Nova Scotia is experiencing a 21st century gold rush. Unlike the three previous gold rushes in the province in the 1800s and 1900s, this one involves a whole new kind of destructive extractive industry — open pit gold mines so massive they can be seen from outer space. These mines leave behind mountains of toxic tailings in facilities that will have to be monitored and maintained for centuries, even millennia, long, long after the gold miners have packed up with their profits and gone away.
And yet, gold mining seems to be off the political radar in the lead-up to this summer’s provincial election. There was no mention made of mines of any kind at the recent political debate, let alone the open pit gold mines that are currently being planned the length of the Eastern Shore.
Nor do any of the four main political parties — Liberal, Progressive Conservative, New Democratic, or Green — include gold mining and mining policies in their 2021 election platforms.
Even if the politicians aren’t talking gold mining, the Halifax Examiner is. Its extensive coverage of mining issues started in 2018 with this award-winning series of articles published jointly with the Cape Breton Spectator. Since that four-part series, the Examiner has published 35 articles digging into mining issues in Nova Scotia.
The coverage looks at everything from the expensive toxic legacy of previous gold rushes, to the harmfulness of open pit gold mining, from the rock-bottom 1% royalty rate in Nova Scotia to the hundreds of millions of dollars worth of gold Atlantic Gold has extracted in the last few years in its open pit Moose River mine. There’s also the cheerleading (and bankrolling) role that the Department of Energy and Mines plays in promoting both gold mining and gold exploration in the province, some of which is even being legally done inside municipal water supply areas.
There is certainly no shortage of crucial issues around gold mining and exploration in the province.
A good part of Nova Scotia is currently covered by mineral exploration licences, many belonging to Atlantic Gold / St Barbara Ltd. But many other prospectors and several companies — Meguma Gold, Northern Shield Resources, Anaconda Gold, Transition Metals, and Aurelius Minerals — are busy exploring for gold and promoting their finds far and wide, seeking investors who might buy their companies and their claims, and perhaps start going for gold in a big, gold-mine kind of way.
Atlantic Gold, now a subsidiary of the Australian company St Barbara Ltd, which operates the very first open pit gold mine in the province, managed in just a couple of years to rack up facing 32 provincial environmental charges and three federal ones. Since January 2021, Atlantic Gold’s affiliate Atlantic Mining NS, has appeared four times in court on those charges, and asked each time for a postponement of the case (the next court appearance is slated for September 9, 2021).
Archibald Lake near Sherbrooke, which the province had proposed for protected status, was quietly removed from that list in 2020. In January 2021, the same day that St Barbara’s first full-time lobbyist started work in Ottawa, the Chronicle Herald’s Aaron Beswick broke the story that St Barbara CEO Craig Jetson had spoken on the phone in October 2020 with then Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil, after months of trying to get in touch over concerns that if Archibald Lake were to become a protected wilderness area it would put an end to the company’s plans for an open pit mine — its fourth in Nova Scotia — at Cochrane Hill, on the banks of the vulnerable and valuable St. Mary’s River near Sherbrooke. After that phone call, Archibald Lake disappeared from the list of proposed protected areas up for public consultation.
And yet, gold mining and these related issues, which could negatively affect entire communities and regions and waterways forever, don’t seem to be getting the coverage they deserve in the lead-up to the August 17 provincial election.
To find out where the main political parties stand on gold mining, the Halifax Examiner sent a list of nine questions to the Liberals, Progressive Conservatives, New Democrats, and Greens.
This is what we heard back.
New Democratic Party (NDP) response
The order of the political parties’ answers is based on the length and detail of responses they provided. Only two parties — the New Democrats and the Green parties — provided answers to the nine questions from the Examiner.
The most detailed response came from the Nova Scotia NDP director of communications Lucas Wide:
Halifax Examiner (1): Would the New Democratic Party of Nova Scotia demand of the federal Minister of Environment & Climate Change that St Barbara Limited’s plan for four open pit gold mines on the Eastern Shore undergo a joint federal and provincial assessment as a consolidated project so that all cumulative effects are assessed?
