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A county divided: councillors line up on opposing sides of Northern Pulp debate


Northern Pulp has been both a source of controversy and economic activity in Pictou County. - Aaron Beswick
Northern Pulp has been both a source of controversy and economic activity in Pictou County. - FILE PHOTO

Debate held over resolution presented at Municipality of Pictou County meeting

PICTOU, N.S. — The future of the Boat Harbour Treatment Facility is, as one county councillor put it, outside the municipality’s bailiwick.

At the end of the day, the councillors for the Municipality of Pictou County have no real role in the decision making over whether Northern Pulp will be granted an extension to continue operating the facility past the provincially mandated date of Jan. 2020 for it to close. And yet, councillors found themselves debating the issue Monday night before a packed council chambers. Perhaps the most remarkable part about the discussion was how civilly it played out.

The motion was in essence for a resolution expressing councils support of the Boat Harbour Act and was aimed at encouraging the province to not grant an extension that Northern Pulp has said it will need if it is to continue uninterrupted in the county. These councillors may have no weight in the decision making, but they also have no escape from the controversy that has pitted two of rural Pictou County’s primary industries against each other. Fishing and forestry touch every district. The conversation was frank but tempered.

Around the room each councillor gave their reasons for voting for or against the resolution.

The motion for the resolution was first made by Wayne Murray and seconded by Darla MacKeil. Murray described Boat Harbour as one of the worst environmental disasters in Canada and said the five-year window that Northern Pulp was given to build a new treatment facility should have been more than enough. Three councillors in the end opposed the resolution, while the rest voted it to reality. The audience quietly listened to the discussion and left when it was all said and done.

In opposition

Councillor Randy Palmer said he completely agrees that Boat Harbour should be closed but expressed concern about holding a hard line on the deadline. Like others in the room, he said he has friends and constituents who are employed in both the fishing and forestry industries.

“In the county we can’t afford to lose either industry,” he said.

While the resolution didn’t say anything about the pipe going out to the Strait or the future treatment plant, Palmer said they're connected.

“If the pipe doesn’t go out there in a certain time and the mill can’t get up and running and has to shut down for a period of time, we could lose all those jobs,” he said.

Councillor Andy Thompson also voted against the resolution. Like Palmer, he agreed that the contamination of Boat Harbour “should never have happened,” but said he was concerned about the impact losing the mill would have on Pictou County.

“This whole issue has divided us, and it doesn’t have too," he said. “I think there’s a solution.”

“My objection to the motion is not with the intent to close Boat Harbour. My concern is about ...the economy of our county.”

Northern Pulp was not consulted about the closure of Boat Harbour prior to the Boat Harbour Act which was passed in 2015, he said, according to the information he’s been able to find. At the same time, he said he understood the concerns that had been expressed to council earlier in the meeting by Pictou Landing First Nation Chief Andrea Paul.

“This whole issue has divided us, and it doesn’t have too," he said. “I think there’s a solution.”

While he also agrees with the ultimate closure of the Boat Harbour Treatment Facility, Councillor David Parker said his loyalty would lie with the people in the forestry industry who make up a large portion of the constituents who elected him.

“I cannot support the motion because it may result in the closure of our mill in the shorter term of one year and 24 days,” he said. “I cannot cut off my right leg, when I may need to run a marathon.”

He acknowledged that the people of Pictou County and Pictou Landing First Nation have been deliberately misled by past owners of the mill as well as past governments and expressed concern over what he calls “a void of leadership” in the province at present.

“We have this situation where we have two of our own groups pitted against each other and we have the Premier sitting back and saying 'not my problem,’” said Parker. “I believe it is his problem to a large degree. I believe he helped create it.”

In favour of a firm deadline

Councillor Darla MacKeil said a documentary about Boat Harbour by an Australian film maker left a lasting impression on her about the effects of the treatment facility and is part of the reason why she believes the province must stick to the deadline mandated in the Boat Harbour Act.

“It really blew my mind of the devastation and destruction it has caused," she said.

She said that she believes that “when you know better, you do better” and that’s why she said she was in favour of the motion.

"I believe that Pictou Landing First Nation community has lived with that for far too long and I believe that residents of our community have lived with that for far too long...We have to have a voice for the environment. Who is going to speak for it?”

Councillors Ron Baillie, Larry Turner and Don Butler all took the position that the resolution was voting to support already existing legislation. Councillors Peter Boyles, Deborah Wadden and Chester Dewer also vocalized support for the resolution.

Warden Robert Parker said it’s sad to see how the controversy has divided the community.

“We know we need the jobs, but we also want a decent place to live whether it be water or air or whatever,” he said.

He said he would support the resolution.

“We cannot lose those jobs, but we cannot continue to punish the people of Pictou Landing,” he said. “This has gone on for far too long.”


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