Citizens' group wary of government's 'cozy relationship' with mining sector

The province is open for business to the mining sector, but some residents are concerned that more exploration could impact the environment and water supplies.

Derek Mombourquette, the new minister of Energy and Mines, says the province is open for mining business

Derek Mombourquette is sworn is as the new minister of Energy and Mines on Thursday. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

The provincial government says it is open for business to the mining sector, but residents along the north shore of Nova Scotia are raising concerns that more exploration could impact the environment and water supplies.

Derek Mombourquette, who was appointed minister of the new Department of Energy and Mines on Thursday, said he will aim to grow the industry in the province and bring new jobs to rural regions.

"We are going to do this in a way that is promoting the industry, I think there's a lot of great potential across the province," Mombourquette told CBC's Mainstreet on Thursday.

Addressing environmental and other concerns will be part of the process of approving new projects, said Mombourquette, the MLA for Sydney-Whitney Pier.

"We're going to do that in partnership [with] other departments within government and within our communities to ensure that we're doing it in a way that's successful."

He will start meeting with mining companies within the next few weeks.

"They will have a champion to support resource development in the province," he said. "We want to make sure we do whatever we can to support growth here across the province."

Group fears contamination in watershed 

A member of a newly formed citizens' group said he is concerned that Mombourquette is emphasizing supporting industry over listening to citizens.

"The cozy relationship between those two worlds comes at a cost for other parts of our social fabric," said John Perkins, a member of Sustainable Northern Nova Scotia.

The group is organizing against proposed exploration for gold mining in the French River watershed in the Eastern Cobequid Highlands. It is an area that provides drinking water to residents in Tatamagouche and flows out to the Northumberland Strait.

Exposing minerals in the area has the potential to create acid mine drainage and risks leaching arsenic, antimony and mercury into the watershed, the group said, citing a report written by scientist Ann Maest.

"If minister Mombourquette can be taken at his word that he is willing to hear and work with groups and organizations, and fold in interests on the environment as well as industry, we stand ready to meet with him at any time," said Perkins.

'We take proper care'

Sean Kirby, Mining Association of Nova Scotia executive director, said the government has addressed several of their policy issues over the past few years, making it easier for operators in the province. He said the new focus is another decision that will help bring in new operators and create jobs.

"We are arguably, certainly among the most stringently regulated industries in the province, as we should be," he said. "It is so important that our industry, and any industry, operates safely and take proper care of the environment, and we do that.

"At the same time we need to not have unnecessary red tape, we need to have policies that actually support the industry and help it to grow."

The issues being raised by Sustainable Northern Nova Scotia are unfounded, he said.

"A lot of their perceptions, I think, really come from developing nations and other parts of the world," said Kirby "We take proper care of the environment. We take proper care of water in particular."

Promotion and regulation under one roof

Brian Gaulke, a member of the local chapter of the Council of Canadians as well as the North Shore environmental group, said there are more sustainable development options the province could pursue.

"We're much more interested in having industries like tourism, farming, forestry, fisheries … sustainably managed, [rather] than in extractive industries that involve large corporations that come from outside the province."

He said he expects the government to be pushing harder for mining and fracking after Thursday's announcement.

"It doesn't work, in our opinion, to have the same government agency both promoting and regulating an industry, as is the case for mining."

The province will issue request for proposals to explore the Eastern Cobequid Highlands region this summer.

With files from Mainstreet