NDP: An NDP government will propose a joint assessment as suggested by Eastern Shore [Forest] Watch [Association], or as an alternative will require assessment of cumulative effects by the current federal-provincial assessments of the three new open pit mines and by the provincial assessment of the expansion of the processing-storage operations. The proposals are clearly related.
HE (2): Does the New Democratic Party of Nova Scotia believe there are places where gold and other hard rock mining and exploration should not be allowed in Nova Scotia? If so, which areas? (Municipal water supply watersheds, sensitive and important ecological areas, buffer zones around national and provincial parks? Others?)
NDP: An NDP government would clarify what lands are restricted from any or all mining activity (i.e. important watercourses and wetlands, community watersheds, prime agricultural lands, habitat of endangered species, etc.) and create criteria to guide the Minister’s decision making around this. The NDP would also create other mechanisms for removals from land available for mining or create more precise requirements under which mining is permitted, according to particular circumstances.
HE (3): Would the New Democratic Party of Nova Scotia commit to ensuring Archibald Lake is given protected wilderness status to preclude its use as a source of water for any gold mine in the area, as described here?
NDP: An NDP government would bring the Archibald Lake area back into consideration for protection so that the normal community-based process is followed.
HE (4): Would the New Democratic Party of Nova Scotia direct the environment minister to immediately approve the [Municipality of the County of Colchester] submitted French River Watershed Protection [Tatamagouche water supply] regulations and end the delay of over a year in doing so?
NDP: The NDP believes that communities should be involved in resource development decisions that impact the environment. An NDP government would begin the process of incorporating the proposed regulations to protect the French River Watershed as studied and submitted by the Municipality of the County of Colchester.
HE (5): Would the New Democratic Party of Nova Scotia ensure that all reclamation bonds to be paid in cash before a mine can begin, that the amount be commensurate with the actual costs of remediation, and that the process of calculating the amount of those reclamation bonds as well as the reclamation plans are made public and available online for the public to see?
NDP: Where mining occurs there needs to be assurance that the public isn’t left footing the bill for remediation. This is why the NDP would ensure mandatory financial security for remediation and independent, third party determination of remediation bond amounts.
HE (6): Would the New Democratic Party of Nova Scotia commit to revising all the financial arrangements and incentives in place for the mining industry specifically increasing the royalty rate on gold mined in the province from the current 1% of net to at least 5% of gross value to give Nova Scotians a better share of the wealth that now leaves the province untaxed?
NDP: An NDP government will review the royalty rates for non-renewable resources.
HE (7): Would the New Democratic government reform the Department of Energy and Mines so the role of regulator and promoter is separated?
NDP: An NDP government would ensure that regulatory oversight to protect health and safety and the natural environment is not a responsibility of those who promote energy and mines.
HE (8): Would the New Democratic Party of Nova Scotia increase the size and budget of the Department of Environment and Climate Change so that there are enough staff to do the actual monitoring at gold mines in the province, and make those monitoring reports public?
NDP: Monitoring and public reporting of what it shows is a best practice to safeguard the natural environment from potentially toxic harm. An NDP government will be guided by our understanding of such best practices.
HE (9): Does the New Democratic Party of Nova Scotia believe that public investment in gold mining is economically, socially, and environmentally better for the people of Nova Scotia than investing in green technologies and the digital economy?
NDP: Mining projects can have significant environmental impacts which is why communities should be involved in the decisions to approve them. This is why the NDP would enact an environmental bill of rights that would expand community involvement in environmental assessments and increase transparency around environmental approvals. This is also why the NDP does not support mining projects in places where there is not sufficient social license, such as St Barbara’s proposed mine at Cochrane Hill which would threaten important Atlantic Salmon habitat in the St. Mary’s River.
Green Party response
HE (1): Would the Green Party of Nova Scotia demand of the federal Minister of Environment & Climate Change that St Barbara Limited’s plan for four open pit gold mines on the Eastern Shore undergo a joint federal and provincial assessment as a consolidated project so that all cumulative effects are assessed?
Green Party of Nova Scotia (GPNS): Probably. Is that legally required? If it isn’t, it should be, due to the jurisdictional overlap.
HE (2): Does the Green Party of Nova Scotia believe there are places where gold and other hard rock mining and exploration should not be allowed in Nova Scotia? If so, which areas? (Municipal water supply watersheds, sensitive and important ecological areas, buffer zones around national and provincial parks? Others?)
