Nova Scotia

PC leadership candidate says 'paid protesters' attended Northern Pulp pipe protest

Comments by Kings North MLA John Lohr called "Donald Trump-esque" by one organizer of this month's large rally against mill effluent plan.

MLA John Lohr's comments called 'Donald Trump-esque' by one organizer of large Pictou, N.S., rally

Kings North MLA John Lohr says 'lefties' at the protest are opposed to 'working class jobs.' (Michael Gorman/CBC)

One of the candidates vying for the Nova Scotia PC leadership says "paid protesters" were among the hundreds of people who gathered in Pictou, N.S., earlier this month to rally against Northern Pulp's proposed effluent pipe.

John Lohr, the MLA for Kings North, made the comments in a Facebook post on Saturday, saying "this is exactly what the radical eco-left wants. To shut down our jobs and put working class Nova Scotians out of a job."

He added that if he becomes premier, he "won't back down to a few paid protesters and lefties that are opposed to working class jobs."

In an interview with CBC, Lohr said "paid protesters" included employees of the Halifax-based Ecology Action Centre and the Vancouver-headquartered David Suzuki Foundation.

A spokesperson for the David Suzuki Foundation said in an email that none of its employees attended the rally on July 6.

Raymond Plourde, the wilderness co-ordinator for the Ecology Action Centre, said he was asked by the community group the Friends of the Northumberland Strait to help organize the protest. Plourde said he was the only paid EAC staffer that day and a few others took the day off to join the protest.

Hundreds of people gathered at the waterfront in Pictou, N.S., on July 6 to protest the Northern Pulp effluent pipe plan. (Nic Meloney/CBC)

Lohr, who is vying against four other candidates for his party's leadership, said he recognizes the "vast bulk" of those at the demonstration weren't paid, but his post was intended to call out "professional protesters" he called hypocritical.

"Somebody who flies around the country participating in these events, is contributing to climate change through all of that flying, they're driving, they're using toilet paper, but they're coming to protest a plant that will effectively have … one of the most, if not the most modern waste-treatment facility in the world when it's done," he said.

Organizers estimate more than 1,000 people marched from the rink in Pictou to the waterfront, where they joined other protesters and dozens of vessels that had entered harbour.

Lohr said the environmental groups are seizing on the rally as a possible fundraising opportunity. He said he would have to do more research before saying if there were others in attendance he would describe as paid protesters.

"I'm standing up for I think good science, good jobs and renewable industry," he said. "I mean, trees keep growing."

Dozens of boats from all three Maritime provinces joined a rally. The mill is seen in the background of this photo. (Nic Meloney/CBC)

The mill, which makes pulp that is exported for use in household products like paper towel and toilet paper, directly employs 330 people and supports approximately 1,500 jobs in the forestry sector.

But Plourde said up to 1,700 jobs in Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick could be put at risk by the mills planned pipe, which would see 70 million litres of treated effluent a day discharged into the Northumberland Strait.

"Mr. Lohr should focus his attention on the issue rather than calling people names and casting aspersions," Plourde said. "What he said is incredibly ignorant and ill-informed and he seems to be taking a Donald Trump-esque attempt to politick by doing so, by naming villains."

Ignoring the concerns of residents, including Mi'kmaq chiefs, who came out to show support fishermen, families and their jobs won't be effective at the polls, said Plourde.

"If his plan is as premier to roll over the Mi'kmaq people when they speak, he should be a lot more respectful," said Plourde.

"I think perhaps [he's] trying to grab headlines or differentiate himself from the pack. But I would suggest that Mr. Lohr remember that in Nova Scotia the word progressive is still part of conservative."

The pipe is meant to replace the contaminated 140-hectare waste-water lagoon at Boat Harbour, which the government has promised to close by 2020.

For 50 years, pulp mill waste water has been piped into settling ponds, then to an aeration basin, and finally to the Boat Harbour lagoon before being released into the strait up to a month later.

Wes Surrett, a volunteer for Friends of The Northumberland Strait, says MLA John Lohr's comments are dismissive. (Submitted)

Wes Surrett, general manager at the Pictou Lodge Beach Resort, said working-class people were at the rally to protect jobs and the environment.

"Fifty years of concern here ... and then to dismiss that by saying it's a group of paid radicals. It's absurd," said Surrette, who volunteers for the Friends of the Northumberland Strait.

The group is asking the federal government to intervene and conduct their own environmental assessment of Northern Pulp's treatment plan.

The federal government has not ruled that out. Canada's environment minister, Catherine McKenna, said her department will make a decision once the final project proposal is ready.  

PC leader, Lohr disagree on Northern Pulp

Lohr's call to forge ahead on Northern Pulp's proposed new treatment facility is a departure from his party's leadership.

Interim Leader Karla MacFarlane, who represents Pictou West, has been highly critical of the plan to pump effluent into the strait. In November she said she would never endorse a pipe into the Northumberland Strait.

In February, PC party leadership candidate and Pictou County MLA Tim Houston called for a longer 275-day environmental assessment process for the treatment proposal, rather than the 50-day review currently planned.

The province's deputy environment minister later defended the decision to use a fast-tracked assessment.

Both Houston and McFarlane have added their names to support the Friends of The Northumberland Strait.

As the party leadership race has been unfolding, Lohr acknowledges that he's emerging as the most conservative of the five candidates, a race that also includes MLA Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin, Cape Breton Regional Municipality Mayor Cecil Clarke and farmers market executive Julie Chaisson.

"I didn't anticipate that would be the case. Maybe that is the case. Certainly I'm willing to own the turf," said Lohr.

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story incorrectly said the Boat Harbour lagoon was 14 hectares. It is 140 hectares.
    Jul 17, 2018 5:06 PM AT

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