The caption for the three photos posted on Facebook by a community engagement specialist for St Barbara Ltd says: “Nice evening in Halifax! Last blast party for my work and some quality time with my valentine.” Her words are followed by a flourish of red heart emojis.
Must have been quite the party.
The Facebook photos show tempting plates of fresh oysters, a large hall full of tables decked out for a banquet with large golden stars suspended over them, and a close-up of a table decorated with a miniature replica of the open pit at St Barbara’s Touquoy gold mine in Moose River, replete with little toy earth movers and bulldozers and trucks, what looks like a dangling piece of golden foil, and lettering announcing “Feb 2023: Touquoy mine complete.”
The Examiner contacted St Barbara to ask what the occasion was, who attended the event, and whether there were any public officials present. This is the reply from St Barbara spokesperson Kenny Cameron:
A celebration of the completion of the Touquoy pit was held on Saturday, February 11th in the Convention Hall of the Halifax Convention Centre. The private event was for our team members, suppliers, consultants and their partners to celebrate the completion of mining in the Touquoy pit.
It’s interesting that St Barbara feels this an appropriate time to celebrate anything. (Although some might think it quite an accomplishment to have mined gold in Moose River for six years, gold worth several hundreds of millions of dollars, and have completed digging in the open pit without having paid the province of Nova Scotia a cent in corporate taxes.)
Still, it is just two months since St Barbara, whose shares had been taking quite a beating since the Australian company bought Atlantic Gold in 2019 for $722 million, announced a massive corporate shake-up, which would involve shedding its Nova Scotia mine and mining projects to a new junior company it would create.
The shake-up also meant St Barbara was shedding 100 jobs in its “Atlantic operations” in Nova Scotia, and that it was leaving a lot of unfinished business and a litany of environmental concerns in the province.
Which doesn’t really seem like the ideal occasion for a celebration of any kind.
The weekend gala in Halifax also came just 11 days after the Ecology Action Centre (EAC) raised the alarm about potential risks facing the province once the Touquoy mine goes into “care and maintenance” in 2024.
According to the EAC press release:
The Ecology Action Centre warns that a recent change to a mine in New Brunswick could be a preview of things to come for a gold mine in Nova Scotia.
The Caribou Mine in New Brunswick has recently gone into “care and maintenance mode,” meaning it’s not quite closed but it is also no longer mining. The current mine owners have filed for bankruptcy and could soon abandon the site, leaving the New Brunswick government holding the bag for site cleanup and liability. This is an all too familiar tactic used by the mining industry to get out of responsibilities and costs for decommissioning and reclaiming mines after their profitable life is over, and the same sequence of events could play out in Nova Scotia.
“The parallel to Nova Scotia lies in the Touquoy mine at Moose River (Eastern Shore), which has recently stopped mining and is now only processing previously mined ore at the site,” says Karen McKendry, wilderness outreach coordinator with the EAC. “The company has announced it will go to care and maintenance mode next year, and the company has restructured to distance itself from ‘non-core assets’ like the Touquoy mine.”
Although the province of Nova Scotia holds “reclamation security” of $41.2 million for the Touquoy mine, McKendry says that his may not protect Nova Scotians from finding themselves with the tab for future environmental risks posed by the mine site. The EAC press release continues:
The EAC is concerned that once processing at the Touquoy mine is complete and the mine remains no longer useful or profitable for the newly created company in charge, the mine will go into care and maintenance mode, then the company will abandon the mine. Nova Scotians need to know that although modern mining companies pay into a reclamation bond held with the province, reclamation plans and expenses are not acted upon until the mine is declared closed — not when mines are in care and maintenance mode. Care and maintenance mode puts a mine in indefinite limbo, leaving an unaddressed environmental hazard which can ultimately end up as a contaminated site to be dealt with at taxpayer expense.
And just for the record, this is what the actual open pit at the Touquoy gold mine looks like:
Not quite as cute as that fetching centrepiece on the tables at the St Barbara celebration this past weekend.