News

1. A “really, really, really, really difficult time”

Joan Baxter wrote this item.

The rally for the Boat Harbour Act. Photo: Joan Baxter

About 300 people gathered yesterday in the school gymnasium at Pictou Landing First Nation for a rally to support the Boat Harbour Act. That legislation, passed in 2015 by Premier Stephen McNeil’s Liberal government with support of the Progressive Conservatives and NDP, stipulates that on January 31, 2020 Northern Pulp must stop sending its toxic effluent — up to about 90 million litres of it a day — into the notoriously polluted Boat Harbour lagoon, once a precious tidal estuary PLFN knew as “A’se’K.”

The rally was organized hastily after Chief Andrea Paul learned a day earlier that the forestry industry and the union that represents Northern Pulp employees, Unifor, were organizing a protest in Halifax to pressure Premier McNeil to amend the Act and extend Northern Pulp’s use of Boat Harbour past the legislated closure date.

Paul was concerned that there could be violence if people opposed to an amendment of the Boat Harbour Act were to head to Halifax for a counter protest. To prevent that, she put out word about a rally on the reserve for those who “stand with” PLFN.

The rally opened with a prayer by Mi’kmaq elder Ralph Francis. Choking up, he said it was an emotional occasion for him, and then delivered the prayer:

Give us a clean heart and a clean mind and no hatred between the two groups. Please forgive us if we hurt feelings on both sides, on any sides, on any nation. Please give us the strength to continue to fight. Please give us the strength to forgive Mr. McNeil if he makes the wrong call, please have understanding and compassion for your fellow man.

Francis thanked everyone who attended — all the fishermen and people of Pictou — who support the legislated date for the closure of Boat Harbour.

In 1966 A’se’K was dammed to create Boat Harbour for pulp effluent. Photo: Joan Baxter

Francis also recalled A’se’K as it was before the mill opened. Back then, he said, children had no video games and they spent entire days swimming and fishing in the tidal estuary. Today, he said, you wouldn’t stay even five minutes at Boat Harbour.

Chief Andrea Paul lamented the effects the mill pollution has had on her community, and the number of people who have died young. She told the audience that Ralph Francis, her uncle, had always said he would be happy if he made it to the age of 65. “He’s 66,” she said. “Let’s celebrate that.”

Referring to others who have died prematurely, whose names and photos appear on a mural on the gymnasium wall, Paul said:

No amount of money can bring those people back, no amount of money will heal the pain that we carry.

Photo: Joan Baxter

At the same time that mill employees, forestry workers, and truckers were protesting in HRM, and the rally was happening in Pictou Landing, Brian Baarda, CEO of Paper Excellence, Northern Pulp’s parent company, was issuing a statement with this ultimatum:

…if the Government of Nova Scotia does not extend the Boat Harbour Act deadline for use of the Boat Harbour effluent treatment facility, the company will take the necessary steps to shut down the facility. 

Chief Andrea Paul appeared unfazed. She sounded buoyant and stubbornly optimistic that Premier McNeil would not break his word to PLFN by granting Northern Pulp an extension.

Since January 31, 2019 the people of Pictou Landing First Nation have been counting the days until Boat Harbour closes. Yesterday, marked just 42 days. Photo: Joan Baxter

She described this week — during which the federal government decided not to subject Northern Pulp’s new effluent treatment facility to an impact assessment, the provincial government decided it required a full environmental assessment report, and then the wait for McNeil’s announcement about the future of Boat Harbour due later today — as a “really, really, really, really difficult time.”

Paul said the PLFN Band Council had met to discuss the situation, and:

We just want to reiterate that for us, January 31, 2020 is the date. Premier Stephen McNeil, you do not get to 42 days and decide that this is not the date. I just want to say Pictou Landing and our surrounding community, we have been very respectful to this process. We have done everything we could in a good way. And why do we do that? Because we have children that are watching this unfold. We have children that are relying on us to make this right. 

Chief Andrea Paul arrives to loud applause. Photo: Joan Baxter

After a deafening round of applause, Paul then continued her message for Premier McNeil:

Stay strong … this is your legacy. This was the legacy that you talked about before you were elected. It is the legacy you talked about once you were elected.

