At the Touquoy gold mine, trucks move between the open pit and the waste rock pile. There's a lot of grey rocks and gravel dust in the air. There is a line of trees in the background, but they probably won't be there long. The sky is azure blue with puffy clouds, but the ground looks like the surface of the moon.
At the Touquoy gold mine in HRM trucks move between the open pit and the waste rock pile. Photo: Joan Baxter

In mid-May, Laird Brownlie, head of external affairs for Australia’s St Barbara Ltd that acquired Atlantic Gold and its mining operations in Nova Scotia in 2019 for $722 million, sent out an email — a “special bulletin” — about the company’s proposed modifications at its Touquoy open pit gold mine in Moose River.

Brownlie’s message began like this:

Atlantic Gold is committed to being transparent and open with our neighbours and stakeholders. This special bulletin provides information regarding proposed modifications to the Touquoy Mine, and the regulatory process that Atlantic Gold must follow before the modifications may occur. Please review the information below. As always, we are open to providing additional information and listening to concerns and issues from our host communities.

A studio photo of Laird Brownlie. He's a balding man with grey hair and dark framed glasses, wearing a dark suit, white shirt and blue and white striped tie. He's laughing like someone just reminded him how much money he'll make this year.
Laird Brownlie

The email outlined changes Atlantic Gold is proposing for its Moose River gold mine, which began production in late 2017, but received environmental approval from the province way back in 2008. Brownlie noted that the company would be submitting the planned changes to Nova Scotia Environment for a Class 1 environmental approval in “late spring / early summer” 2021.

Brownlie then invited recipients of the email to join Atlantic Gold for an “online information session” on May 31, 2021.

The online session certainly turned out to be a more staid and peaceful event for Atlantic Gold than its disastrous public and in-person information session two years earlier in Sherbrooke, where an RCMP officer violently arrested John Perkins of Sustainable Northern Nova Scotia (SUNNs), for no reason that was ever provided.

Dustin O'Leary is a white dude of indeterminate age, slouched at a table, wearing a bright green golf shirt with a white T shirt underneath. He's not smiling, he's just morosely playing with his laptop.
Atlantic Gold communications manager Dustin O’Leary at the ill-fated public information session in Sherbrooke, where John Perkins was violently arrested. Photo: Joan Baxter

That event, which the Halifax Examiner covered here and here, led Perkins to file a lawsuit against Atlantic Gold and the RCMP, which is still ongoing.

The virtual event, in contrast, was carefully controlled and managed. As he did at the Sherbrooke event, Atlantic Gold communications manager Dustin O’Leary hosted the session.

Participants had no way of knowing who and how many others were online, or how many questions had been submitted and by whom. Nor was there any possibility of back-and-forth discussion, as there would be in a public and in-person information session.

As a public engagement event it was, to be generous, ineffective.

But as a public relations exercise, the online information session gave Atlantic Gold an ideal platform to promote itself and its Touquoy mine.

Brownlie and St Barbara management were not present but Atlantic Gold was out in force.

Speaking for the company were Jim Millard, Atlantic Gold environment and permitting manager, Craig Hudson, head of permitting and projects, Sara Wallace of the consulting firm Stantec, Brenna Reynolds, communications specialist at Atlantic Gold, and Barb Bryden, Atlantic Gold project manager environmental permitting, whose LinkedIn page as recently as Friday gace the odd impression she is still environmental manager for Pieridae Energy, as well as supervisor of air monitoring and reporting for Nova Scotia Environment.[1] After the Examiner made inquiries to the Department of Environment, the page was updated.

A Zoom shot of the folks listed above. Some look engaged, some look bored, none of them look happy to be there.
Atlantic Gold presenters at May 31 online information session

O’Leary and his colleagues gave a glowing overview of the Touquoy open pit gold mine, and some basics about the proposed modifications:

To expand the waste rock storage area (WRSA). By increasing the WRSA by 7.8 hectares, our capacity to manage waste rock will increase [and so will the footprint of the massive waste rock mountain, to 42.1 hectares, or 104 acres]

To allow for in-pit tailings disposal. This will allow the pit, after it is no longer being mined, to store tailings from the processing of the medium and low-grade ore that is currently stockpiled on site. Before the tailings are placed in the pit, groundwater, precipitation and surface flow will be allowed to fill the pit and the tailings will be deposited below the water line. [Putting tailings anywhere but in the Tailings Management Facility is not permitted by the Industrial Approval issued by the province for the mine].