GPNS: The Green Party lacks the information necessary to give a truly accurate answer. Ideally, we would have little or no further hard rock mining, particularly when polluting chemicals are used in processing.
HE (3): Would the Green Party of Nova Scotia commit to ensuring Archibald Lake is given protected wilderness status to preclude its use as a source of water for any gold mine in the area, as described here?
HE (4): Would the Green Party of Nova Scotia direct the environment minister to immediately approve the submitted French River Watershed Protection regulations and end the delay of over a year in doing so?
GPNS: Yes, we would expedite its protection, to the extent of our abilities.
HE (5): Would the Green Party of Nova Scotia ensure that all reclamation bonds to be paid in cash before a mine can begin, that the amount be commensurate with the actual costs of remediation, and that the process of calculating the amount of those reclamation bonds as well as the reclamation plans are made public and available online for the public to see?
HE (6): Would the Green Party of Nova Scotia commit to revising all the financial arrangements and incentives in place for the mining industry specifically increasing the royalty rate on gold mined in the province from the current 1% of net to at least 5% of gross value to give Nova Scotians a better share of the wealth that now leaves the province untaxed?
HE (7): Would the Green government reform the Department of Energy and Mines so the role of regulator and promoter is separated?
GPNS: Definitely, there’s a conflict of interest in those dual roles.
HE (8): Would the Green Party of Nova Scotia increase the size and budget of the Department of Environment and Climate Change so that there are enough staff to do the actual monitoring at gold mines in the province, and make those monitoring reports public?
HE (9): Does the Green Party of Nova Scotia believe that public investment in gold mining is economically, socially, and environmentally better for the people of Nova Scotia than investing in green technologies and the digital economy?
GPNS: Definitely not.
Progressive Conservative response
The Examiner sent the same nine questions to Catherine Klimek, spokesperson for the Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative Party. Rather than reply to the individual questions, Klimek sent a statement “on mining:”
For any new mining initiatives, we need to ensure that new projects are properly scrutinized for their environmental impacts, but we also need to ensure that Nova Scotia is seen locally, nationally, and internationally as a business friendly environment.
In order to prevent community polarization and distrust in government’s project evaluation processes, a PC government will establish blue ribbon panels of subject matter experts to assess complex applications to ensure our environment is protected with the highest level of scrutiny for complex projects.
It’s important to recognize that gold and other metals are used as components of crucial equipment, including medical equipment. It is incumbent on government to consider local mining initiatives while investing in making Nova Scotia a leader in the green and digital economy. A failure to promote a diversified, multifaceted economy would be a failure to lead the economy forward.
Liberal Party response
Like the PCs, the Nova Scotia Liberal Party did not provide answers to the individual questions. Instead, Liberal Party spokesperson Matt Hefler sent this short statement:
The mining sector is important to our Nova Scotia economy, and it creates jobs in rural areas of our province. At the same time, there must be balance. The Liberal Party expects a high standard of environmental stewardship and we expect companies and projects to adhere to those standards. The provincial environmental assessment process is robust and thorough. We are always looking at ways in which to achieve balance between protecting the environment and economic development. We are investing in green technologies and skills training that could lead to innovation in the mining sector. We must remember we also get critical minerals from mining. These include minerals needed for clean technologies such as batteries, solar panels, as well as for telecommunications.
No, gold is not a “critical mineral” for a green transition
An editorial comment on both the Liberal and Progressive Party statements is warranted here. The questions were specifically about gold mining, which is currently the real issue in Nova Scotia. Both parties conflated gold mining with the value of minerals needed for “clean technologies,” which is either disingenuous, or just parroting of broad claims about mining from the Mining Association of Nova Scotia, and a reflection of genuine lack of knowledge about gold and gold mining.
Gold is not one of the 31 “critical minerals” that the federal government has identified for the transition to a “clean and digitized economy, which it says are “critical for the sustainable economic success of Canada and our allies.”
Further, the world doesn’t actually need to mine any more gold. According to the World Gold Council, 197,576 tonnes of gold has been mined throughout history and up to 2019, and all of that gold is still around — 47% of it in jewellery, 21.6% of it as private investment [gold bullion sitting around in vaults], 17.2% as official holdings, and 14.2% “other,” meaning all the technical and medical applications. There is plenty of gold around that can be recycled and used for any genuine needs.
