Send a message to the vocal few

Opinion

To the Editor:

I find the current rhetoric about Northern Pulp sobering.

Recently, the Nova Scotia government announced a firm date of Jan. 31, 2020 to end the mill’s discharge into Northumberland Strait at Boat Harbour.

The mill plans to change the discharge location slightly with a pipe extending east of the current site about a mile. It also plans a new $70-million effluent treatment system to minimize environmental risk and meet all regulatory requirements.

The mill’s plan seems reasonable: A cleaner discharge going into the same body of water that’s been used for years without fisher protest, with better regulatory oversight.

Nonetheless, a tiny group of locals, primarily representing fishing families, are determined to scuttle the mill’s plan. They are loosely organized as an informal, closed group called Friends of the Northumberland Strait (FNS). They are aligned with Strait fishers in opposition to the new pipe.

Of the eight members named on the FNS Internet site, five are from fishing families; Corrine MacKeil, Krista Fulton, Anna Marie Galvin, Jill Graham Scanlan and Nicole MacKenzie. The others are Wes Surrett, Gerard MacIsaac and Linda Townsend.

FNS has mounted an aggressive “no pipe” campaign against the mill, targeting provincial and federal politicians. They seemed emboldened by their ally and supporter, Pictou West MLA Karla MacFarlane, interim leader of the NS Conservatives.

At a closed meeting of Strait fishers and politicians last winter, MacFarlane was captured on a recording stating she would “never, ever endorse” the pipe. Despite her initial denial, the recording was featured in CBC stories and played on radio. Since then she volunteers at public FNS events. Her support for “no pipe” is undeniable.

MacFarlane’s opposition to the mill’s plan pits her against former Conservative premier John Hamm, chair of the board of the mill’s parent company that proposed the plan. The company states unambiguously that its bottom line is: ‘No pipe=No Mill.” That’s a no-brainer given that the mill can’t operate without an approved discharge system.

This political manoeuvring between the two plays out in private. If Hamm gets his pipeline, the mill will prosper while reducing its environmental footprint on the Strait. If MacFarlane and FNS block the pipe, the mill will close and 330 mill jobs will be lost.

MacFarlane seems prepared to sacrifice the mill and jobs. In a recent Canadian Press interview she stated: “I can tell you right now, I will never protect jobs over health or anything damaging our environment.”

Her statement rings hollow. Since she was elected five years ago she has turned a blind eye to the same mill’s massive toxic air pollution. This deadly discharge not only represents a substantial risk to family health in an area with some of the highest cancer and chronic illness rates in Canada, it is also profoundly damaging to the environment.

Both MacFarlane and FNS ignore the mill’s belching smog of finer particulates known to contain toxins and carcinogens. Instead they focus on a comparatively benign threat from the mill’s proposed discharge system. I wonder then, what is their real agenda if not health and the environment?

What I find equally disturbing is the conduct of FNS who seem like circling sharks closing in for the kill. Despite the mill’s “No Pipe=No Mill” final offer, FNS shows no caution and has recklessly ramped up its “No Pipe” campaign.

FNS has expanded its social media profile, launched an Internet-based anti-mill petition and initiated a political letter writing campaign. It also plans a waterfront boat and land demonstration against the mill on opening day of the Pictou Lobster Carnival.

It is sad that FNS would politicize such a long-standing community celebration as the Lobster Carnival simply to advance their own NIMBY, self-serving political agenda.

The entire community ought to recoil at such gamesmanship.

Worse still, MacFarlane has turned her back on 330 mill worker families that stand to lose their jobs. She ought to consider that it is her public duty to represent all citizens equally and fairly. Instead she pursues her personal agenda in support of her fisher friends. She seems to believe that in this economically depressed area the loss of its largest private employer is no big deal.

Let us hope the silent majority that spoke so loudly during the amalgamation plebiscite of May 2016 show their firm resolve once again. This time send a message to the vocal few, the elites who pretend to speak for the many, trying to hijack the process and impose their version of what’s good for Pictou County.

Graham Johnston

East Earltown