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Premier pledges $7 million to keep silviculture sector alive after Northern Pulp mill closure


Peter Spice and his wife, Pat, mainly cut red spruce that go to various sawmills around the province, however, low quality or standing dead wood heads to Northern Pulp in Pictou County. - Aaron Beswick
Peter Spice and his wife, Pat, mainly cut red spruce that go to various sawmills around the province, however, low quality or standing dead wood heads to Northern Pulp in Pictou County. - Aaron Beswick

The province is pumping $7-million into the silviculture sector that is expected to keep up to 300 forestry workers employed when Northern Pulp closes at the end of the month.

Premier Stephen McNeil made the announcement Thursday, saying the funding would target both private and Crown lands in central and western Nova Scotia.

The money comes from the $50-million transition fund the premier announced last month after the mill failed to meet the province’s deadline for environmental approval for its proposed effluent treatment plant. The mill is slated to close Jan. 31, the legislated date ordering the mill to stop pumping effluent into Boat Harbour. 

The premier said the transition fund would provide financial support to affected mill and forestry workers but also to develop alternative markets for Nova Scotia wood products.

The premier said the announcement was a step toward ensuring that the backbone of the industry remains in place during its transition period.

“How do we keep the support around the sector?" said McNeil. "How do we continue to keep that skill in Nova Scotia and continue to work as the industry evolves to whatever the transition looks like?”

The premier said the funding would support 250 to 300 jobs, which would also include forestry road builders. Funding for those positions would last for roughly a year.

RELATED: Innovation not optional for Atlantic Canada's forestry sector in 2020
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Decisions on how the $50-million fund gets spent is left to a nine-member transition team, which includes four government deputy ministers. The committee will meet weekly.

Kelliann Dean, deputy minister of intergovernmental affairs and trade, leads the committee and was on hand for Thursday’s announcement. 

Opposition members have leveled heavy criticism at the premier and Dean for not including a seat for impacted forestry sector or mill workers.

But Dean said their interests are being represented by committee member Jeff Bishop, Forest Nova Scotia executive director. She also said representatives from both groups would be consulted when needed. Dean also said the committee would consider adding an additional member.

Tory Rushton, Progressive Conservative lands and forestry critic, said Thursday’s announcement did not go far enough and should have provided a plan for affected contractors. He said the omission is the consequence of bad planning by the province, which should have anticipated months ago that the mill’s proposed effluent treatment plant wouldn’t meet environmental standards.  

“It doesn’t speak to the contractors that are still going to have $50,000 to $60,000 payments next month and they’re starting to slow down now," said Rushton. "It’s devastating, there’s real people affected right now." 

NDP leader Gary Burrill has been consistently critical of the province's handling of the Northern Pulp file. - Ryan Taplin
NDP leader Gary Burrill has been consistently critical of the province's handling of the Northern Pulp file. - Ryan Taplin

NDP Leader Gary Burrill, who’s been critical of the province’s response to the impending closure of the mill, said the transition team must include local community members.

“There’s nothing that’s been said here that alleviated the deep concern that this transition committee does not have the right composition," said Burrill. "Almost all of them owe their jobs to the premier. Something very key is lacking and I don’t think what is required in this major moment can be accomplished by a transition team that is made up of nearly 50 per cent of deputy ministers.” 

On Thursday, Northern Pulp said it’s committed to the province and wants to operate in Nova Scotia for the long term. It also said it’s committed to following through with an environmental assessment process that it has not been able to do in the past five years.

“We intend to complete an environmental assessment for our proposed effluent treatment facility and are in the process of reviewing the terms of reference,” the company said in a statement Thursday.

The premier said he was encouraged to see that the mill would be following through with the environmental assessment process but reiterated his stance that it would be held to the province’s standard.

“It has to meet the standard of our environment but I’m encouraged that the mill has been co-operative.” 

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