Nova Scotia

N.S. government keeping quiet on some aspects of loans to Northern Pulp

Nova Scotia’s business minister is not interested in discussing the future of Northern Pulp until that future becomes clearer.

Business minister says all details will be discussed after focus report ruling from environment minister

Northern Pulp and an affiliate company owe the province $85.5 million in loan repayments. It's unclear what happens to those loans should the company cease operations. (The Canadian Press)

Nova Scotia's business minister is not interested in discussing the future of Northern Pulp until that future becomes clearer.

With less than two weeks before a decision is expected on the Pictou County mill's application to build a new effluent treatment facility, Business Minister Geoff MacLellan said his department would not be commenting on details about loans the company has with the province until Environment Minister Gordon Wilson delivers that decision.

"For us, talking about loans, anything connected to Northern Pulp and what happens in either scenario moving forward just doesn't make any sense to me and I think that a lot of my colleagues feel the same way," MacLellan said in an interview Wednesday.

"We'll be happy to talk about all those scenarios with the loan [and] other aspects once the regulator makes that call, but until that point I think that we don't have anything to say."

Previous governments made loans to Northern Pulp in 2009 and 2013 and to Northern Timber Nova Scotia Corp., an affiliate company, in 2010. The outstanding balance on the three loans as of Sept. 26 was $85.5 million.

'An absolutely enormous decision'

But while the government made that information, along with the interest rates for the three loans, available in response to a recent access-to-information request by the Chronicle Herald, the government will not provide details about what the loans say would happen should the company cease operations.

MacLellan defended that decision, saying the public already has the bulk of the loan details. He pledged to share the rest of the information after Wilson's ruling, which is expected Dec. 17. Until then, however, MacLellan said he wants to avoid creating more anxiety than already exists around the issue.

Northern Pulp officials have said that without approval of their proposal, and an extension to the Boat Harbour Act, which calls for the existing treatment facility to close by the end of January, the mill cannot continue operations.

As people who work at the mill, in the woods and in industries connected to the forestry wait for the decision with concern about what it means for their futures, so too do members of the Pictou Landing First Nation, Northumberland Strait fishermen, environmentalists and others who have said it's time for the mill to close.

"This is an absolutely enormous decision that thousands and thousands and thousands of people are resting on," said MacLellan. "So to add any noise — any sort of side conversation about loans and values and when they're going to be called and those things — I think is just very unhelpful."

Business Minister Geoff MacLellan says all loan information will be discussed after Environment Minister Gordon Wilson's ruling. (CBC)

MacLellan said Wilson, the regulator, needs the ability to make his decision free of anything except scientific merits.

Information Wilson and department staff are considering includes extensive concerns from several federal government departments, as well as voices in favour of and opposed to the project. Three days after Wilson makes his decision, his federal counterpart, Jonathan Wilkinson, is expected to rule on whether Ottawa will trigger an environmental review of its own for the project.

Northern Pulp confident in its proposal

The CEO of Northern Pulp's parent company, Paper Excellence, recently released a statement saying officials remain committed to building a project that allows them to continue operating while respecting the environment.

"We have used a tremendous amount of time, resources and independent scientific expertise to prepare the focus report on our proposed wastewater treatment facility," Brian Baarda said in the statement.

"We remain confident that we have submitted an appropriate report reflecting the new world-class treatment facility which will protect the environment, will have no meaningful environmental impact and will represent a significant operational improvement beyond the current treatment and shoreline discharge."

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