After the rally, I asked Chief Paul whether she thought McNeil would succumb to the pressure being exerted on him by Paper Excellence, Unifor, and the forestry industry, or keep his word to her that he would, as she put it, “make something right for Pictou Landing First Nation.” She replied:

He’s going to stick with his word. The date is the date. I know he’s going to do that.

Many of those who attended the rally seemed to share Paul’s belief that McNeil will not amend the Act.

Stirling McLean, a member of the Clean the Mill group, told me he thinks the premier will stand firm and “make the change that needs to be made,” adding:

I think we’re tired, and sick and tired of the environmental racism here in Nova Scotia. And if he [McNeil] steps up and makes this change, it’s probably the biggest change in Nova Scotia in the last hundred years. That’s quite a legacy and one that I’m certain he would love to live with. And we’d certainly be supporting him.

With tears in her eyes, River John resident and author Linda Little said that her heart went out to anyone who would lose their jobs when the mill closed, as she thought it would. But for those who did, she said, “they could look to the people of Pictou Landing First Nation on how to deal with loss.”

Not all forestry professionals were protesting in Halifax

Wade Prest, former president of the Nova Scotia Woodlot Owners and Operators Association, also attended yesterday’s rally to support PLFN and the closure of Boat Harbour.

Prest, a woodland owner and forestry contractor, told me he has been selling wood to the mill at Abercrombie Point in Pictou County his whole life.

Wade Prest at PLFN rally in front of mural of deceased PLFN members. Photo: Joan Baxter

Asked why he was in Pictou Landing and not in Halifax with other forestry professionals demanding that the premier save Northern Pulp by extending its use of Boat Harbour, Prest replied:

Well, it sort of upsets me that the Northern Pulp and Forest Nova Scotia [the industry association] and some of the sawmill owners have been able to create the impression in the public that everybody who’s involved in forestry, and in particular woodland owners, are all in agreement that Northern Pulp should be able to continue to use Boat Harbour until they decide that they’re ready to put in a proposal that’s acceptable. And it’s not true, because there’s many of us who are woodland owners and small contractors who are not at all happy with the forestry system that we have in Nova Scotia and the forestry economy that we are forced to work in. 

Prest is the nephew of the late Murray Prest, who, from the 1940s onwards, tried to promote healthy woodlands management in Nova Scotia. In the 1960s, when the government of Nova Scotia granted Scott Maritimes, which was building the mill in Pictou County, a lease on 200,000 acres of prime timberland, Murray Prest found himself having to lease woodland from Scott to feed his sawmill. Scott demanded that Prest clearcut the forest. He refused, and eventually lost his sawmill.

Today Wade Prest continues his uncle’s struggle for what he calls “a better type of forest management” that is not based on the pulp industry, which he said “has increasingly captured control of the Department of Natural Resources, [now the] Department of Lands and Forestry. According to Prest:

Over the years and through weak politics, weak politicians, strong legal representation for that pulp mill and other pulp mills, and lobbying of each successive government and successive governments that have wanted to or not, have succumbed to the idea that we have to give these guarantees, [that] we have to give these concessions to that mill in order for it to keep us employed, because if it [Northern Pulp] doesn’t continue to operate, everything will fall apart in Nova Scotia. So it’s the same argument that repeated over 50 years, has just led to increasingly more control of the whole sector. And the Department of Lands and Forestry really is complicit in the mess we’re in now, and the amount of control that the pulp mill has. 

Prest doesn’t buy the claims that if Northern Pulp closes, the entire forestry industry will collapse:

There will be some job losses. I don’t think it’ll be catastrophic. The government of the province certainly should have been working on mitigation plans. I think it’s short term job losses, but in the medium term, we can recover from that, create more jobs and have a better forestry sector, a more sustainable forestry sector, more of the wealth that’s created by our forests will be able to stay in the pockets of people in rural communities in Nova Scotia than it does now. Certainly there’s a real onus on the government of the Nova Scotia to be able to ensure mitigation plans are in place. And I would expect surely they are at this time. 

