By LENORE ZANN
The story of environmental governance in Nova Scotia has largely been characterized by a lack of transparency and denial of adequate public participation. The latest example of this is the Liberals' decision to allow Lafarge Canada to burn tires for fuel at its Brookfield cement plant, without any proper public consultation — including with Millbrook First Nation whose traditional territory includes Brookfield.
Outrage from nearby residents and Mi’kmaq bands stopped the same proposal once before. The fact that the province is also diverting tires from a solid recycling business, and paying Lafarge to take the tires instead of recycling them, is a decision that places that company in jeopardy and shows how flawed Nova Scotia’s environmental assessment process truly is.
A new environment minister, Iain Rankin, offered a glimmer of hope the McNeil government may review its anti-environment position, but that hope has been dashed.
The McNeil government has also recently refused public consultations on the volume of clearcutting it permits. While our NDP government put a 50 per cent cap on clearcutting, in just four years of Liberal government, that figure has risen to an alarming 91 per cent on private land and 67 per cent on Crown land.
Recently, residents of Pictou County stood with visitors from near and far to watch tall ships sail gracefully into Pictou Harbour. It was stunning — if you ignored the thick plumes rising to the sky from across the bay or had no sense of smell.
The challenges residents have with the Northern Pulp mill are decades old.
The stench from the mill and the effects of breathing in the effluent have been a topic of conversation on the North Shore for as long as I can remember. The old rallying cry that it’s "the smell of money" doesn’t hold the same sway with citizens in 2017, as concern mounts over climate change, environmental racism and the connection between pollution, disease and life expectancy.
Pictou County residents have long been suffering illnesses they say are connected to the mill’s emissions. Nearly 30 years ago, Dr. Dan Reid conducted a study that showed signs people in Pictou County were experiencing higher rates of respiratory illness than elsewhere. He called on the province to conduct an epidemiological study.
To date, as far as we know, nothing has been done.
The McNeil government promises to clean up Boat Harbour, where Mi'kmaq families once picnicked, swam and fished before it became the receptacle for waste water from the plant. Even if Boat Harbour is cleaned up, many people are asking where the waste will go next.
The NDP passed the Green Economy Act in 2012, introduced the Community Feed-In Tariff program, signed the deal with Newfoundland to acquire hydroelectricity from Muskrat Falls for 35 years of steady power rates, was applauded by Canadian Parks and Wildlife Society for our actions to publicly own and protect 12 per cent of our landmass, and led the nation in lowering carbon emissions.
We can do business, provide good jobs and protect the environment at the same time. It is not an either-or proposition.
Green jobs are the promise and necessity of the future. Many nations now have more green jobs than those tied to fossil fuels. In Nova Scotia, we have some of the mechanisms to set us in the right direction toward environmental accountability and protection. But for that to happen, the government needs to adhere to the Environment Act, and the Environmental Goals and Sustainable Prosperity Act.
Last year, on behalf of the NDP caucus in the legislature, I was honoured to introduce an Environmental Bill of Rights. This legislation would enshrine the right of all citizens to clean air and water and empower the public to have a say in decisions that might have an environmental impact.
There has never been a time in Nova Scotia when such legislation was more acutely needed.
Will the McNeil government stay true to its word and clean up Boat Harbour? Let’s hope so. Will it decide to enforce the Environment Act and pass an Environmental Bill of Rights? I am less hopeful, but your NDP caucus will continue to push for these important actions.
Grassroots Democracy is a ship that has not sailed out of the harbour. Climb aboard!
Lenore Zann is MLA for Truro-Bible Hill-Millbrook-Salmon River, and NDP spokesperson for the environment and Aboriginal affairs