Nova Scotia

Pictou Landing First Nation to mark 1-year countdown to Boat Harbour closure

The Pictou Landing First Nation isn't interested in extending the deadline to close the Boat Harbour effluent treatment facility used by the Northern Pulp mill.

Effluent treatment facility faces legislated closure date of Jan. 31, 2020

An event on the Pictou Landing First Nation will mark one year until the anticipated closure of the Boat Harbour effluent treatment facility. (The Canadian Press)

The Pictou Landing First Nation isn't interested in extending the deadline to close the Boat Harbour effluent treatment facility used by the Northern Pulp mill in Nova Scotia.

The community in Pictou County will mark the start of the one-year countdown to the facility's legislated closure Thursday with an event that will include people signing declarations of support for the Boat Harbour Act's timeline.

Around the same time, Northern Pulp is expected to submit its application to the province for an environmental assessment of a new treatment site to replace Boat Harbour.

However, the company has acknowledged its plan to pipe treated wastewater into the Northumberland Strait cannot be completed before the Jan. 31, 2020 deadline outlined in the act the Liberal government passed four years ago.

Chief Andrea Paul looks over Pictou Harbour during a rally last July. (Nic Meloney/CBC)

Pictou Landing First Nation Chief Andrea Paul said Wednesday the event in her community will be a way to mark the work of community leaders and members past and present.

"It's a nice visual reminder to the community for all that they've accomplished in the past 52 years," she said in an interview.

It's also a pointed reminder to the government of the vow it made in 2015.

"The promise was made to the people in Pictou Landing First Nation," said Paul. "It was made to all of the members that live there, and so that promise has to hold."

While previous governments have given their word to close Boat Harbour — assurances that were left unfulfilled — Paul noted the pledge from Premier Stephen McNeil was different because it was enshrined in legislation.

Thursday's event is also notable because the premier has said the only way he'd entertain changing the timeline in the act is if there were community consensus and support to do so, something Lands and Forestry Minister Iain Rankin repeated in an interview Wednesday.

Lands and Forestry Minister Iain Rankin says his government will abide by the timeline in the Boat Harbour Act unless there is community consensus to amend it. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

"For good reason they want to see closure and get on with cleaning up that site," said Rankin.

"We need to make sure as a government that we're keeping our commitments to First Nations communities."

A functioning treatment facility is required for Northern Pulp to operate. The loss of the mill would be a significant setback — at least in the short term — for the forestry industry. 

Rankin acknowledged concerns on that front during remarks Wednesday at Forest Nova Scotia's annual general meeting.

"Premier McNeil has stated that government knows the importance of the mill to the economy and the jobs it supports," he said, adding the government is "deeply concerned about the path forward for everyone involved in this issue."

Seeking political cover

As McNeil did last week, Rankin said opposition members — in particular the three Tory MLAs from Pictou County — are welcome to bring ideas for debate on the matter to Province House when it resumes sitting next month. But Rankin said the government does not plan to introduce changes to the Boat Harbour Act.

Tory Leader Tim Houston, who represents Pictou East, called the comments disingenuous and accused the government of looking for political cover at a time when things have reached a critical juncture.

"There's never been any uptake on the suggestions we've made and I don't believe there will be now," he said.

"I don't know what the government's been doing for four years, I don't know what the mill has been doing for four years, but I do know that we're in an awful standoff that could have been avoided with good leadership."

About the Author

Michael Gorman is a reporter in Nova Scotia whose coverage areas include Province House, rural communities, and health care. Contact him with story ideas at michael.gorman@cbc.ca

With files from Bob Murphy