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Lodge manager buoyed by community support in wake of cancelled Christmas party

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The general manager of Pictou Lodge Resort is comforted with the outpouring of community support he has received after a falling out with Northern Pulp.

Wes Surrett said the mill at Abercrombie Point cancelled a staff Christmas party it had booked at the lodge for December 9 after learning Surrett made disparaging remarks about the mill’s environmental record. Surrett made the comments during a November 27 Tourism Industry Association of Nova Scotia (TIANS) summit in Halifax, attended by several hundred people after a presentation from the keynote speaker filmmaker Frank Wolf.

“We spoke about tourism as a long-term sustainable industry versus short-term industrial industries,” Surrett said. “I was charged up and I spoke to the poor environmental record of our local mill and how challenging that can be to tourism operators.”

Surrett said within an hour, he received a phone call from a Northern Pulp official, who he declined to identify, asking for a written apology.

“I refused. No apologies. I had to follow my gut. I knew there might be repercussions, but I was willing to take that risk.”

He said, “I’m in the market of selling pristine beaches, warm swimmable waters and fresh local seafood. I just felt I can’t get behind a proposed effluent dump a mile or so away from our beach — especially with their record of non-compliance.

“The tourism industry has provided good employment for many families in Pictou County as well. Why are our jobs less important? Why is it okay to risk those jobs for the sake of others? We all have the responsibility to protect the environment for the sake of the tourism industry and the health of the residents of Pictou County.”

Tom Dewtie, supply chain manager for Northern Pulp, explained the mill’s response to the cancellation. “The mill doesn’t have an issue with constructive criticism or anyone voicing their opinion, as long as you use appropriate words. Everyone is entitled to their opinion … But the words used (he declined to say what they were) left my people feeling uncomfortable attending a company Christmas party there.”

The Northumberland Fishermen’s Association has stepped up and is holding a Christmas party at the Lodge on December 17 to fill in any loss of business due to the cancellation.

Surrett said the NFA has also expressed interest in holding a book signing for author Joan Baxter. She had been scheduled to sign copies of her book, The Mill: 50 years of Pulp and Protest, at Coles book store in the Highland Square Mall on December 2 but Coles cancelled her appearance citing “aggressive conversations directed to store staff.”

Northern Pulp is a major employer in Pictou County and is currently under fire for its proposed waste treatment system that would replace the existing one at Boat Harbour.

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