Nova Scotia

Houston government clarifying law at centre of Northern Pulp's $450M lawsuit

The Nova Scotia government is rewriting the piece of legislation the province is using as a defense against a $450M lawsuit by Paper Excellence.

Premier says he won't 'leave this one to the lawyers and the judges to ascribe what the intention was'

Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston says his government wants to ensure the Boat Harbour Act has 'crystal clear language' as the province enters into talks with the owners of the Northern Pulp mill. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

Almost seven years to the day the Boat Harbour Act was unanimously adopted at Province House, the Nova Scotia government said it is strengthening the legislation's language in an attempt to clarify its intent.

The amendments come roughly a week after a B.C. Supreme Court justice ordered the Nova Scotia government to enter into talks with the owners of the mothballed Northern Pulp mill

Paper Excellence is also suing the province in Nova Scotia Supreme Court for $450 million over its decision to prematurely close the provincially owned effluent treatment plant the company had been using for decades to treat its waste.

According to the company, that closure forced it to shut down the Abercrombie pulp plant.

During hearings into whether mediation was a better way to resolve the suit, a lawyer representing the province, Robert Grant, argued the process wasn't needed because Nova Scotia taxpayers were not liable for losses and damages sought by the company.

He called the Boat Harbour Act a "complete defence" to Northern Pulp's claim.

Clear, unambiguous language

Dana MacKenzie, the province's associate deputy minister of justice, said Thursday the government's position had not changed.

"This is just ensuring that there is absolutely clear language and unambiguous language about what 2015's legislation was intended to do," said MacKenzie, who briefed reporters on the proposed changes.

Premier Tim Houston offered a similar view when asked by reporters about the proposed changes to the law.

"I have to protect the taxpayers of the province to make sure there's no wiggle room for our legal system to put a new interpretation on what was intended, so we're just being very clear on that," said Houston.

Houston said the intent was to include "crystal clear language to the bill."

"It's fair to the company because the intent of the initial bill, as written and presented I think was clear," said Houston. "But I also think [we] might as well be more clear.

"I'm not going to leave this one to the lawyers and the judges to ascribe what the intention was."