To create a 5.9 hectare clay borrow pit. The clay is required for on-site needs, such as environmental mitigation, lining of ditching, run-off management and construction.

To move the existing administration road to another location on the site. The road is being moved to allow for the expansion of the WRSA. This road relocation will reduce traffic on the public road.

The Atlantic Gold presentation assured participants of the info session that none of these modifications is “anticipated” or “expected” to “change significantly” existing conditions at the mine site, or have “substantial” impacts on fish habitat and water quality, wildlife and wildlife habitat, vegetation, noise, wetlands, or air quality.

A photo of the Touquoy open pit gold mine. At the horizon about a kilometre away you can see aline of evergreen and hardwood trees silhouetted against a bright blue sky with a few puffy clouds. closer, you can see some equipment that's rasiing clouds of duxt. In the middle of the photo is the awesomely deep pit in the ground. In the foreground is a dry gravel road with tire tracks, and the guts of the earth are piled up in a bank between the road and the deep deep pit.
Touquoy open pit gold mine. Photo: Joan Baxter

Not that one would expect them to say anything else. This was more a PR session than one designed to provide the full spectrum of information about the gold mine.

“Economic and community benefits”

Take, for another example, the PowerPoint slide on the “economic and community benefits” of the open pit gold mine, with a table called “Summary of the Economic Impact (direct and indirect) on Canada and Nova Scotia Stemming from Construction and Operation Activities for the Touquoy Mine (2015-2020, in millions of dollars)”[2]

A power point slide with figures.
Atlantic Gold’s PowerPoint slide 3 provided a table with the above figures at the information session

O’Leary provided commentary on the slide, saying:

During operations over $10 million per year is paid in taxes to all three levels of government, including over $1 million to the municipal government, a $4.9 million to the provincial government, and $4.5 million to the federal government. Also worthy to keep in mind is that the operation revenues are annual calculations, and those are used by the governments that collect them to supply the essential services like health care, education, construction and maintenance of our local roadways.

This is a (more than a) little perplexing.

As Halifax Examiner readers may recall from previous articles, the annual reports that Atlantic Gold (or its subsidiary Atlantic Mining NS that operates the Moose River mine) submits to Natural Resources Canada under the Extractive Sector Transparency Measures Act, or ESTMA, show that the company paid $0 in taxes to the federal or provincial governments in 2017, 2018, 2019, and also 2020.

Since it produced its first gold bar in October 2017, the Moose River mine has produced close to half a billion dollars worth of gold: 90,531 ounces worth nearly $150 million in 2018; 93,000 ounces in 2019 worth more than $170 million; and 107,000 ounces in 2020 worth close to $254 million.

Even when the “all-in sustaining cost” per ounce of gold produced is deducted for each of those three years, the company’s net take was well over $350 million.

The ESTMA reports show that Atlantic Gold has paid Nova Scotia a grand total of just over $4.5 million in royalties for all the gold produced at Touquoy, based on the province’s rock bottom royalty rate of just 1% net value.

As the Examiner reported here, a “net value” royalty rate allows corporations to deduct the capital expenses of expanding mining operations and the operating costs of gold production, and pay no royalties until they declare a profit. In contrast, partner corporations that share in the ownership of Atlantic Gold’s mining properties are paid 3% “net smelter” royalties (NSR), which means partners receive royalties on the actual value of the gold produced at a mine.[3]

This 2019 Examiner article noted that by world standards, a 1% net value royalty is very low, and it also allows producers a great deal of wiggle room to reduce what they pay to governments:

According to journalist James Wilt writing in The Narwhal, “companies in Canada pay a tiny fraction of what they pay other countries to extract gold.”

… most governments around the world calculate royalties based on production volume and the cost of the mineral. However, royalties in Canada are generally calculated after costs have been subtracted, a practice, which is exceedingly rare globally.

Wilt also noted that in Burkina Faso, a very young and fragile democracy that ranks 183 of 189 countries on the United Nations Human Development Index, Canada’s IAMGOLD paid the Burkinabe government 8.7 percent of the value of the gold it extracted there in 2017.

Low costs, maximum profits

Atlantic Gold likes to advertise itself — to potential investors and not so much to the average Nova Scotian — as “one of the lowest cost gold producers in the world,” which means it has been pretty good at maximizing its profits from the Touquoy mine.

