Nova Scotia

Minister says controversial quarry approval wasn't delayed until after election

Despite the convenient political timing, Environment Minister Iain Rankin told reporters Thursday his staff did not delay the approval of a controversial quarry project near Fall River until after the May 30 election.

Environment Minister Iain Rankin said decision was made Monday and was announced the same day

​A sign protesting the proposed quarry has been floating in Miller Lake for years. (Stop the Fall River Quarry)

Despite the convenient political timing, Environment Minister Iain Rankin told reporters Thursday his staff did not delay the approval of a controversial quarry project near Fall River until after the May 30 election.

The project was a campaign issue in the riding of Waverley-Fall River-Beaver Bank, a tight race that was won by Liberal Bill Horne after his victory was confirmed in a judicial recount.

The department announced earlier this week it was giving the quarry the green light. Rankin, who was named environment minister a week ago, said he was first briefed on the file during a meeting with staff.

"It was one of the first things I was briefed on as the minister at the end of last week," he said. "The decision came out on Monday and that was a culmination of all the evidence that staff looked at and it was a staff-level decision."

Iain Rankin was named environment minister following a cabinet shuffle earlier this month. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

Scotian Materials Ltd. has received a 10-year approval to operate a four-hectare site on Perrin Drive. It was the company's second attempt to get permission to start a quarry. Former environment minister Andrew Younger revoked a permit in 2015 because of a lack of public consultation.

The quarry is in the riding of Waverley-Fall River-Beaver Bank, which Horne won by 66 votes ahead of PC contender Dan McNaughton.

Had the province approved the quarry before or during the campaign, the result could have been different. But Rankin maintained politics had nothing to do with the timing of the decision, nor were staff told to hold off on a decision until the election was over.

"No decision was made until Monday when the decision was made public," he said. "That's when the decision was made."

Conflict of interest question

There's a 30-day appeal period but according to Rankin no one has filed one yet. If someone does, however, the minister won't have anything to do with it because he has ties to Scotian Materials president Robert MacPherson.

Rankin said he talked about that to retired Nova Scotia Supreme Court Justice Merlin Nunn, who is the province's conflict of interest commissioner.

"He didn't say that there would be a conflict, but to get rid of any kind of speculation that there could be I just decided the best thing to do, should there be an appeal, is to remove myself because I do know Robert MacPherson."

Rankin denied he was a friend, instead describing MacPherson as a work colleague. The two worked at developer Armco Capital at the same time.

Horne has publicly said he is disappointed in the approval. Rankin said he appreciated his caucus colleague's commitment to stay on top of the file.

"I think the member is doing the right thing by representing his community and I was pleased to see that he is going to be working with the department to ensure that all the terms and conditions are going to be followed during the process."

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