A sign from the citizens’ group “Action Against Canso Spaceport” or AACS. Photo: Joan Baxter

About a year and a half ago, a couple of people contacted the Halifax Examiner about a telephone survey they had participated in. The survey concerned them because it seemed designed to convince respondents that they should support open pit gold mining in the province, something they emphatically did not support.

On February 5, 2020, the Examiner reported on that survey in an article called, “Survey says: Why are people calling me with pro-mining propaganda?” It began:

It looks as if someone is getting a little nervous about the growing backlash to the latest gold rush in the province, and to the development of new open pit gold mines along the Eastern Shore, particularly the proposal by the Australian company St. Barbara, which acquired Atlantic Gold in July last year for $722 million, to put in a mine very close to St. Mary’s River, at Cochrane Hill, just north of Sherbrooke.

So far, two people have contacted me with concerns about a phone survey being conducted by Narrative Research, which aims to get their views on gold mining in the province and how best the public might be convinced that gold mining is good for them.

Both people said the survey questions seemed skewed, intended to elicit particular responses, and that there was no room for the respondent to deviate from multiple choice answers or add information.

Margaret Anne McHugh, who contacted me via Twitter to let me know about the survey, told me in a phone interview that she got the call twice, once on her cell phone early Saturday afternoon when she did the survey, and then again on her land line on Sunday afternoon, when she did not complete it as they were looking for a respondent between the ages of 18 and 20.

McHugh, who used to live on the Eastern Shore and now lives in Halifax, said this about the survey: “It is like a push poll. You cannot answer the way you want. Poor guy just had a bunch of tick boxes and my answers were not fitting in. It was about communications … They specifically ask about [the proposed mine at] COCHRANE HILL. Still furious about the questions.”

This is how the article ended:

Who is behind the phone survey — whether it’s the company or some other cheerleaders for gold mining in Nova Scotia that I can think of — is really neither here nor there.

What matters is that Nova Scotians should probably start bracing themselves for an onslaught of pro-gold-mining messages that will be wrung and spun out of the survey, which will suggest, rightly or wrongly, that lots of people in the province think gold mining is good for them.

Sure enough, a few weeks later, Atlantic Gold launched its propaganda blitz. As the Examiner reported here, Nova Scotians were inundated with flyers from Atlantic Gold, and bombarded with Atlantic Gold ads on television, radio and in their social media, which cited the questionable findings of that push poll survey.

One person’s reaction to the Atlantic Gold mail-out.

The Mining Association of Nova Scotia (MANS) has dined off the dubious survey results ever since, claiming over and over again on Twitter that, “76% of Nova Scotians support gold mining,” and then just repeating the claim when challenged.

MANS Twitter thread February 2021

Brace yourselves, Nova Scotians, history seems to be repeating itself.

The spaceport will be good for us

Once again, Narrative Research is calling people in eastern Nova Scotia with a survey, but this time it’s to tell them how wonderful Maritime Launch Services (MLS) is and how its proposed spaceport in Canso is good for them and the economy, and oh yes, to ask a few questions too, but only after the propaganda spiel is delivered.

(The Examiner has reported in depth on the proposed spaceport here, here, here, and here.)

The calls seem to be going to people in Antigonish and Guysborough Counties, and Port Hawkesbury. Who’s behind the survey — whether it’s Maritime Launch Services (maybe it’s feeling flush with the $10.5 million in financing it finally secured in May?), or the project’s usual cheerleaders, the “private /public servants” in the Municipality of the District of Guysborough — it’s impossible to say. The Examiner has contacted Narrative Research for confirmation that they are doing the survey, and is still waiting for a reply.

But it is clear from the way the survey is designed that someone is trying to drum up public support — or make it look like there’s public support – for the spaceport.

Late last week, a woman in Guysborough County — who asked to remain anonymous — received two calls from Narrative Research (telephone number 782-482-0110) inviting her to answer questions about the proposed spaceport.

The first call came on her cell phone. The second call came on her land line, and this time she decided to record it.

She agreed to provide the Examiner with access to the recording.

And the Examiner is providing public access to the transcript of it here, as a public service to help people in the province prepare for the PR blitz for the proposed spaceport in Canso, which is sure to be coming soon to a media outlet or mailbox near you. Rockets away!

The survey

Narrative Research (NR): OK, before we begin, please note that this call may be monitored and or recorded for quality assurance purposes. In which of the following communities do you live? Is it Guysborough County, Antigonish, or the town of Port Hawkesbury?

Survey participant (SP): Guysborough.

NR: Do you live in Canso?

SP: No, I do not. I’m about 15 minutes away from Canso.

NR: And to ensure that we speak to a broad range of residents, in what year were you born?

SP: [19] 62.