Atlantic Gold's booth at 2020 PDAC convention in Toronto. White tablecloths, white banners with the Atlantic Gold logo in black text and a gold (what else) logo. a man appears to be mansplaining something to a young woman, while a convention visitor listens..
Atlantic Gold’s booth at 2020 PDAC convention in Toronto. Photo: Joan Baxter

Perhaps — in addition to not having to pay federal or provincial taxes — Atlantic Gold’s wage scale also has something to do with its low production costs?

In April the Moose River mine workers voted to join the United Steelworkers union, and in May, CBC reporter Frances Willick quoted union organizer Mario Fortunato, who said Atlantic Gold wages had “room for improvement,” and that some were “being paid well below conventional rates.”

“Employers across this country … have this idea that there’s an eastern differential, that they can pay less on the East Coast,” Forunato told Willick, adding:

And my career has been devoted to debunking that because gold extracted here is worth the same as gold extracted anywhere. It’s an open-pit mine. The mine’s very, very profitable. They should be leading the industry, pay-wise and benefit-wise.

Nevertheless, the Nova Scotia government seems to think that the low cost of Atlantic Gold’s production here is something to brag about, but we’ll come back to that.

Digging into Atlantic Gold’s data

First, a closer look at what information Atlantic Gold did choose to share during its information session.

A Zoom meeting in which someone has shared their screen, which shows charts from the St. Barbara website.

It was not clear what the company was — and wasn’t — including in the figures in the table on economic benefits, how all the dollar figures were tallied, or what they represented.

The Halifax Examiner wrote to Dustin O’Leary for clarifications. The first three questions are paraphrased here:

1. What is the meaning of “value added” in Table 1, what all was included in that row, was it the total cost of constructing the mine and putting it into operation? How should those figures of $149.2 and $36.1 million (in the Canada column), and $131.6 million and $29.8 million (in the Nova Scotia column) be interpreted?

2. The slide states, “AMNS [Atlantic Mining NS] tax contribution calculations include both direct and indirect payment and include payroll taxes, property taxes, corporate taxes, and royalties and other taxes.” However, Atlantic Gold and Atlantic Mining NS annual ESTMA reports (2016 – 2020) show that no corporate taxes were paid to either the federal or provincial government. Is this not correct? If not, can you please let me know what corporate taxes Atlantic Gold / Atlantic Mining NS have paid to the federal and/or provincial governments? And also, if it is correct and Atlantic Gold / Atlantic Mining NS have not paid any federal and/or provincial corporate taxes, then why is “corporate taxes” included in that slide header?

3. Federal government (Canada) revenues during construction (2015 – 2020) are listed on the table as $11.4 million for the entire period, and $4.5 million per year during operations. Nova Scotia (provincial and municipal government) revenues during construction (2015 – 2020) are listed as $7.4 million for the province for that entire period, and $3.7 million for HRM for that period. During operations, provincial government revenues are listed as $4.9 million per year, and municipal revenues as $1.3 million per year. What were the sources of those revenues — federal and provincial — for the construction and operations phases of Touquoy?

To these detailed questions, O’Leary replied:

The economic impact assessment for the Touquoy Gold Mine was completed by KPMG based on all available information on the project at the time of its production.

The report clearly states the positive economic impact this project continues to have on the economic fabric of our province and the jobs it supports. This impact includes over 300 Nova Scotians being gainfully employed at the site and over $100 million in value added to the provincial and federal economies.

The calculations for the value of our projects to the provincial and federal economies are based on both direct and indirect benefits of construction and operation activities using the Statistics Canada Input-Output (I-O) model. This model is the benchmark model for analyzing economic benefits in the Canadian economy.

Taxes are paid to both the federal and provincial governments in a variety of ways. Primarily, personal income tax payments from the over 300 Nova Scotian employees of Atlantic Operations is [sic] included in that calculation. Additionally, taxes on the purchase of goods and services, capital purchases, and on gold production itself are included in these calculations.

Dig into that answer as you will, but no amount of parsing will answer the questions of why the company paid no corporate taxes to the federal or provincial governments, but still included “corporate taxes” in the slide title.

The Examiner also asked O’Leary for details on some of the items reported as payments to governments in the Atlantic Gold / Atlantic Mining NS ESTMA reports.[4]

Specifically, were reclamation bond payments, the mineral exploration claim renewal fees, permitting fees, park relocation costs, and power line infrastructure paid to Nova Scotia Power that showed up as payments to governments on Table 1 on “economic benefits,” for Nova Scotia and Canada included in the figures provided for government “revenues” for the construction and operations phases of Touquoy? And if so, could he please specify which ones were included and why?

