Good Sunday Morning!
Sometimes people refer to the summer months as a “break” for parliamentarians. For most MP’s, we just keep working. This week I was busy getting our Green Party of Canada submission on Adaptation to the climate crisis finalized and submitted by Friday’s deadline, plus meeting constituents, listening to concerns of various groups I had not had time to meet when the House was in session, and an increasing number of in-person events – from welcoming to Victoria Rotary International’s new president (Canadian Jennifer Jones – first woman president in its 117 year history!) to the first award ceremony since before Covid for the amazing volunteers of the Beacon Community Services, to more Green Party work I will tell you more about later.
But this letter is going to focus on one issue that was not on my radar. It started with an email from an old friend, Yuill Herbert. I first met Yuill when he was a 17 year old British Columbian and an activist with Sierra Youth Coalition. He is now 44 and a living in Nova Scotia, engaged in a wide range of important climate work from Operation Drawdown to writing climate plans for municipalities. But for his own link with both provinces, I am not sure if anyone would have noticed the dangerous use of the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act in two cases that are, on the surface, totally dissimilar – the demise of MEC (Mountain Equipment Co-op) and a serious threat that the infamous paper mill in Pictou, NS – guilty of egregious environmental racism in the case of Boat Harbour – might rise from the grave.
Most of what I am sharing today is due to Yuill and an amazing journalist, Joan Baxter, whose book, The Mill, helped get the Nova Scotia government to finally act to shutter the former Scott Paper mill and start work on a clean up. Joan has been writing for the Halifax Examiner. Other than her work, no other journalist or news outlet is tracking a remarkable and ominous story.
First, a bit of history. Back in the 1960s, the government of Nova Scotia gave Scott Paper the sweetheart of sweetheart deals. I have written about it many times (in my book on Canada’s forests, At the Cutting Edge, and in the foreword to The Mill, which I was honoured to write for Joan Baxter). Fighting Scott Paper took a big chunk of my life, as I wrote in Joan’s foreword “I hated that damned mill.” In 1982, when Scott Paper got permits to spray Agent Orange, along with the other two pulp companies in NS, seventeen Nova Scotians, including me, went to court to block the spraying by all three companies.
“Scott Paper, no longer a defendant in the court case, pursued us plaintiffs for costs of their two days at a preliminary hearing. To raise the $15,000 Scott demanded, my parents sold our land on Cape Breton. After that, I hated the mill a bit more.” (from the foreword to The Mill)
From the 1960s until 2015, the provincial government’s craven subservience to US-based Scott Paper included repealing NS legislation that protected the diverse ecosystem of NS’s traditional forest type – the Acadian forest with trees prized for sawlogs – into a predominantly softwood (spruce fir forest for making pulp and paper), to approving spraying insecticides and then herbicides, same mixture as used in Vietnam, “Agent Orange,” to making a deal that the mill would not be responsible for its pollution – the toxic mess could be dumped in the fishing grounds of the local Mi’kmaq of Pictou Landing with the NS Department of Environment responsible for its management. Of course, the NS government lied to Pictou Landing First Nation all those decades ago claiming the effluent would all be cleaned up and there would be no impact on local Indigenous fishing. Instead, you could hardly breathe in the community for the stench from the effluent – not “treated” by the NS Department of Environment, so much as held in an estuarial zone called “Boat Harbour,” and then diluted and filtered to be dumped into the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Boat Harbour became a burbling mass of lethal goop. After the ill-maintained effluent pipeline ruptured in 2014, spewing 47 million litres of toxic pulp effluent onto sacred Mi’kmaq burial lands, Pictou Landing First Nation blockaded the mill, and refused to remove the blockade until the provincial government agreed to stop the mill’s use of Boat Harbour. In 2015 Nova Scotia passed an Act mandating the closure of Boat Harbour by January 2020. When the mill owners came up with a plan to start pumping treated effluent directly into the rich fishing grounds of the Northumberland Strait instead, a strong alliance to oppose the plan formed between Pictou Landing First Nation and settler culture fishers. In the end, that proposed treatment system didn’t pass muster, and when Nova Scotia Environment requested a full Environmental Assessment Report, the company withdrew its proposal and immediately launched a judicial review against Nova Scotia.
In that campaign to close the mill, the issue of environmental racism was front and centre as detailed in Dr. Ingrid Waldron’s book There’s Something in the Water and the documentary Dr. Waldron and actor Elliot Page made of the same name.
I thought we had won. I thought it was over.
But no. Yuill’s email was about how a court in British Columbia is now interfering in the Government of Nova Scotia’s directions to the new corporate owners of the mill to clean it up, by siding with the mill’s owners.
Who owns the mill? Scott Paper left NS long ago. There was no big corporate presence as the mill changed hands to more local interests in what appeared an inevitable spiral to bankruptcy.
Its fortunes did not seem to have been altered when, in 2011, a company called Paper Excellence bought the mill. Its website says nothing of its actual owners. Paper Excellence is described as being based in Richmond , BC. Back in 2011, when I first searched for information about Paper Excellence, it was quite a small industry player. The Pictou mill was its only property in Canada. But last July, Paper Excellence purchased Domtar. It now owns the mills on Vancouver Island- Crofton and Port Alberni, as well as Howe Sound and the Catalyst Paper mill (tiskwat) in Powell River.
