Nova Scotia

Northern Pulp accuses N.S. government of 'complete abdication' of obligations

An official with Northern Pulp is calling proposed changes to the Boat Harbour Act an effort by the Nova Scotia government to subvert the intent of the legislation and retroactively eliminate the province’s liability to the company.

Company files blistering response to proposed amendments to Boat Harbour Act

The Northern Pulp mill is seen in this file photo from 2019. Company officials are unhappy with planned amendments to the Boat Harbour Act, which they say are an effort for the government to get out of obligations to the company. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

An official with Northern Pulp is calling proposed changes to the Boat Harbour Act an effort by the Nova Scotia government to subvert the intent of the legislation and retroactively eliminate the province's liability to the company.

Last week, Justice Minister Brad Johns introduced amendments he said are intended to provide greater clarity to sections of the legislation that prohibit claims against the province for the closure of Boat Harbour as an effluent treatment facility.

The amendments include a direct reference to a $450-million lawsuit the company filed against the province and the repealing of a section that refers to an indemnity agreement the province signed with a former owner of the mill that Northern Pulp inherited when it purchased the Pictou County site.

But in a written submission to the legislature's law amendments committee Wednesday, Northern Pulp general manager Bruce Chapman said rather than clarifying the scope of the bill, the amendments facilitate the province's "complete abdication of responsibility with respect to its obligations under agreements with Northern Pulp."

"Northern Pulp is legitimately seeking compensation for the wrongs done to it by the province," Chapman wrote.

Trying to 'retroactively wipe out' obligations

He went on to say the amendments "are clearly and specifically intended to entirely remove the legitimate rights of the plaintiffs to the compensation sought pursuant to the Northern Pulp litigation and provide the province with the 'complete defence' it lacks."

The submission points to multiple instances when then premier Stephen McNeil, whose government introduced the Boat Harbour Act to end the company's lease to use the site 10 years early, said the province would face some kind of liability related to the legislation.

Chapman argued in his submission that enacting laws "to retroactively wipe out [the government's] obligations and abdicating responsibility from all such obligations" threatens to undermine business and investment confidence in the province.

Premier Tim Houston told reporters at Province House that he doesn't agree with any characterization that things are being rewritten or changed.

A complicated story

Houston said he thinks the language in the act was clear and understood by the parties when the bill was introduced and passed into law.

"We've taken the additional step to protect the taxpayers to be even more crystal clear on something that I think was clear," he said.

The premier also disagreed with the suggestion the amendments advanced by his government would have some kind of chilling effect on business in the province.

"I just think the relationship between Northern Pulp and Nova Scotians has kind of been a complicated story in many ways, and I would just say it continues to be complicated, but people know that this province is open for business."

Along with the lawsuit the company filed against the province, it's also filed for a judicial review and ministerial review of the terms of reference the province set related to the environmental assessment of its new proposal for an effluent treatment facility.

The two sides were also recently ordered into non-binding mediation by a B.C. Supreme Court justice. The amendments to the Boat Harbour Act were tabled less than a week after that ruling, although Johns said the two are not related.

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