O’Leary’s reply:

The economic impact study on the Touquoy Gold Mine project is based on both direct and indirect benefits of construction and operating activities.  More information on the ESTMA are publicly available here.

The link O’Leary provided leads to the 2020 ESTMA report that the Examiner quoted in its questions. And the answer, once again, doesn’t exactly answer the question posed.

So it remains anyone’s guess whether the government “revenues” that Atlantic Gold claimed as “economic benefits” of the Touquoy mine to our province and country included any or all of the items on the ESTMA reports, many of which look like the regular costs of doing business.

Specifically, Nova Scotians should know if the “benefits” Atlantic Gold lists include the cost of relocating the Moose River Gold Mines Provincial Park created to commemorate the 1936 mine disaster that was located where the open pit is now, its installation of power lines or access roads, the renewal fees it pays for its thousands of mineral exploration claims in the province, and its refundable reclamation bond. None of which seems to bring much “benefit” to Nova Scotians, and some of which seem to benefit only Atlantic Gold.

Google map showing location of former Moose River Gold Mines Provincial Park inside the Touquoy open pit. There are enormous areas of grey and beige dust surroundedand some vestiges of the original forest..
Google map showing location of former Moose River Gold Mines Provincial Park inside the Touquoy open pit.

But Atlantic Gold isn’t in the business of detailing the myriad costs of the mine to Nova Scotia, so the Examiner will try to bring a little balance to the scales here, by looking at some of the things that the company neglected to mention at the May 31 information session.

Ignoring inconvenient information

There was no mention, for example, that just a few hours before Atlantic Gold’s information session, the company’s lawyer Robert Grant had been in provincial court in Dartmouth, where Atlantic Mining NS is facing 32 environmental charges laid by Nova Scotia Environment for alleged infractions around the mine and its exploration sites between February 8, 2018 — just four months after it produced its first bar of gold — and May 9, 2020.

The Atlantic Mining NS lawyer asked for and was granted an adjournment — the third time he’s done so — this time until July 7.

As Jennifer Henderson reported for the Examiner, it turns out that in addition to the provincial charges, Atlantic Mining NS is also facing three federal charges under the federal Fisheries Act for alleged non-compliance between September 27, 2018 and April 29, 2020.

That’s quite an environmental track record: 35 charges in just three and a half years of operation.

Atlantic Gold will also find itself in court at some point in the future to defend itself against the lawsuit that John Perkins has filed over his arrest at the public information session in Sherbrooke in 2019.

There is also Atlantic Gold’s failure to comply with all the terms of its 2008 Environmental Approval and its 2014 Industrial Approval, which required it to identify 265 hectares of “conservation land” to give to the province or else pay a security of half a million dollars, as the Examiner reported here.

Nova Scotia operations crucial for St Barbara

Atlantic Gold is not the only St Barbara operation with a problematic record. The company operates two other gold mines: its Leonora operations in Gwalia, Australia; and its Simberi mine in New Ireland Province, Papua New Guinea (PNG).

On May 21 this year, the company announced the death of a worker at its Papua New Guinean mine, and the subsequent suspension of operations at its Simberi mine while the PNG Mineral Resources Authority investigated.

Just two weeks later, St Barbara discovered a “failure” of the “deep sea tailings placement pipeline” that disposes of the Simberi mine tailings in the South Pacific Ocean, one of only 15 mines worldwide using this controversial method of tailings disposal.

A Google map image showing the red marker of the St Barbara Simberi mine in Papua New Guinea. The islands are a dark green against the deep blue of the ocean.
St Barbara Simberi mine in Papua New Guinea has suspended operations. (Google map image)

Even before the fatality and the news of the faulty pipeline, St Barbara shares had crashed 10% following the company’s downgrading of its forecast production at its Simberi and Leonora operations.

So it’s no surprise that St Barbara seems increasingly anxious to make sure its Nova Scotia operations deliver the profits it needs, which means getting new mines approved.[5]

Not only does the company need to get provincial support and approval for the modifications to its Touquoy mine, it also needs approval from the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada (IAAC) for two new mines it has proposed at Beaver Dam and Fifteen Mile Stream.

Atlantic Gold's map of its project to operate four open pit gold mines in Nova Scotia.
Atlantic Gold’s map of its project to operate four open pit gold mines in Nova Scotia.

Those two new mines are crucial for St Barbara, but both are still undergoing a joint provincial and federal evaluation by the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada.

The IAAC received 127 comments on the Fifteen Mile Stream proposal, the vast majority of which are critical of the proposed mine, with the notable exception of the MacGregors Industrial Group that is “strongly in favour” of the mine and praises the “proven track record” of Atlantic Mining NS.

