PICTOU COUNTY – "We believe five years was long enough."
That's how Premier Stephen McNeil summed up a very difficult situation for his government and the people of Nova Scotia as he announced the Jan. 31, 2020 deadline for Northern Pulp to stop pumping its effluent into Boat Harbour, at the Pictou Landing First Nations, will be enforced.
"We are no closer to moving out of Boat Harbour than we were when we passed the (Boat Harbour Act) in 2015," he said at a press conference Friday morning, Dec. 20. "It is now time to look at a new future and a new transition for our sawmills across the province.
"And let me be clear," he said. "There will be no extension."
On Dec. 19, the CEO of Northern Pulp's parent company, Paper Excellence Canada, had said that without an extension, the mill would have to close. Large rallies were held the same day by both sides of the very divisive issue.
At the press conference, McNeil placed blame for the situation squarely on the shoulders of the leadership of Northern Pulp.
"They've had five years to do the right thing. And I was hoping it wouldn't come to this...I'm disappointed to say the least. Now I have to turn my attention to the workers in the mill, at the sawmills across Nova Scotia and private woodland owners and all those who work in the forest sector in every corner of our province. I know this could not have come at a worse time for you, but the company has failed to respect the timelines given to them."
McNeil announced a $50-million transition fund to support displaced workers across the province, small contractors and all those whose livelihoods will be affected. The transition fund will be used for retraining and education, and for emergency funding to help those in immediate need.
"We will also be working with the federal government to support the workers affected," he said. "I know this is hard on a lot of people...but I also want you to know you are not alone."
Premier McNeil said his government will work to help the forestry industry transition to a new future.
"And it's my hope that those who are still in the sector today will work with us to look to diversify markets so that we can have, quite frankly, an industry that is not solely reliant on one customer for the chips and sawmills across this province, that we have an actually competitive environment when it comes to that product."
Northern Pulp is not forced to pull up stakes and leave the province, McNeil argued. "There is plenty of opportunity for the company to build a new modern treatment facility which quite frankly functions in lots of mills across this country and globally but we are no closer to that to that reality than we were in 2015. And I would encourage the company to continue on the path to working with the regulator to be able to do that and hopefully they will see a future for themselves in Nova Scotia as part of the forestry sector."
McNeil said the standards for how N.S. does business have changed over the decades, citing some historical wrong-doings.
"In the 60s it was acceptable to put our dumps next to African Nova Scotia communities," he said. "Somehow our ancestors thought that was okay. It's not today. Nor is it okay to allow Boat Harbour (dumping) to continue and I believe it was put there because it is next to the Aboriginal community."
The premier has put together a transition team to be led by Kelliann Dean, deputy minister of Intergovernmental Affairs and Trade. She will be supported internally by the departments of Finance and Treasury Board, Lands and Forestry and Labour and Advanced Education, as well as a team from outside government including the president of Nova Scotia Community College, Don Bureaux, and representatives from each sector of the industry.
Progressive Conservative leader Tim Houston called Friday a "devastating day for thousands of Nova Scotian families" in a statement Friday. "I am totally gutted for them and our community. No one wants to see their friends, neighbours, and fellow Nova Scotians lose their jobs."
"I don’t have answers right now, but as I have more information, I will communicate it," Houston said. "There is a future for forestry here. I will do whatever I can to make sure of it.”
Northern Pulp registered its effluent treatment plant project for environmental assessment on Feb. 7, 2019 and submitted a focus report on Oct. 2. On Dec. 17, the minister of environment announced there was not enough information to approve or reject the project.
The Boat Harbour Act passed in the House of Assembly with the support of all parties and it received Royal Assent on May 11, 2015.