The gold that remains underground is mostly low-grade ore, which means massive open pit mines — with the massive environmental harm they cause — are required to make gold mining profitable. Earthworks notes that such “modern mines” generate a huge amount of waste, 20 tonnes of it for a single gold ring, which it also deems an “underestimate.”
Also conspicuously absent from the Liberal and Progressive Conservative responses is the acknowledgement — or perhaps even the awareness — that since the open pit gold mine in Moose River opened in late 2017, hundreds of millions of dollars worth of gold have been extracted, and yet the company that has reaped the profits from the mine has paid a mere $4.5 million in royalties and $0 in federal or provincial taxes in that time.
And may we humbly suggest that before the election they take time to beef up what the province actually gets out of the gold rush, the many massive problems associated with gold mining, and the risks it poses to the resources that are of genuine value to Nova Scotians — rivers, lakes, fish, wetlands, wildlife, biodiversity, and forests — all of which become more precious every day as the ravages of the climate crisis are felt.
 A complete list of articles published by the Halifax Examiner on gold and mining issues in Nova Scotia (and beyond) since 2018:
June 21, 2021 : Who benefits from Atlantic Gold’s Nova Scotia operations? Firm with gold mines on the Eastern Shore pays no taxes and low wages to its employees while it gets large government subsidies and maximizes profits. Oh, and it will leave toxic mine tailings that will be with us forever. https://www.halifaxexaminer.ca/featured/who-really-benefits-from-atlantic-golds-nova-scotia-operations/
May 22, 2021: Aurelius Minerals is still making false claims to potential investors about its Nova Scotia gold mine: Two months after the Halifax Examiner learned that Aurelius does not have “active and valid” environmental or industrial approval for the gold mine site on Eastern Shore, the company continues to say its site is “one of only two permitted gold mines and mills in the province.” https://www.halifaxexaminer.ca/environment/aurelius-minerals-is-still-making-false-claims-to-potential-investors-about-its-nova-scotia-gold-mine/
May 20, 2021: Atlantic Gold’s imaginary conservation land: In 2008, Atlantic Gold was given provincial approval for the gigantic Touquoy open pit gold mine with the condition that within four years the company buy and give the province nearby land for conservation purposes. 13 years later, that condition is still unmet, and the province is making no real effort to enforce it. https://www.halifaxexaminer.ca/environment/atlantic-golds-imaginary-conservation-land/
Mar. 21, 2021: Atlantic Gold plans to mine “paradise”: Citizens near Beaver Dam and Moose River raise the alarm about the high environmental costs of open pit gold mines in eastern Nova Scotia, the province’s “sacrifice zone.” https://www.halifaxexaminer.ca/environment/atlantic-gold-plans-to-mine-paradise/?fbclid=IwAR2T0KE-JHOlznoS-RSFFg8Pfmy6d1lj74m9S8b2ELtRm6eGqEbQXxdp2mQ
Mar. 17, 2021: Tall tales about Nova Scotia gold: investors should beware of Aurelius Minerals’ spin job …. Aurelius Minerals bought the old Dufferin Gold Mine, and Aurelius is now telling potential investors the site “is permitted” and ready for mining. But a provincial permit was issued to the previous company nearly 27 years ago, and even that expired in 2017. No application has been made to transfer the permit to the new owner, and it likely wouldn’t meet modern environmental standards in any event. https://www.halifaxexaminer.ca/environment/tall-tales-about-nova-scotia-gold-investors-should-beware-of-aurelius-minerals-spin-job/
March 3, 2021: Greenwashing the goldfields Atlantic Gold “partnership” with St. Mary’s University: Linda Campbell’s work is invaluable, so why is it a mining company supporting it, and not the government? https://www.halifaxexaminer.ca/environment/greenwashing-the-goldfields/
