Results of gold mine poll clear as mud, critics say

By Alec Bruce, Local Journalism Initiative reporter    
March 18 2020

SHERBROOKE – A poll that was supposed to clarify public opinion about a proposed gold mine along the St. Mary’s River appears to be having the opposite effect.

In a household survey of 700 Nova Scotians last month, Narrative Research of Halifax found that 76 per cent of them supported the Atlantic Gold project, which involves constructing an open pit mine at Cochrane Hill, pending the results of a federal environmental assessment. That same survey seemed to suggest that the closer to the prospective mine site residents lived, the more enthusiastically they endorsed it.

“Overall, three-quarters of residents support gold mining in Nova Scotia,” the polling firm, commissioned by Atlantic Gold to conduct the research, stated in its summary report. “Support is slightly higher in the community of interest, with eight in ten residents expressing support.”

Narrative Research defined the “community of interest” as the 338 residents of Pictou, Antigonish and Guysborough counties it polled. According to Margaret Brigley, the company’s CEO, in an email, “The 338-sample size provides a statistically reliable sample of public opinion in the communities surrounding the proposed site.”

She elaborated, “While the three counties included in the study cover a wide geographic area, the population in those areas is not extensive, and while some specific areas may be closer in vicinity to the proposed mine, those three counties are more directly impacted than other parts of the province.

“With that in mind, we oversampled neighboring communities, ensuring that at least 300 surveys were collected in those surrounding communities. A total of 338 surveys in those areas was included (which provides overall results of those counties that are statistically reliable +/-5.2%, 19 out of 20 times). We would have called most numbers in the area to achieve those completes.”

Not everyone in the area is convinced. In an email, Scott Beaver, president of the St. Mary’s River Association, and frequent critic of Atlantic Gold’s plans for the area, wrote, “I call it BS…The 2016 census says 70,672 people populated Guysborough, Pictou and Antigonish counties in total, which is the area referred to by Atlantic Gold’s “community of interest” in relation to the proposed Cochrane Hill mine. They surveyed 338 people out of 70,672. They surveyed less than 0.5 percent of the population.”

He added, “From every indication on the ground here, right now, with great certainty, the numbers are more likely reversed: 80 per cent against the Cochrane Hill gold mine and 20 per cent for. And that is being generous.”

The Narrative Research poll also found that “over eight in ten residents would be more inclined to increase their support (for) gold mining in Nova Scotia if a gold mining company were able to demonstrate there would be no negative effects on the environment. Meanwhile, one in ten residents would not change their attitude. Across communities and demographics, attitudes are highly consistent.”

In an email, Barbara Markovits, spokesperson of the Eastern Shore Forest Watch, said she wasn’t “surprised that Atlantic Gold has once again used a survey to try to wrongly give the impression of community acceptance of gold mining. If you asked the question ‘Would you support a nuclear waste dump in your community if it could be demonstrated that there would be no long-term environmental damage?’ no doubt a certain percentage of residents might agree with that, as well.”

The National Research summary report concluded, “Atlantic Gold commissioned this study because (they) are committed to helping rural Nova Scotia thrive. By creating high-paying jobs, people can build their lives here and return from working away – all while we protect the environment for generations to come.”

According to the St. Mary’s River Association website, “There are 16 settlements in the St. Mary's River watershed with an estimated total population size within the St. Mary's Municipal district of 2,587 people.”