The comment to IAAC from the citizens’ group Sustainable Northern Nova Scotia (SuNNS) argued that the mines have a cumulative effect and should not undergo individual environmental impact assessments, but that the entire Moose River Consolidated Project that includes four mines should be assessed. SuNNS also questions Atlantic Gold’s environmental track record:

A rough “back of the envelope” calculation shows that Atlantic Gold was failing to meet environmental standards and its conditions of approval once a month on average from February 18, 2018 through to May, 2020.

One charge involved the leaking of 380,000 litres of contaminant-laced slurry at the Moose River mine on January 3, 2019, the contaminant being arsenic. The company says the spill was contained, but the charges have yet to be heard in court.

Such mining failures underscore the known high risks that are part and parcel of mining for gold.

There is a particular irony that Atlantic Gold is already facing charges under the Environment Act related to Fifteen Mile Stream while offering assurances that it will prevent or mitigate future environmental damages there.

It appears that even the information Atlantic Gold provides to Canada’s Impact Assessment Agency is deficient and incomplete.

On June 15, the IAAC wrote to Atlantic Mining NS to say it had completed its technical review of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for Fifteen Mile Stream and that:

The Agency has determined that additional information is required, as per the information requirements (IRs) attached. The Agency is finalizing IRs related to Mi’kmaq of Nova Scotia and cumulative effects, which will be provided shortly.

The IAAC assessment of the Beaver Dam mine project began in 2015, and so far federal and provincial reviewers of the project have sent Atlantic Gold back to the drawing board twice, wanting more or more accurate information. Even on the second go, Atlantic Gold’s revised EIS for the Beaver Dam mine earned itself 203 critical comments from Nova Scotia government scientists and experts, some almost scathing, as the Examiner reported in December 2020.

The clock is ticking for St Barbara

St Barbara’s Touquoy mine is slated to stop production in a couple of years, and the latest timeline for its Nova Scotia operations shows that it intends to have its mine at Beaver Dam up and running by early 2023, its mine at Fifteen Mile Stream in operation by late 2024, around the same time it will be submitting its environmental assessment documents to the IAAC for the controversial mine it proposes in Cochrane Hill, on the banks of the St. Mary’s River.

A screenshot from the St. Barbara website showing their production schedule.
St Barbara production schedule for its Nova Scotia operations from a May 2021 presentation

Although the individual mines are being evaluated separately by the IAAC, in fact they are all pieces of one large project. Atlantic Gold formerly referred to the four mines as its “Moose River Consolidated Project,” a term that has disappeared from its website and been replaced by “Atlantic Operations” since critics of the project began calling for a single environmental assessment of the cumulative effects of four large open pit mines along the Eastern Shore that will share a single processing and tailings facility. [6]

However these proposed mines — and how much they will increase the mountain of waste rock at Touquoy and the size of the already massive tailings facility — were not part of the Atlantic Gold information session discussion.

And while Atlantic Gold painted a pretty — if unclear — picture of how it benefits Nova Scotia and Canada, none of the benefits that Nova Scotia has offered the company were included in the session.

Turns out, Nova Scotians have been quite generous with Atlantic Gold and its predecessor, DDV Gold, which originally applied for provincial approval of the Touquoy mine in 2007. At that time DDV described itself as a:

… wholly-owned, New Brunswick registered subsidiary of Atlantic Gold NL. Atlantic Gold NL is an Australian resource company listed on the Australian Stock Exchange. In June, 2005 its name was changed from Diamond Ventures NL.

What Nova Scotia gives away, besides its gold

Let’s start with disappearance of an entire community, and land that the province handed over to that Australian company. In 2012, Charlie Parker, then minister of natural resources in Darrell Dexter’s NDP government, issued vesting orders that led to the expropriation of private land in Moose River that was handed over to DDV Gold for its Touquoy mine, as the Examiner reported here.

Drawing of former Moose River community where the mine now stands, from a book by Forrest Higgins and now displayed in the Moose River Gold Mine Museum.
Drawing of former Moose River community where the mine now stands, from a book by Forrest Higgins and now displayed in the Moose River Gold Mine Museum.

Between 2012 and 2017, Nova Scotians gave DDV and Atlantic Gold $140,000 for gold exploration — in Halifax, Hants, Yarmouth, and Queen’s counties — under the Minerals Incentive Program.