NR: In the past few months, have you seen or heard anything about a proposed spaceport or rocket launch facility project near Canso, Nova Scotia?

SP: Yes, I have.

NR: What specifically have you seen or heard?

SP: Mainly, I heard from The [Port Hawkesbury] Reporter and The [Guysborough] Journal, mostly The Journal, and it was information that was saying that the rockets were coming to Canso, and that there was a 10-point-something-million-dollar money, you know, that was granted.

NR: You said you mainly heard from The Reporter and The Journal, but mostly The Journal, that the …

SP: Mostly The Journal, and that people were for it. And I know specifically from living 15 minutes away or so that people are not for it. The majority of people are not for this rocket in Canso. It’s too close to the community is less than three kilometers away. It’s absurd, actually. [several seconds of silence] Are you still there?

NP: Yep, I was just typing, I’m sorry.

SP: That’s okay.

NR: Where did you hear about it?

SP: Where did I hear about this ten point some million [dollars]?

NR: No, where did you hear about the proposed spaceport?

SP: Well, the proposed spaceport, I mostly heard about it in the news and in the community.

NR: Would you say you are very familiar, somewhat familiar, or not at all familiar with the proposed spaceport facility project in Nova Scotia?

SP: I’m very familiar with it.

NR: Maritime Launch Services is a Canadian aerospace company based in Halifax. It is planning to develop and operate a spaceport near Canso that will provide launch services for satellite clients in the communications and environmental monitoring industries. The spaceport launch facility will be the first commercial launch site in North America. Once constructed, the spaceport will employ up to 50 permanent full-time employees. Eight launches will be expected each year. In the weeks leading up to the launch, employment would increase to about 150 full-time employees. All things considered, do you completely support, mostly support, mostly oppose, or completely oppose the development of a spaceport launch facility near Canso, Nova Scotia?

SP: Completely oppose.

NR: Why do you completely oppose the development of spaceport launch facility near Canso?

SP: Because it’s absurd. It’s absurd to be to be firing rockets less than three kilometers away from a person’s house, from our homes. It’s preposterous. I can’t even believe that it’s gotten this far. It’s high risk to the environment, it’s high risk to people’s health, it’s just absurd. It’s ridiculous. Okay, you know, I know that you can’t answer this, but honestly, would you want to live in a community where there’s rocket launches that are being fired less than three kilometers away from your homes? I don’t think so. Any person with a logical mind would not want that. It’s too high risk.

NR: One moment, sorry.

SP: It’s OK. [a few seconds of silence]

NR: What specifically are your environmental concerns?

SP: Many environmental concerns, especially for the fisheries, especially for the fuels that are supposed to be using for these rockets. These fuels, I can’t remember what the fuels exactly are called, but they were banned in the U.S. and other countries. They have a risk of carcinogens for people. There could be air quality issues. What goes up must come down. So there could be leaching of fuels into our bedrocks. We have a multi-million dollar fishing industry here. So, I mean, we have lots of parks. We have gully trails. We have beautiful ocean here. The air quality for one. There’s lots of concerns. There’s big concerns of a rocket misfiring. Accidents do happen. There is not one place on this earth that can say, or one scientist or one rocket specialist that can say, “Oh, no, there’s guarantees 100% that an accident will [not] happen.” Because if an accident does happen, because it can, because nobody can say that that will not happen, it will be catastrophic for our community. We’re a small community and we do not want this.

[Editor’s note: The Maritime Launch Services 2019 Focus Report submitted to Nova Scotia Environment says that hydrazine is one of the fuels to be used in the Ukrainian rockets, as the Examiner reported here: “The report describes hydrazine, one of the propellants that would be used in the Ukrainian Cyclone 4M rockets that would be launched from Canso, as a ‘strong irritant’ that ‘may damage eyes and cause respiratory track damage.’ In high concentrations, it can ‘cause convulsions and possibly death.’ Repeated exposures to lower hydrazine concentrations may ‘cause toxic damage to liver and kidneys as well as anemia.’ As for emergency health services that MLS foresees in the case of an ‘accident’ — think rocket crashing to earth on take-off, or exploding before that — the report notes that there is the Eastern Memorial Hospital: ‘… a six bed facility located in Canso and the Guysborough Memorial Hospital, a 10 bed [sic] located in Guysborough about 48 km away … In the event of an accident requiring services greater than those provided at local hospitals, or if the quantity [sic] of injured people exceeds local capacity, patients could be taken from the accident scene or from the heliport at Eastern Memorial Hospital to larger hospitals equipped with heliports …’]

NR: The spaceport launch facility near Canso will comply with all environmental and safety regulations, and the necessary steps have been taken to mitigate environmental and safety risks. Do you completely support, mostly support, mostly oppose or completely oppose the development of a spaceport launch facility near Canso?

