Northern Pulp: Harbinger of future natural resources development?

Between meetings yesterday I had about an hour to fill.  I had just read about Northern Pulp and the provincial decision to ban how it handles effluent and the resulting closure of the mill.  I decided to search Twitter for “Northern Pulp” to gauge the Twitterverse reaction the closure of one of the larger private sector employers in all of rural Nova Scotia.

I must have scrolled through at least 300-400 tweets and almost all – except for a few – were jubilant in their praise of government for this decision.  I didn’t count but I think it was less than 10 that were shocked and outraged by the closure.

I’m not going to weigh in on Northern Pulp or the history of the mill or the how it handles effluent or the fact it didn’t abide by a provincial directive.  The government might have been fully justified in its action.  Northern Pulp could have been the Beelzebub of corporate citizens.  I’m just surprised that there wasn’t more sadness at the loss of hundreds of good paying jobs, the hundreds of small firms and foresters that relied on the mill for their livelihood.

International pulp and paper exports from Nova Scotia were worth $500 million in 2018.  A large share of those export dollars flow right back into the province each year in the form of wages, supply chain spending, capital spending, etc.  Of course, Northern Pulp did not account for all the value of those exports, but it was a significant share.

This is not to mention the impact on Nova Scotia Power which had offered the firm a ‘load retention rate’ because of its importance as a baseload user of electricity.

No speculation of how much more money the taxpayer might be on the hook for the $300 million in outstanding loans to the firm and site remediation costs.

No queries of whether the $50 million offered to help workers cope with the closure could have been used to help solve the mill’s effluent problem.

This $50 million transition fund offered by the province will hardly cover the one year wages that will be lost from the closure.

The GDP contribution from the forest products industry in Nova Scotia was in the midst of a growth spurt rising by 21 percent between 2012 and 2018.  This will more than kill that rally.

The good news is that wood pulp still has value and hopefully there will be some economic opportunity to use the resource.

Again, I’m not speaking on the merits of the government decision.  Maybe thousands of people took to Twitter after my initial scan to decry the loss of jobs and economic activity.

But the initial reaction on Twitter, for me, was disturbing.

6 thoughts on “Northern Pulp: Harbinger of future natural resources development?

  1. Andrew Rankin of Chronicle Herald wrote Dec.20, 2019:
    “The existing government-owned Boat Harbour effluent treatment plant has been in operation since the mill opened in 1967.”

    Therefore, the following questions must also be answered:
    1. who operated and maintained this plant (the NS Government or the Northern Pulp)? what cost to whom?

  2. My family’s from Pictou County, and my late grandfather worked at that mill (while it was owned by Scott Paper) until he retired and sold wood to the mill from his own lots until he died. The feeling I got talking to family and visiting recently is that the mill owners, Paper Excellence, are to blame for the mill closure. The pollution at Boat Harbour is not a new issue – it’s been there since the mill opened in 1967. What was new was the 2015 Boat Harbour Act, forcing the company to cease polluting the inlet by the end of January 2020. The company’s responses tended to be clearly half-baked and incomplete. Even the PC Official Opposition Leader (and Pictou East MLA) Tim Houston supported the government’s decision, because the government has to enforce the rule of law. Pictou County also has a history of companies failing to live up to their commitments, like Daewoo’s stillborn takeover of TrentonWorks and (more tragically) the foreseeable explosion at the Westray Mine.

  3. I grew up on the South Shore of Nova Scotia, where the forest industry was core to the region. Watching Bowater depart the region was tough to witness as a graduate forester. The industry adjusted and recovered as much as possible. I believe your Twitter findings are from the vocal minority who do not have a grasp on what this decision means to the forest products industry. It’s a sad day for the industry and the province as I’m convinced that most do not grasp the spin off impact. I can’t begin to imagine what impacted families are going through, particularly at this time of year. I am hopeful that after sober second thought the Premier will look for a solution that is suited to all involved

  4. David. You ask good questions. However, is there not a bigger picture to consider when we look at these kinds of issues? For decades, we have supported mills with public money and public resources with little regard for the consequences. In this case, one of the consequences was an environmental, social and economic catastrophe for a Mi’kmaq community. How could that be allowed to continue? One of the consequences was the pollution of the surrounding ecosystem. How could that be allowed to continue? Yes, this turn in the road is painful on many levels. And I know all this is easy for me to say from my position here, but it seems to me we have reached the point where we need to have an honest accounting when we are looking for solutions for the rural Atlantic Canadian economy. We have been leaving communities at the mercy of mill owners who come and go making new demands on the environment and the public purse, using workers and their families as collateral in their negotiations with governments. I think the issues we are facing now are more complex than counting jobs and dollars. This is no consolation for those who have lost their jobs, but if this is a turning point we should at least fully understand how we got to this place.

    1. Philip Lee I assume that you have a full time job to support your family. What are the 11,000+ people that are affected by the lose of this Mill going to do to support their dependents. I guess it is easy to talk as you wish when you are outside the Pictou County situation. Not only are there lost jobs, but the Municipality of Pictou County will have to raise their municipal taxes to residents and companies in the municipal areas.

  5. David who have to look at the demographic of people that work at the mill… they are not using Twitter!!! Facebook has blown up more so than twitter ever would. These people ( myself included) are devastated by this decision and our futures are highly uncertain as most are going to have to move to make ends meet. Ever since NP bought the mill they have been doing upgrades to make it more environmentally friendly and putting loads of money back into our community. People say they had five years and did nothing. This is highly uneducated and ignorant. Yes Boat Harbour NEEDS to be closed and they were following all the steps the government had asked for. It started out with 5-7 studies and each time they submitted these studies the government would add more until just now there was a total of 68 or so. It seems like every time there was a deadline the government would add more and more just so they could push to the deadline to close Boat Harbour and then say oh oops you are out of time! Boat Harbour needs to be closed properly and it isn’t going to happen with just the government alone. Obviously this government cannot make proper decisions based on how they have handled the teachers, nurses, dr shortages, etc so how the hell are they going to get this cleaned up?? NP is one of the cleanest mills in the country and even world and there can’t be any middle ground where everyone wins??? Think about it. Where is humanity? If we can’t work together to solve this we have no hope for the future of this province. It’s all political and all politics is turning into is who can come up with the best lies.

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