By Keith Doucette
THE CANADIAN PRESS
HALIFAX -Nova Scotia isn’t currently planning for the potential shutdown of the Northern Pulp mill if it can’t solve its effluent problem, says Lands and Forestry Minister Iain Rankin.
The mill has already said it likely won’t be able to meet a legislated deadline of Jan. 30, 2020, for the closure of its Boat Harbour effluent treatment plant, and it hasn’t yet submitted an environmental assessment application for a new effluent pipe into the ocean.
Northern Pulp officials have said that no pipe would mean no mill.
With seismic testing in the Northumberland Strait still incomplete, time is quickly running out on the mill and Rankin was asked following Thursday’s cabinet meeting whether a plan was in place for the worst case scenario.
“We’re not there yet,” he said. “We continue to expect that they (Northern Pulp) will meet the timelines.”
Rankin added the question of what would happen if the deadline isn’t met was one “for industry.”
“If the industry wants to adapt or continue to operate in the way they are today or similarly, they are going to have to find a way to do that. We’ll be there to support them, but we are not going to be doing what past governments have done in forking over hundreds of millions of dollars to that industry.”
Rankin said he hasn’t been approached by Northern Pulp about changing the legislation. The mill has about 330 employees and says it is responsible for as many as 2,000 spinoff jobs.
“There’s been meetings I’ve had with other interest groups that are involved in forestry that have asked me to consider that,”
Rankin said. “My answer has been consistent in saying that commitment is important and our government will keep that commitment.”
The Liberal government passed legislation in 2015 as part of a promise to the Pictou Landing First Nation, whose land sits astride of the mill’s wastewater lagoon. Rankin had previously called the nearly 50 years worth of toxic waste in the lagoon one of the worst cases of environmental racism in the province.
Premier Stephen McNeil reiterated Thursday that his government has no intention of backing away from its deadline.
McNeil said it would look at options to help diversify the forest industry as a whole, but he wasn’t specific.
“We expect them (Northern Pulp) to meet that deadline. If they don’t we will continue to look at how do we best diversify the sector.”
Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Houston said there should be a contingency plan in place should the mill fail.
“We want to know that the government is thinking of a Plan B …
a way forward no matter the outcome,” said Houston. “Government’s role is to be thinking of all the things that can happen and having a plan for each of them.”
Houston, whose riding neighbours the mill, said he’s hearing from the Group Savoie sawmill in Westville and a host of others from across the province.
“People are concerned about what the future holds for them and their industry,” he said.
NDP Leader Gary Burrill was a member of former premier Darrell Dexter’s government when it dealt with the closure of the Bowater Mersey paper mill in 2012 and also helped to save the mill in Port Hawkesbury that same year.
Burrill said the government hasn’t been firm enough with Northern Pulp since passing its legislation and has been lax in seeking a new direction for forestry.
“This matter has been building towards a head for a matter of some years,” he said. “We need leadership and a strong hand from the government on this file and that’s what we haven’t been getting.”