Prest predicted that McNeil is not going to cave to pressure to extend Northern Pulp’s use of Boat Harbour.

“I think that the premier is going to honour the Boat Harbour Act,” he said. “Because we’ve been played for a long time.”

This morning, we’ll know whether Stephen McNeil is of the same mind. The premier has called a 10:30am press conference to announce his decision.

2. Star Halifax

Today’s is the last issue of Star Halifax/ Metro Halifax. Bureau chief Philip Croucher and reporters Yvette d’Entremont, Haley Ryan, Zane Woodford, and Taryn Grant are to be commended for their depth of coverage, dedication, and hard work.

The five have been an invaluable part of the local journalism scene, and their absence will be felt.

We in the media community had a bit of a wake/celebration of the Little Paper That Could last night. A bittersweet moment, to be sure, but a good time was had by all. I wish nothing but the best for all the Star Halifax crew.

3. McNutt and Poirier

A police release from yesterday:

Investigators with the Special Investigation Section of the Integrated Criminal Investigative Division have laid additional charges in relation to an investigation into multiple historical sexual assaults that occurred in the 1970s and 80s.

On December 17, 2019, investigators charged Jaddus Joseph Poirier, 77, of Halifax with one count each of gross indecency and indecent assault in relation to one victim. Poirier was arrested at a residence in Halifax and was released to appear in court on January 23, 2020.

On November 14, 2019, investigators charged Michael Patrick McNutt, 66, of Halifax, with one count of indecent assault, one count of sexual assault and two counts of gross indecency in relation to two victims. McNutt was arrested at Halifax Regional Police Headquarters and released to appear in court at a later date.

Police began an investigation in October 2016 after several victims came forward to report historical sexual assaults. Both accused have been previously charged in this investigation. These charges are in relation to new victims and the offences occurred at different locations in the Halifax region. The victims were youths at the time of the offences and McNutt and Poirier were in a position of trust in relation to the victims. We are not releasing any further details to protect the identity of the victims.

I broke the McNutt story in 2017. I believe that the broader investigation will find that hundreds of boys, mostly from the north end of Halifax, were sexually abused by a handful of men who knew each other and in effect “traded” the boys amongst themselves. It’s a huge story, and I’d like to get into it in some detail after my current project is completed.

I’ve also recently been made aware of an alleged sexual abuser of boys who operated in the south end in the 1990s. This story is getting about more as the man has recently died. If anyone wants to discuss this with me, please drop me a line.

I think it’s important that these stories be told because the abuse has deeply affected the victims, now men, and their present-day relationships, families, and the larger community. It’s a subject worth exploring at length.

After I wrote the above, I came across today’s article by CBC reporter Elizabeth McMillan about naval officer Lt. Derek de Jong, who was charged with desertion for leaving his ship:

De Jong later pleaded guilty to desertion. The military launched an internal investigation and determined a fellow officer had entered his cabin, exposed herself and urinated on his floor. Superiors to whom he reported the incident laughed it off with comments such as, “Some men have to pay for that.” They didn’t consider it harassment, let alone sexual misconduct.

But no one on the ship or in the later court martial hearing in Halifax knew what had truly triggered de Jong to walk off that day and board a flight home — that he was still haunted by an abuser who had been dead since 2005.

Long before he joined the military, de Jong was among the fastest up-and-coming swimmers in Canada and the team captain of one of the top-ranked U.S. universities for athletics. 

During 1990, his first year at Ohio State, he says, he was sexually assaulted during mandatory physical exams by his team’s doctor, Dr. Richard Strauss. It’s an experience he hid for decades — from his family, his friends and his colleagues in the Canadian Armed Forces.

4. Bilby Street

A numbered company — 3276428 — controlled by Derek and Renee Ross has appealed the city’s refusal for a development permit to the Utility and Review Board.

The appeal concerns a property at the corner of Isleville and Bilby Streets, for which the Rosses were issued a development agreement on February 22, 2017.

