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LETTER: Province must do its duty on Boat Harbour cleanup

Comments by Environment Minister Iain Rankin pertaining to Boat Harbour were both reassuring and shocking. Reassuring, in that he recognized the environmental disaster and indicated it would be cleaned up regardless of cost. A proper cleanup of Boat Harbour, Canso Chemicals, the pulp mill site and transmission pipes will likely cost a billion dollars – there is no sense cleaning one end of the bath tub!

Rankin’s statement that “the toxic effluent in Boat Harbour is one of the worst cases of environmental racism in the province, and possibly Canada” was shocking – but true. To my recollection, in 50 years Dr. Dan Reid was the only politician at any of the three levels of government covering all three parties to speak out about the danger to health and environment, when he called for a comprehensive environmental assessment of the toxic chemicals pouring into the air and water from the mill and adjoining chemical plant to no avail!

The nature and magnitude of the toxic effluent has been withheld from the general public for 50 years – 90 million litres a day! There are at least four large ponds of chemical waste on the chemical plant site and, apparently thousands of pounds of mercury unaccounted for.

Criminal negligence definition: doing nothing or omitting to do a duty, or showing wanton or reckless disregard for the lives or safety of other persons.

A democracy is built on the development of trust between elected and electors, built through effective and continuous two-way communications.

The priorities of Canadians have consistently been health, education, transportation, infrastructure, sound fiscal management, safety and personal freedom and protection of our land.

Businesses have three goals:

  • To make money
  • To protect shareholders and employees from personal liability
  • To eliminate competition by undercutting or buying out competitors or reaching tacit agreements with competitors

They have no heart, no social conscience, no environmental or health values.

Some feed on politicians – say “job” and many politicians run to fill a bucket with tax dollars and agree to bypass environmental regulations.

Hundreds of thousands of acres of prime forest have been given away by successive governments, meaning private woodland owners cannot sell their wood and thousands of forester have lost jobs to machines that clear cut. Lumber mills have closed for lack of wood. Old growth forests are burnt to generate power in an extremely inefficient wood boiler. Homeowners who used to have access to a few cord of firewood on Crown lands have lost that opportunity.

Clear cutting destroys land that is already poor, streams and lakes are damaged, animal habitat and recreation opportunities are destroyed. It can take 200 years to regrow healthy forest in a clear-cut area.

The closure of the car works in Trenton some years ago caused the loss of thousands of jobs, plus spinoffs. We survived although there are now tens of thousands of rail cars in North America sitting on sidings needing to be rebuilt to meet new codes.

The mill has drawn a line in the sand – pour toxic effluent into the strait or close. Government response should be – don’t let the door hit your butt on the way out.

Government focus should shift to: environmental cleanup; help transitioning mill employees to new vocations; reclaiming Crown lands; stop clear cutting and concentrate on selective forestry and building secondary industry for our valuable wood and recreational development.

If government continues to refuse to do its duty then we as citizens need to act. There has been a particularly low level of activism and leadership coming from the legal, medical and educational professions. Let’s change that.

Elmer MacDonald

New Glasgow

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