Paper Excellence is now Canada’s largest pulp and paper producer, with acquisitions stretching right across the county from British Columbia to Nova Scotia, with mills also in Saskatchewan, Ontario and Quebec. But its global reach is much larger, including operations in Brazil and France.
We know so little about who really owns all our mills. The family of the late Indonesian billionaire Eka Tjipta Widjaja is the force behind Paper Excellence’s meteoric rise. The corporate empire of the Widjaja family was built on the palm oil industry, with all of its disastrous ecological consequences. Paper Excellence is part of the Sinar Mas Group. But you will not find that on its website.
What you do find on the website is the company’s plans for the Pictou Mill:
The mill was curtailed and went into a safe and environmentally sound hibernation beginning in January of 2020. Northern Pulp remains committed to creating well-paying jobs for Nova Scotians, supporting the region’s economy, protecting the environment and the wellbeing of our rural communities. Our limited staff are currently engaging with stakeholders to explore alternatives for restarting a modernized mill, and take appropriate steps to obtain the approvals needed to restart.
What their “limited staff” is mostly doing is suing the Nova Scotia government for $450 million. They claim insolvency and need creditor protection. And who is the Northern Pulp’s largest creditor? Its parent company of course. Its “paper excellence” may refer more to its debt paper than anything being produced in the mill – in “hibernation.”
Back in 1933, Depression times, Canada’s Parliament passed the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act. For good and sound public policy reasons, it wanted to help companies avoid going under forever. And it gave the court sweeping powers in order to do that good work. But in the 2020s, twice a BC judge has been asked to use that statute to rig the game in favour of corporate power against public interest. The “Save the MEC” campaign found itself up against a BC judge who thought it would be unfair to the US buyers to give the hundreds of MEC cop-op shareholders two weeks to get lawyers to fight the US take-over. And now a BC judge is forcing the Nova Scotia government to sit down at a table with the mill to mediate the company’s $450 million claim. And, small world! It is the same judge, Justice Shelley Fitzpatrick.
So, if your mind is now spinning, I have done my job on this lovely Sunday Morning. I hope you are now ready to dig deeper and for that I offer you this series of articles from the amazing Joan Baxter.
Please forward this letter to any friends you may have at CBC, or The Tyee or Times Colonist—wherever and ask if anyone has noticed these unsettling events. And we have to move that damn mill from hibernation to a painless death.
I also include in the PS my latest in the National Observer on the many reasons we need to stop the Trans Mountain pipeline.
Best for a lovely week. I am off to my husband John’s beloved Vancouver Folk Music Festival. Maybe I’ll see you there!
Love, and peace and a large dose of heaping rage,
The hit parade of Joan Baxter’s amazing articles in Halifax Examiner.
The Pictou pull mill: fleecing Nova Scotia for 53 years – and counting
Northern Pulp says it is “insolvent” and can’t pay its pension obligations, but it’s got lots of cash to bankroll assaults on Nova Scotia’s government and laws
This article (part 1 of a 2-part series) from June 9, 2022, looks at how the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act was used to approve the fire sale of MEC to a US private equity firm
The demise of Mountain Equipment Co-op could spell expensive trouble for Nova Scotia. In 2020 a federal law and a BC judge dismantled Mountain Equipment Co-op. Now the same federal law that was used to destroy MEC is being cited by Paper Excellence in its $450 million lawsuit against the province of Nova Scotia related to the creditor protection of Northern Pulp. And the case is being heard by the same judge.
This article (part 2 of the 2-part series) from June 11, 2022, looks closely at the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act, under which Northern Pulp companies sought and got creditor protection in the Supreme Court of British Columbia:
The weird mechanism being used by Northern Pulp in its $450 million lawsuit against Nova Scotia. Northern Pulp’s biggest debt is a paper debt to its owner, Paper Excellence, and that indebtedness is being used to circumvent Nova Scotia’s environmental laws
An Indonesian company is increasingly controlling Canada’s pulp industry but regulators seem unwilling to act. Paper Excellence, already Canada’s largest pulp and paper producer, now plans to swallow Resolute Forest Products.
And lastly: PLEASE sign this petition. It will help people in rural communities, like those who lived near the mass murderer in NS get protection:
LAST CHANCE!! Please sign!
- The Victims Rights Act of 2015 gives victims of crime a number of rights, the most important of which are the right to information, the right to protection, and the right to participation;
- S. 28 and S. 29 of the Victims Rights Act deprive victims of crime of remedies in case any of the rights so granted are breached;
- In Canada more than 2.5 million people are the victim of a violent crime every year, and S. 28 and S. 29 of the Victims Rights Act deprive them of the right to protection; and
- S. 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms states that every individual has the right to equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination.
We, the undersigned, citizens of Canada residing in Canada, call upon the Minister of Justice to amend the Victims Rights Act to conform with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and to provide remedies or a remedy if any of the rights granted victims of crime in the Act be breached.
Elizabeth May is the Member of Parliament for Saanich-Gulf Islands, B.C., and the Green Party of Canada Parliamentary Leader.
Saanich-Gulf Islands Greens