Sunday, 17 November 2019
Environment featured Racism

Letter: What if Northern Pulp ignores the Boat Harbour Act?

Boat Harbour. Photo Miles Howe, Halifax Media Coop

In 84 days (12 weeks) from today, the Boat Harbour effluent treatment facility is required by statute to shut down. With no alternative system in place (or even being built) it is obvious that Northern Pulp has no intention of abiding by the 2015 Boat Harbour Act.

We can infer this because if the “Cessation of the Use of the Boat Harbour Effluent Treatment Facility for the Reception and Treatment of Effluent from the Northern Pulp Mill” (in the words of the Act) were going to take place, then, in the absence of a new system, the mill would have to shut down. If the mill were going to shut down, the Industry Closing Act requires three months advance notice be given to the Provincial Government.

No such notice has been given. In the words of the Industry Closing Act, “where an employer engaged in an industry is about to close down, discontinue or abandon the whole of the industry or any portion thereof which will or may affect fifty or more employees…he shall before the closing down…give notice thereof to the Minister.” No notice; no intention to close. The collective agreement in place at the mill and the Labour Standards Code require similar periods of notice to the workers. No notice; no intention to close.

So what will happen if the mill just defies the Boat Harbour Act and keeps on operating, using Boat Harbour for its effluent?

All the Premier has said is that he has no intention of changing the Boat Harbour Act. Well, the Fall sitting of the Legislature has come and gone, and indeed there was no legislation presented by Stephen McNeil to extend the date for cessation of use of Boat Harbour.

But all the Premier has offered is that carefully-crafted statement. What are the consequences for the mill if it disobeys the Boat Harbour Act? There are none. That statute includes no penalty clause. There are no fines set or jail terms specified. Nothing.

Which brings into play the Summary Proceedings Act. That Act has a catch-all provision: in the absence of other penalties, contravening an enactment by “willfully doing anything that it forbids or by wilfully omitting to do anything that it requires to be done” can lead to a fine of up to $2000 or to six months in jail or both.

So there you have it. The Provincial Government could prosecute Northern Pulp. If the company is found guilty, it could be fined $2000 – and keep on operating, using Boat Harbour for its effluent.

But what about an injunction? Lawyers tell me this is an area of the law about as murky as the Boat Harbour lagoon itself. Could the Government get an injunction? Could Pictou Landing First Nation? Could a group of citizens? Would the Government even try? None of this is clear.

What is needed is for an honest, full-ranging statement about the intentions of the McNeil government to be made by the Premier. But on the evidence so far, don’t hold your breath.

Betsy MacDonald

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