Feb. 18, 2021: Atlantic Gold says it is getting “into the halls of government” in Nova Scotia, but it has no registered lobbyist. https://www.halifaxexaminer.ca/province-house/atlantic-gold-says-it-is-getting-into-the-halls-of-government-in-nova-scotia-but-it-has-no-registered-lobbyist/
Jan. 27, 2021: Atlantic Gold paid $0 in taxes in 2019: Even as the company is in court facing 32 charges of polluting the environment, the promised windfall in tax revenue is proving illusionary. https://www.halifaxexaminer.ca/environment/atlantic-gold-paid-0-in-taxes-in-2019/
Jan. 23, 2021: After reading a Halifax Examiner article, two cops showed up at an author reading at Mount Allison University: Joan Kuyek wrote a book about communities protecting themselves from mining companies, and so the RCMP sicced its Criminal Intelligence Section on her. https://www.halifaxexaminer.ca/featured/after-reading-a-halifax-examiner-article-two-cops-showed-up-at-an-author-reading-at-mount-allison-university/
Jan. 20, 2021: Atlantic Gold is going to court: The St Barbara Limited company is facing 32 environmental charges, even as more complaints roll in https://www.halifaxexaminer.ca/environment/atlantic-gold-is-going-to-court/
Dec. 23, 2020: Nova Scotia has laid charges for 32 environmental infractions against Atlantic Gold https://www.halifaxexaminer.ca/environment/nova-scotia-has-laid-charges-for-32-environmental-infractions-against-atlantic-gold/
April 10, 2020: Mining Association of Nova Scotia uses the pandemic to promote its own agenda https://www.halifaxexaminer.ca/province-house/mining-association-of-nova-scotia-uses-the-pandemic-to-promote-its-own-agenda/
April 3, 2020: The Moose River betrayal: In 2008, the approval of the Moose River gold mine was conditioned on the mining company giving the province hundreds of acres of conservation land within four years; 12 years later, there’s still no approved plan in place. https://www.halifaxexaminer.ca/featured/the-moose-river-betrayal/
Mar. 29, 2020: The possible horrible legacy of the “Coronavirus Convention” Against suggestions that it be cancelled, 23,000 people from around the world attended a mining convention in Toronto in March. https://www.halifaxexaminer.ca/featured/the-possible-horrible-legacy-of-the-coronavirus-convention/
Mar. 25, 2020: Atlantic Gold is waging a propaganda blitz in Nova Scotia https://www.halifaxexaminer.ca/province-house/atlantic-gold-is-waging-a-propaganda-blitz-in-nova-scotia/
Mar. 11, 2020: Atlantic Gold’s incommunicative communications (item in Morning File) https://www.halifaxexaminer.ca/featured/thank-you-for-the-interest/
Mar. 5, 2020: “Coronavirus Convention” Joan Baxter is reporting on an international mining convention in Toronto for the Halifax Examiner: here’s what’s happened so far. https://www.halifaxexaminer.ca/province-house/coronavirus-convention/
Mar. 5, 2020: Profits before people: Nova Scotia is offering its “world class mineral deposits to the world https://www.halifaxexaminer.ca/province-house/profits-before-people-nova-scotia-is-offering-its-world-class-mineral-deposits-to-the-world/
Mar. 1 – 3, 2020: Atlantic Journalism Award-winning three-part series “Port Wallace Gamble: the real estate boom meets Nova Scotia’s toxic mine legacy”:
Part 1. The making of a toxic mess and the uncalculated costs of previous gold rushes. https://www.halifaxexaminer.ca/province-house/port-wallace-gamble-the-real-estate-boom-meets-nova-scotias-toxic-mine-legacy/
Part 2. The suburb proposed to be built in the shadow of Montague Gold Mines https://www.halifaxexaminer.ca/province-house/port-wallace-gamble-the-real-estate-boom-meets-nova-scotias-toxic-mine-legacy-2/
Part 3. Cleaning up the historic tailings from Montague Gold Mines – does Port Wallace Development hang in the balance? https://www.halifaxexaminer.ca/province-house/port-wallace-gamble-the-real-estate-boom-meets-nova-scotias-toxic-mine-legacy-3/
Nov. 18, 2019: Mining for (public) dollars: The Mining Association of Nova Scotia (MANS) has created a new organization called the Minerals Research Association of Nova Scotia (MRANS) with the aim of leveraging still more provincial grants to enrich global mining companies – and their local operatives. https://www.halifaxexaminer.ca/province-house/mining-for-public-dollars/
