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Read pages from the book causing backlash in Nova Scotia

Digital writers

Thursday, December 21, 2017, 3:44 PM - The reported plans by a Nova Scotia pulp mill to pump effluent into the Northumberland Strait have sparked a backlash among fishermen and others in Pictou, N.S., and beyond.

Northern Pulp's reported plan to discharge treated effluent directly into the strait prompted a new group, Friends of the Northumberland Strait, to push back, warning of the effect it would have among the local fishery. But investigative journalist Joan Baxter says pollution from the mill is not new, and little has changed over the past decades.

"There's been wave after wave. Three generations have been protesting the pollution, water and air pollution caused by that mill," she told Weather Network reporter Nathan Coleman. "So have the fishermen of that area because the whole Northumberland Strait, the inshore fishery there is one of the best Atlantic lobster fisheries in the world. But one government after another had been too afraid to really pressure the mill to clean up its act."

Baxter has documented 50 years of such protest into a new book, titled The Mill, but its release hasn't been easy. Baxter says a book signing in nearby New Glasgow was cancelled over what she was told were security reasons, but she also told Coleman the mill's communication director reportedly wrote a letter to current and former employees indicating a boycott of book stores if the signing went ahead.

An attempt to reach the mill for comment on the story and video above by The Weather Network was not successful. As for Baxter's book, below is an except from The Mill: Fifty Years of Pulp and Protest, provided to The Weather Network by Baxter.

From Chapter 1: The smell of money  (pp 23 – 25)

Pulp is an economic mainstay here in Pictou. Throughout the province and indeed across the country, the pulp industry has shaped forestry policies and practises for many years, been a major employer and source of economic growth. So the mill doesn’t have to be pretty. It may not be the newest or the cleanest or the most efficient, it may even be an eyesore and dirty and old, but it’s a pulp mill, for heaven’s sake. Its job is to make pulp, which we need for paper products, and it provides some well-paying jobs. And that god-awful stench? It’s just the “smell of money,” a mantra that has been used for fifty years to defend the mill. “The greatest stink of all,” according to a former labour leader in Pictou, is “the stink of unemployment.”

The numbers have varied over the years, but in 2016 the company said the mill directly employed over 300 people. It provides pensions for many who went before them, and indirect jobs for hundreds more who work in the forestry or service industries. While many other mills across Canada have closed in recent years, victims to downturns in the global pulp market and to increasing competition from new producers and raw materials, the mill at Abercrombie Point is still there and still pulping away.

In Nova Scotia, politicians win elections with promises of jobs, jobs, health care, and more jobs. Woe unto any government that dares to come down hard on, even tiptoe over the knuckles of any large company that employs hundreds and wields immense control over an entire industry. The economic dependence on the mill in and around Pictou means that anyone who does raise a fuss, criticize it for whatever reason, risks causing dissension in the community. To call for an end to the status quo can be a very difficult thing to do.

And yet, that is exactly what people have been doing for many years.  Even before the mill went into operation, worries about its potential to damage air, water, forests, and fisheries began to percolate just below the normally placid surface of small-town and rural life along the Northumberland shore of Nova Scotia. Since then, people have watched as government after government doled out loans and grants and Crown land leases to the mill’s owners, going to great lengths to protect jobs while taxpayers were charged with the expensive health and environmental liabilities. And almost like clockwork, every few years, the ripples of public discontent and frustration have welled up, created powerful swells and crested in waves of peaceful protest.

. . . In its lifetime, the mill has had five different corporate owners, four of them American and one Asian. It has seen ten Canadian prime ministers and twelve provincial premiers come and go. It has received many hundreds of millions of dollars worth of concessions, loans and grants from governments, many of them intended to help it clean up its environmental act. And at least a dozen different groups and three successive generations of concerned citizens have taken up the same cause. For the sake of social harmony, many people have learned to studiously avoid discussing the smelly elephant on Abercrombie Point except in the privacy of their homes, lest they create ugly rifts in their neighbourhood and community.

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