Nova Scotia

Forestry transition team member cut for being 'focused on options for Northern Pulp'

A member of the team created to help Nova Scotia's forestry industry through the fallout from the imminent shutdown of Northern Pulp has been cut after he spoke publicly about potential future options for the mill.

'This is not a table to discuss the future of Northern Pulp,' says deputy minister

The Northern Pulp mill in Abercrombie Point, N.S., will close by the end of January. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

The Nova Scotia government has fired one of the members of its forestry transition team, the group being set up to guide the industry through the fallout from the imminent shutdown of Northern Pulp.

Robin Wilber is president of the Elmsdale Lumber Co. and was a voice for private industry on the team.

In recent days, he spoke to multiple media outlets about the possibility of the Pictou County plant going into a state of "hot idle" where water would continue to run through its boiler.

"Robin Wilber is focused on options for Northern Pulp. That is not part of the transition team's mandate therefore he is no longer part of the transition team," Kelliann Dean, the deputy minister of Intergovernmental Affairs and transition team leader, said in a statement Tuesday. 

Wilber spoke to CBC News on Monday about the possibility of hot water continuing to flow into Boat Harbour after the Jan. 31 deadline for Northern Pulp to stop pumping its effluent to the facility.

He said he understands the water would be drawn from the East River and later discharged from the plant at between 20 C and 30 C, "which would be like bathwater." He said he doesn't believe it would be considered effluent under the Boat Harbour Act.

"The water's always gone into Boat Harbour, but it's gone in along with the effluent," he said. "I'm not an expert on the Boat Harbour Act, but I think the Boat Harbour Act says that no more effluent will go into Boat Harbour ... I'm not sure it says anything about water."

Future of Northern Pulp 'the company's issue'

Last month, the parent company of Northern Pulp, the largest player in the province's forestry sector, announced the plant would close after Premier Stephen McNeil refused to extend the Boat Harbour deadline.

A "hot idle" state would in theory prevent damage to costly mill equipment during the winter months. It would also make the plant more attractive to new owners, pending a new effluent treatment plant for wastewaster.

Wilber's statements apparently did not sit well with provincial government. 

"The forestry transition team was formed to collaborate on ways to support the forestry sector and the workers and businesses connected to the industry," Dean said. "This is not a table to discuss the future of Northern Pulp. That is the company's issue."  

A spokesperson for Intergovernmental Affairs said the province will not grant interviews or elaborate on its email statement further. 

Dean said in the statement she still welcomes Wilber's input from outside the committee. 

"Mr. Wilber is still welcome to share ideas with transition team members on support for businesses and workers, and moving the industry forward," she said. 

Union disagrees with decision

Meanwhile, the union leader for Northern Pulp workers thinks Wilber should be reinstated.

"I think it's a loss for the team. He's a stakeholder. So if you're a stakeholder ... from my perspective you're going to do 100 percent," said Don MacKenzie, president of Unifor Local 440. 

"I think they should put him back on. He's qualified and capable of representing us."

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Jack Julian

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Jack Julian joined CBC Nova Scotia as an arts reporter in 1997. His news career began on the morning of Sept. 3, 1998 following the crash of Swissair 111. He is now a data journalist in Halifax, and you can reach him at (902) 456-9180, by email at jack.julian@cbc.ca or follow him on Twitter @jackjulian

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