SP: Completely oppose.

NR: Using a scale from one to ten, where one is completely disagree and ten is completely agree, to what extent you agree or disagree with each of the following statements concerning the spaceport launch facility near Canso. A spaceport launch facility would have negative impacts in our community.

SP: I completely agree that it will have negative impacts.

NR: The spaceport launch facility poses environmental risk to the region.

SP: I completely agree that it will impose risk for the environment of our region.

NR: As a Canadian owned and operated domestic spaceport launch capability is beneficial for Canada.

SP: Oh, I completely oppose that, I don’t agree with that.

NR: On the scale of one to ten?

SP: On a scale of one to ten, sorry one was being … sorry, could you repeat that?

NR: One was completely disagree and ten was completely agree.

SP: So I completely, number one, I completely agree that it won’t be benefit beneficial for Canada. Did I answer that correctly? Sorry, could you repeat that question again? Sorry.

NR: Yeah, sure. Having a Canadian owned and operated domestic spaceport launch capability is beneficial for Canada.

SP: OK, and what was number one?

NR: One was to completely disagree.

SP: Yes, I completely disagree.

NR: The facility will support needed infrastructure development in the region.

SP: I completely disagree with that.

NR: Economic benefits of the operations outweigh the potential risks for the region.

SP: I completely disagree with that.

NR: I am confident that provincial and federal government environmental assessments will ensure the operations are safe. [Editor’s note: there was no federal environmental assessment for the project and the provincial environmental assessment was a less onerous Class 1 assessment.]

SP: I completely disagree with that too.

NR: The facility would be an important economic enabler for Canso and the surrounding area.

SP: I completely disagree with that.

NR: Thinking about the potential of the commercial space sector, to what extent do you agree or disagree with each of the following statements. Please use a one-to-ten scale where one is completely disagree and ten is completely agree. Based on the community consultation that has taken place and the regulatory requirements that must be addressed to provincial and federal levels of government, I am satisfied that Maritime Launch will operate in a safe and environmentally responsible manner. It is time to move forward with the project.

SP: I completely disagree with that. We do not want it.

NR: I would like to learn more about the impact of operating a space launch facility in the surrounding areas before I feel comfortable supporting the project.

SP: No, I do not want I don’t want to know anything else about it. I do not support it one percent, not a little bit. There is nothing that is MLS project this man [MLS president and CEO Stephen Matier] can say that will convince me otherwise, or the environmental departments. It’s too close to the community. Sorry, go ahead.

NR: A few final questions that will help us analyze the results of this survey. Within the past year, have you signed a petition?

SP: Yes, I have.

NP: Contacted an elected official?

SP: Yes, I have.

NR: Attended a town hall or meeting in your community, either virtually or in person?

SP: Not in the last year. No, I have not.

NR: Written a letter to a newspaper or shared a comment on social media?

SP: I have.

NR: What is the highest level of education you have completed, high school or less, university?

SP: University.

NR: Which of the following broad income categories best describes your total household income before taxes in the last year? Would it be less than $25,000, at least $25,000 but less than $50,000, at least $50,000 but less than $75,000, at least $75,000 but less than $100,000, or $100,000 or more.

SP: Why do you need to know that? Why would that question be asked?

NR: I don’t need to.

SP: Yeah, I’m not going to answer that one, thank you.

NP: That’s okay. Which of the following best describes the current employment status? Are you employed full time, employed part time, self employed, unemployed and currently looking for work, unemployed and not currently looking for work, student or retired?

SP: I’m retired but still working casual.

NR: Please provide your postal code

SP: B0H 1N0.

NP: One moment. You said Bravo Zero Hotel One November Zero,

SP: Right, B0H 1N0, B as in boy, zero, H as in Henry, one, N as in Nancy, zero.

NP In case my supervisor would like to verify that I conducted this interview with you, could I please have your first name only?


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Joan Baxter

Joan Baxter is an award-winning Nova Scotian journalist and author of seven books, including "The Mill: Fifty Years of Pulp and Protest." Website: www.joanbaxter.ca;...

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  1. On June 28, Narrative Research CEO and partner, Margaret Brigley replied to the Examiner’s query asking for confirmation that the company was conducting the survey and if so, for whom. Brigley wrote that, “I am writing to confirm that we do in fact have a study in field right now on the topic. The study is registered with the Canadian Research Insights Council. I am not able to confirm who my client is.”

  2. While SpaceX is drastically reducing the cost of launches to the point where the polar-orbit advantage of a relatively high latitude is irrelevant, Ukrainian hucksters are taking us for a ride. Repurposed Soviet ICBMs running on the space equivalent of leaded gasoline cannot compete with a fully reusable system running on methane, which is just about as clean as practical rocket fuel gets.