Feb. 5, 2020: Survey says: Why are people calling me with pro-mining propaganda? https://www.halifaxexaminer.ca/province-house/survey-says-why-are-people-calling-me-with-pro-mining-propaganda/
Oct. 25, 2019: Nova Scotia government doubles down on gold mining https://www.halifaxexaminer.ca/province-house/nova-scotia-government-doubles-down-on-gold-mining/
Oct. 16, 2019: Joan Kuyek: Our job is to take our governments back from the mining interests https://www.halifaxexaminer.ca/environment/joan-kuyek-our-job-is-to-take-our-governments-back-from-the-mining-interests/
Oct. 13, 2019: Gold fever is coming to Halifax: Mineral exploration companies have staked claims next to the Halifax and Dartmouth lakes that are the source of our drinking water. https://www.halifaxexaminer.ca/province-house/gold-fever-is-coming-to-halifax/
Sept. 27, 2019: Cheques for mining propaganda, but not for corporate registry: The lobbyist group Mining Association of Nova Scotia receives a lot of public money from the province, and yet it is in default for its provincial registration fees https://www.halifaxexaminer.ca/province-house/cheques-for-mining-propaganda-but-not-for-corporate-registry/
June 25, 2019: After the gold rush: Nova Scotia is ignoring the toxic legacy of past mining manias while rushing headlong into the next https://www.halifaxexaminer.ca/province-house/after-the-gold-rush/
June 3, 2019: St Barbara still intends to acquire Atlantic Gold: The violent arrest of John Perkins has put the critical spotlight on gold mining on the Eastern Shore, but for the mining companies, operating in low-regulation and low-royalty Nova Scotia is, well, a gold mine. https://www.halifaxexaminer.ca/province-house/st-barbara-still-intends-to-acquire-atlantic-gold/
May 27, 2019: Setting the record straight on Atlantic Gold’s spin job https://www.halifaxexaminer.ca/province-house/setting-the-record-straight-on-atlantic-golds-spin-job
May 24, 2019: RCMP violently remove and arrest citizen at public meeting about gold mine https://www.halifaxexaminer.ca/province-house/rcmp-violently-remove-and-arrest-citizen-at-public-meeting-about-gold-mine/
May 17, 2019: The $722 million deal: An Australian company is buying the Vancouver company that owns Nova Scotia’s largest gold mining operation: What’s in it for us? https://www.halifaxexaminer.ca/province-house/the-722-million-deal/
March 15, 2019: Spill at Moose River gold mine raises environmental concerns: Atlantic Gold springs an effluent leak, plugs a new mine, and sells itself to investors https://www.halifaxexaminer.ca/province-house/spill-at-moose-river-gold-mine-raises-environmental-concerns/
Feb. 7, 2019: Like blood from a stone: trying to get information out of the Department of Energy and Mines https://www.halifaxexaminer.ca/province-house/like-blood-from-a-stone-trying-to-get-information-out-of-the-department-of-energy-and-mines/
Jan. 25, 2019: Friends of St. Mary’s River say “NOPE” to Atlantic Gold https://www.halifaxexaminer.ca/environment/friends-of-st-marys-river-say-nope-to-atlantic-gold/
Award-winning “Fool’s Gold” Series 2018, a Halifax Examiner / Cape Breton Spectator special investigation into mining and quarrying in Nova Scotia (silver award at the 2018 Atlantic Journalism Awards)
May 16, 2018 Fool’s Gold Part 1: Welcome to the Gold Rush https://www.halifaxexaminer.ca/province-house/fools-gold/
May 23, 2018 Fool’s Gold Part 2: Going for gold https://www.halifaxexaminer.ca/province-house/fools-gold-2/
May 30, 2018 Fool’s Gold Part 3: Cobequid Gold and Tatamagouche water https://www.halifaxexaminer.ca/province-house/fools-gold-3/
June 13, 2018 Fool’s Gold Part 4: How the mining lobby is working to undermine environmental protection in Nova Scotia https://www.halifaxexaminer.ca/province-house/fools-gold-4/
 The order that the political parties’ answers appear in the article is based on the length and detail of responses they provided, in descending order.