More recently, in 2020 — even as Atlantic Gold was busy extracting hundreds of millions of dollars worth of gold from the Touquoy mine — the province gave the company $75,000 for gold exploration in the Tusket Triangle under the Minerals Resources Development Fund.

In the “First World” public dollars pave the way

Odd as it may seem to anyone who still harbours the quaint belief that a government’s main job is to protect and promote the interests of the people who elect them and pay their salaries, and to regulate industries that profit from publicly-owned, non-renewable resources, such as gold, the Nova Scotia government actually promotes itself to mining companies as a place where public assets are theirs for the taking and they can cut costs.

In a January 2021 video called “Gold Opportunities,” the Nova Scotia Department of Mines and Energy (DEM) boasts about the provincial assets that Atlantic Gold has been able to take advantage of to make its Moose River mine flourish.

Says the narrator:

Exploring for gold in Nova Scotia means your costs are low. You’re rarely more than a few hundred metres from a paved road and a power line. Towns and facilities that can provide support services, skilled labour, and comfort are nearby. Newly built and producing now for four years [actually in January 2021, the mine had been producing for just over three years], St Barbara’s spin-off company Atlantic Mining’s Moose River gold mine had a public paved road and a power line running right through the mine, with the pit on one side and the mill on the other.

Apparently unaware that the terms “First World” and “Third World” are “out of date, insulting, and confusing,” the narrator continues:

Despite Moose River being built in the First World, this easy quick access arrangement has led to the reality that Moose River is listed by as being the 10th lowest all-in cost producer in the world. Considering some of the other mines in higher positions on that list, in nations running by controlling governments, the realistic position of Moose River being in a stable nation with a government that respects rule of law in mining tenure and having established social license is much higher.

The history of the “paved public road” referred to in the video is, well, let’s just say curious.

In March 2017, the CBC’s Paul Palmeter reported that Moose River Road that leads to the mine, which had been in “rough shape” for years, was now in “deplorable condition” after months of heavy truck traffic.

In other words, much of the damage to the Moose River Road was caused by the heavy equipment that had been rumbling and roaring back and forth on it as Atlantic Gold constructed the Touquoy mine.

Palmeter quoted Atlantic Gold’s vice-president of projects, John Thomas, who said he was worried that transport companies might start refusing to drive the road if something wasn’t done.

“The Halifax regional councillor for the area, Steve Streatch, who is from Musquodoboit Valley, is pushing hard to get the Liberal government to pave the road,” wrote Palmeter. (Streatch is no longer a councillor.)

Palmeter also reported that the company “estimates it will extract a million ounces of gold, worth more than $1 billion. If truck drivers refuse to drive the road, work might have to stop.”

That certainly sounds like a gentle ultimatum to the government — pay to pave, or else.

Two years later, the province repaved the road.

The Halifax Examiner wrote to the Department of Transportation and Active Transit (TAT) for details about what went into the decision to undertake the project, how much it cost, and who paid for it.

TAT spokesperson Deborah Bayer replied:

The Department received a number of complaints on the condition of the Moose River Road in Halifax County. The Moose River Road became a district priority on the Department’s capital plan due to its advanced stages of deterioration. The Moose River Road project included repaving of 17.6 km of road, costing about $2.7 million. The Province covered 100 percent of the cost. It is not known when the road was last paved.

The Examiner then filed a Freedom of Information request (FOIPOP) to try to find out more, asking for correspondence and documentation from 2016 to 2019 related to the construction of the Moose River Road in 2019, including the decision-making process that led to the project.

Unfortunately, the cost of processing those documents was set at $3,225, which exceeds the Examiner’s FOIPOP budget, and appeals can take more than three years.

So at this point there is no way of knowing who applied pressure to whom, and why Atlantic Gold — by far the biggest user of the road — didn’t cover any of the costs of repairing the road it had helped destroy.

The grand opening of the new Moose River Road was held at the mine itself, presided over by TAT Minister Lloyd Hines.

A photo of Lloyd Hines, Steven Dean, Maryse Belanger, and Terrance paul. They're standing in the shade under a big tent. Hines is clapping, the others are smiling happily. Belanger has just cut the shiny gold ribbon. In the background you can see an emergency response vehicle and a Mountie in his red serge, standing in the hot sun behind a table like a waiter, smiling intently towards the group.
Opening of the Touquoy mine in 2017. Left to right: Lloyd Hines, then Nova Scotia Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal; Steven Dean, then CEO of Atlantic Gold; Maryse Belanger, then COO of Atlantic Gold; Terrance Paul, then co-chair of the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq Chiefs

Hines seems to have a soft spot for the Moose River gold mine; he was front and centre at its official opening in October 2017.