There’s so much development in the area, and of course four corners at the intersection, I’m not sure exactly which development proposal this is. I think it’s this one, which involves wrangling over adding 15 units to a previously approved seven-storey building.

5. The Hotel Barmecide

The Grafton Street Glory Hole, with the convention centre and empty hotel above it. Photo: Halifax Examiner

Sutton Place Hotels has re-advertised its job offering for a general manager of the hotel in the Nova Centre. The job was first advertised in November with a closing date of January 4. The revised ad has a closing date of February 11. Gonna be really hard to get that place up and running by April 1.


Government

No public meetings.


On campus

No public events.


In the harbour

06:00: Skogafoss, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Reykjavik, Iceland
08:00: Ef Ava, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Argentia, Newfoundland
13:15: Kitikmeot W, oil tanker, arrives at Imperial Oil from Quebec City
15:00: Skogafoss sails for Portland
16:30: Ef Ava sails for Portland


Footnotes

Not a lot to say today. I was up late with the Star Halifax crew and have to rush off for the premier’s press conference.

For this stellar service, you should give us money.

Tim Bousquet

Tim Bousquet is the editor and publisher of the Halifax Examiner. Twitter @Tim_Bousquet Mastodon

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. He made his mind up long ago, 5 years ago. The company and union were silly enough to think he would change his mind. I hope he doesn’t bail out the pension plan. If you are in a pension plan it is up to you and your fellow members to make sure the plan ifs fully funded and don’t expect your fellow taxpayers to bail you out.

  2. A milestone decision by Premier MacNeil and a paradigm shift with regard to how to view the relationship between the economy and the environment. It is refreshing and encouraging to see this come from a government, and, in this case, the government of Nova Scotia. This decision by the Premier should resound across this country. The dignified manner in which today’s announcement was made has been duplicated throughout by PLFN, FONS, the Associations of Fishermen, the Members of the PEI legislature and by the broad support of the Mi’kmaq throughout the Maritimes.
    The environmental assessment practice has been robust starting with Margaret Miller’s initial decision identifying the nineteen deficiencies and culminating in Gordon Wilson’s recent decision.

    There is still room for improvement especially in the time for public input, and there is also evidence that there needs to be a return to public input when a decision of the purport of the Owl’s Head Park decision is considered. It is NOT ENOUGH to say that “officials in the department…” reviewed the matter and that they made a recommendation. “They” are not the public.

  3. There are many factors beyond local control which could have closed that mill. It least this way there will be a concerted effort to mitigate the impacts. Hard to have much sympathy for the mill owners. The decision was made 5 years ago and they stubbornly refused to deal with it. Those who are angered by this commitment to stick by a decision made 5 years ago, should direct their ire at only one target. Northern Pulp.

  4. I feel for those forestry workers who will be impacted, and those who fear they will be impacted, by the Premier’s decision. But I fully support his courageous decision, including the support fund for the transition of the forestry industry.

    The Pictou Landing First Nation people showed remarkable poise and resilience throughout their fight for justice. I hope they find peace with this decision.

    1. Frankly I’m amazed McNeil didn’t cave to the company.
      I fully expected to see shocked and angry natives today. He has always supported the interests of business, and prioritized the need to return budget surpluses irrespective of the harm caused. As for keeping his word, just ask anyone who worked in our film industry in 2014 about that.

      This time it looks like he has actually done the right thing, respected his promise to the First Nations and not backed down to what looks like corporate blackmail. I hope he is prepared to fight them vigorously in the courts and that his government does in fact have a decent transition plan for unemployed workers. There is never a good time to lose your job, only bad and worse ones, and just before Christmas is definitely one of those.

      I can hear the company screaming that Nova Scotia is not friendly toward business, but they were given adequate time to resolve this, although it also seems the environmental ministry may have complicated the issue with demands for additional information. Even so, with true goodwill that should have been coordinated, but it was not. That suggests to me that the company never intended to stick to the mandated date.

      1. Well said, AUSCA. One of my first thoughts was that perhaps this decision on the premier’s part was an act of contrition for his intransigence and bull-headedness in the case of the film fiasco. These qualities may have served us all well in the present case.