The ‘Friends of a New Northern Pulp’ sign in the window of the New Glasgow constituency office of African Nova Scotian Affairs Minister and Pictou Centre MLA Pat Dunn probably won’t be there much longer.
On Friday, and then again Monday, the Halifax Examiner received photographs of the constituency office with the sign from the ‘Friends of a New Northern Pulp’ group that has been critical of Nova Scotia Environment and Climate Change (NSECC).
Speaking on the Todd Veinotte Show on CityNews 95.7 last week, Robin Wilber, chair of the lobby group and president of Elmsdale Lumber, went public with his disdain for the ‘bureaucrats’ in NSECC, and the environmental process that the Paper Excellence company Northern Pulp has to undergo before it can re-open its 55-year-old pulp mill in Pictou County.
The Examiner contacted Dunn’s constituency office for a statement about the presence of the sign, to ask whether there was anything unusual about a government minister promoting a lobby group that is critical of the provincial government, and that seems intent on influencing an ongoing environmental assessment.
Dunn’s assistant said that only Dunn could speak about the sign, and that he had never hid his support for Northern Pulp. She said she would pass on the message about the Examiner’s query to Dunn. As of this writing, there has been no call back from the minister.
The Examiner also contacted the provincial Executive Council Office for comment about the sign, and received an immediate reply from Catherine Klimek, Premier Tim Houston’s press secretary.
In an email, Klimek wrote, “Neither the Premier or government caucus feel it is appropriate to display materials of this nature in government or constituency offices.”
“We have followed up with the member to immediately remove the sign,” said Klimek. “We will also communicate this message to the entire caucus to let them know that this is inappropriate.”
Northern Pulp ‘friends’ not friendly to NSECC
In his interview with Todd Veinotte on March 18, Wilber said of the provincial environment department, “They don’t have any experts in this field, but they want to control it, like they did the last time.”
“It’s absolutely clear to the forest industry in Nova Scotia the plan was in the beginning to run them out of time, and run them out of town,” Wilber said, “And that’s exactly what they did, and that’s exactly what they’re trying to do here.”
Wilber was referring to the previous environmental assessment process for a new effluent treatment facility, a process from which Northern Pulp withdrew in April 2020. It did so after Nova Scotia Environment decided in December in 2019 that Northern Pulp needed to prepare an Environmental Assessment Report, “pursuant to Section 18(b) of the Environmental Assessment Regulations.”
In December 2021, shortly after Northern Pulp — and its parents Paper Excellence Canada Holdings and Hervey Investments (The Netherlands), which are part of the multi-billion-dollar corporate empire of the multibillionaire Sino-Indonesian Widjaja family — launched a lawsuit against Nova Scotia for $450 million in the Nova Scotia Supreme Court, Northern Pulp registered a new project for an environmental assessment with NSECC, this time for the “mill transformation.”
Last week, NSECC issued the final Terms of Reference (TOR) for the preparation of an environmental assessment report for the mill transformation project, and did not give in a series of audacious demands from Northern Pulp for changes to the draft TOR.
As the Halifax Examiner reported in the March 15 Morning File, these demands included permission to move ahead with the project while the environmental assessment process was ongoing, and for clear limits in advance for emissions and effluent.
Independent Nova Scotian environmental consultant Peter Oram has stated clearly in a signed affidavit that this is not something the NSECC Terms of Reference typically specify.
It was the refusal by NSECC to cave to Northern Pulp demands for changes to the Terms of Reference that seems to have riled Wilber and the “Friends of a New Northern Pulp” lobby group he chairs.
Said Wilber on Todd Veinotte’s show:
It’s clear the present rules are broken. No company in the future will ever look at Nova Scotia. In the world we’re seen as closed for business.
When Tim Houston was in opposition he pushed [then Premier Stephen] McNeil to stop moving the goalposts, and be clear about what the demands were. And now where is he? Now he’s in power; that seems to have changed.
Well, as it turns out, Tim Houston is very much around, and as his press secretary told the Examiner, he is not impressed by the presence of that ‘Friends of a New Northern Pulp’ sign in Dunn’s constituency office window.
Nor, apparently, is Houston impressed by the ‘Friends” criticism of Nova Scotia’s environmental assessment process.
Klimek told the Examiner that once Northern Pulp submits their environmental assessment it will be assessed by an independent panel.
Which is exactly what NSECC’s final Terms of Reference for the environmental assessment say should happen.