Also in 2017, Hines brought in a new perk for the mining industry in the form of a fuel tax rebate, telling the legislature, “I’ve been very happy to be talking to the senior mining partners in the province who are very grateful, including MANS [Mining Association of Nova Scotia] that this government provided that rebate and corrected that inequity that existed.”

As the Examiner reported in 2018:

Fuel taxes are needed to maintain and build provincial roads. Just about every dollar that Nova Scotians pay on the fuel they use in their personal vehicles is invested in roads.

Of course much of the fuel used by the mining industry is in vehicles at the mining sites and private roads, but not all. Atlantic Gold plans to be using public roads and bridges to transport millions of tonnes of rock ore from one open pit mining site to another in eastern Nova Scotia.

Atlantic Gold plans to truck the crushed ore from the Beaver Dam mine 31 kilometres over sensitive wetlands for processing at Touquoy, as the Examiner reported here and here.

From its proposed mine at Fifteen Mile Stream, the company plans initially to haul the crushed ore 76 km to Touquoy on public roads, including Highway 7, the Eastern Shore’s coastal route that the province promotes to tourists as its “scenic marine drive.” Atlantic Gold estimates that the haul trucks will make eight to 11 round trips 350 days of the year, then adds that, in fact, the “exact number trucks will depend on final payloads and the hauling schedules.”

A map of the Planned haul route for ore from the Fifteen Mile Stream mine to Touquoy from Atlantic Gold
Planned haul route for ore from the Fifteen Mile Stream mine to Touquoy from Atlantic Gold 2021 EI statement summary p 10.

Atlantic Gold has not yet submitted the Cochrane Hill mine proposal to the IAAC, but its plan is to haul concentrated ore from the site near Sherbrooke some 140 km to Touquoy for processing, using 38-tonne payload trucks, which will ply about 123 kilometres of public roads, including 80 kilometres on Highway 7, three kilometres of which are to be “realigned” near the mine.

It cost the people of Nova Scotia $2.7 million to repave just a few kilometres of the Moose River Road, so one can only imagine what it will cost to maintain and repair the public roads over which Atlantic Gold plans to truck its ore in years to come.

Or what it will cost in lost revenue from tourism, or worse, in lost lives because of heavy truck traffic on those public roads.

Tailings are forever

There is, however, one thing that Atlantic Gold is bequeathing to the people of Nova Scotia, and it’s something that will last for a very long time indeed.

Atlantic Gold’s consolidated Moose River project in eastern Nova Scotia is scheduled to last for about another decade, unless, of course, the gold price plummets and they decide to close up shop. But the toxic legacy of its four gold mines will be around for a very long time.

Atlantic Gold has posted a $10.4 million bond as security should it be unable to undertake reclamation of the mine at Touquoy for any reason.

Unfortunately, Nova Scotians are not permitted to know how that sum was calculated so they can know if it’s enough, or what the actual reclamation plan for the Moose River mine looks like, as the Examiner reported here.

Regardless, there is no reclamation plan on earth that is foolproof against future disasters caused by failures of tailings dams, which need to be monitored and maintained for centuries.

Ellen Moore is international mining coordinator at Earthworks, a non-profit that works to protect communities and the environment from the adverse effects of mineral and energy development. Speaking to the Examiner, Moore said that there is a particular concern about gold mining. In her words:

Mining gold is a silly thing to be doing. Gold mining is so destructive and so unnecessary. You can’t even make a renewable energy case for it, as you can with some other minerals. With gold mining, you are going to have sacrifice zones.

A photo of Ellen Moore, probably a selfie, smiling at the camera on a bright summer day with a tree and sky behind her.
Ellen Moore

Not only does gold mining use a lot of water and pose risks to waterways and water bodies, but Moore pointed out it also creates an enormous amount of waste, more inconvenient truths that Atlantic Gold didn’t get around to mentioning during its public information session.

“Ninety-nine per cent of what they’re pulling out of that open pit is toxic waste that will live on the land in perpetuity,” Moore said. “That’s a giant heap of mine waste that poisons water in perpetuity.”

Moore pointed out that mining companies, like people, do not live forever, and therein lurks another big risk:

Mining companies come and go. They go bankrupt. They sell it [a mine] off, they move along. There are plenty of examples of companies that operate a mine for 20 years, have a huge legacy of contamination. Then they sell it to a junior or some other company, and walk away Scot-free, and communities are left with that pollution forever.

