and resulting economic benefit that Cabot Links has provided to Inverness and surrounding areas.

Some environmentalists are upset. Bonnie Sutherland of the Nova Scotia Nature Trust points to the endangered species known to live and, in some cases, nest on the land, including piping plovers and barn swallows. Other species of “conservation concern” include the ruby-crowned kinglet and common eider. There are “unique boreal and temperate plants and lichens” and Owls Head is one of nine sites in the province with “the globally rare coastal broom crowberry heathland ecosystem.”

The Ecology Action Centre says there is “a strong scientific and social case” for granting Owls Head legal protected status.

Both want the decision to consider the golf course proposal to be rescinded and Owls Head to immediately become off-limits for development.

Environment Minister Gordon Wilson responded saying “We always have the legislation in front of us to protect any piece of property down the road from significant environmental damage.”

“Any development that goes on any piece of property and touches on any kind of environmental sensitivities … there is a process that we have and it is within our regulatory world that we, I think, do a very good job ensuring that our environment and our significant areas are protected.”

Presumably, that assessment would provide the Ecology Action Centre with the opportunity to make its “strong scientific and social case”.

The province is close to its goal of designating 13% of the province’s area for protection. It announced 17 new and expanded protected areas at the end of September, with ten more this week.

Wilson said his responsibility is finding the balance between the need to protect land while addressing economic challenges, something that applies regardless of the land in question.

That mandate may result in acceptance in full of the golf course project, or acceptance subject to requirements that certain portions of the land be set aside for conservation purposes.

Neither outcome will satisfy ardent environmentalists who may not accept the balancing act that Wilson’s mandate requires. The Ecology Action Centre did not respond to a question about their view of the mandate.

The broader public will have a different view. Building a golf resort in several phases will create a lot of jobs in rural Nova Scotia, a matter of great urgency for the many workers displaced by the Northern Pulp decision.


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