People are sometimes focused on the short-term jobs that mines offer, Moore told the Examiner.

And that is a big problem because, in her view, it means, “People don’t think about the fact that the waste will be there forever.”


[1] The Examiner wrote to Bryden, Atlantic Gold, and Nova Scotia Environment, asking if she was still employed by NSE or Pieridae Energy, as her LinkedIn page indicates. Nova Scotia Environment replied, “This person has not worked here for many years. The Linked-in information is inaccurate.” To date, there has been no reply from Atlantic Gold or Bryden herself.

[2] The PowerPoint slide on economic and community benefits of the Touquoy mine stated, among other things:

  • $186.2 million capital investment at Touquoy between 2015-2020
  • Annual operating investment of 52.7 million
  • Between 2015-2020 400 direct and indirect jobs (FTEs) were created by Touquoy Operations – 302 in direct employment and 98 indirect
  • AMNS [Atlantic Mining NS, the name of the Atlantic Gold subsidiary that operates the Moose River mine] tax contribution calculations include both direct and indirect payment and include payroll taxes, property taxes, corporate taxes, royalties, and other taxes.
  • Our projects are aligned with several of the provincial goals of One NS, provincial departmental business plans and other strategic policy documents.

[3] The source for this is the Atlantic Gold Annual Information Form for the year ended December 31, 2017, published April 19, 2018 at: The document can be retrieved now using the Wayback Machine Internet Archive.

[4] The list of the items that show up in the ESTMA reports as payments to governments, which was sent to Dustin O’Leary with a question about whether they were included in the government “revenues” on the PowerPoint slide was:

ESTMA Report 2016: claim renewal fees / payments in lieu of work ($122,806.35), water application fees /disturbance fees for exploration work (33,329.97)…Right of way refundable road permit ($200,000).

Moose River road power line infrastructure payment to Nova Scotia power

Payment “in-kind” reclamation bond ($3.43 million) plus payment “in-kind” gifted to the Province (appraisal value of $29,000)

ESTMA Report 2017 $357,077 in-kind payments for public access road construction, determined by the cost of construction incurred by the Company

$143,463 claim renewal fees, $43,080 permit application fees …

$2,100,000 and $27,067 In-kind payment reclamation bond values at fair market value of the bond, and park relocation costs, the value of which is determined by the cash costs incurred by the Company

… “$281,845 “in-kind payment [HRM] for power line construction costs, and $4,804 to relocated a street light, both of which are determined by the cash costs incurred by the Company

ESTMA Report 2018 $231,903 permitting fees … $297,198 claim renewal fees

$2,770,000 In-kind payment reclamation bond values at fair market value of the bond

ESTMA Report 2019 … $214,078 claim renewals, $139,492 permitting fees, $1,194 permitting fees

ESTMA Report 2020 … $24,012.65 permitting fees, $38,728.24 claim fees

[5] In 2021, Atlantic Gold stepped up its efforts to influence politicians in Canada. During a February conference call, St Barbara CEO Craig Jetson told investors that Laird Browlie was being moved from his position as general manager of Atlantic Gold operations, to the “newly created strategic role as GM [general manager] permitting, government and community relations of Atlantic Gold projects.” Responding to a question from JPMorgan Chase & Co representative Alistair Harvey, Jetson talked about how he had “lined up quite a few meetings” with “government people,” and how they hoped to be able to get into the “halls of government” once the new “leader”  — Iain Rankin was to be sworn in as premier a week after the conference call — was settled in. Atlantic Gold has also hired a lobbyist in Ottawa, Tiéoulé Traoré, who met with Central Nova MP Sean Fraser on May 7, 2021.

[6] St Barbara’s terminology needs to be examined carefully. For example, the company minimizes the scale of the ecological footprint of the proposed mine at Beaver Dam by referring to it as a “satellite pit,” a misleading euphemism for a mine that will cover 200 hectares, and as the Examiner reported here, create an open pit 900 metres long, 300- 450 metres wide, and 170 metres deep.

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

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  1. Having driven past the Moose River Gold Mine site last year, I was stunned by what a huge wasteland it is. I fear for the impact the other mines are going to have on the pristine beauty of the Eastern Shore. It has to stop. We are throwing away one of the greatest sustainable development assets that the area has.

  2. Leave the GD gold in the ground. We don’t need to mine more, and it’s only costing us our tax dollars and in some cases, our health.
    Mining is supposed to be give and take. They have never given, so it’s long past time to stop the taking.