Unifor’s campaign to defend Northern Pulp mill jobs in Nova Scotia

northern pulp view

A January 8 general news release, “Nova Scotian forestry workers already struggling as Northern Pulp prepares to close ” summarizes the union’s position in a quote from Atlantic Region Director Linda MacNeil: ““We all agreed Boat Harbour had to close. That closure did not have to come at the cost of thousands of rural jobs ­­– there was a solution for the mill to coexist, but there was no political will from McNeil to make it happen …. Our members and other forestry workers are not the ones responsible for any wrong-doing here. … They deserve better than to be blamed and sacrificed due to the government’s lack of leadership, consultation or clear regulatory expectations.”

The context:

The “years of controversy” over the Northern Pulp mill is summarized in a Backgrounder  in the Halifax Chronicle Herald on December 10 2019, published just before the government of Nova Scotia announced that it would enforce a 2015 law which would require the mill to stop pumping effluent in Boat Harbour.  Paper Excellence Canada , the owner of the Northern Pulp mill,  stated almost immediately  that it would close the mill, but apparently the years of controversy are not over yet.  As reported on January 9 in “NS effluent dumping mill to move ahead with environmental process” in the National Observer , Paper Excellence has issued a new statement: “Our team is currently focused on supporting our employees, developing plans for a safe and environmentally responsible hibernation, and working with the government of Nova Scotia and stakeholders to determine next steps.”

Unifor’s role in the controversy: 

Unifor represents approximately 230 workers at the  mill and has been actively engaged in advocating to protect its members’ jobs by allowing the mill owners, Excellence Paper, to improve the environmental performance of the mill by building a new effluent treatment plant. Unifor’s Save Northern Pulp Jobs campaign  includes “Why Mill Jobs Matter” as a summary;  in early 2019, the union commissioned  a detailed economic impact study by consultants Gardner Pinfold which makes the case for the “keystone” importance of the mill in the region, profiling major businesses from the supply chain of  1,379 companies associated with the mill operation,  and estimating that the mill accounts for approximately 2,679 full-time equivalent jobs, earning approximately $128 million annually.  (Note that Gardner Pinfold completed an earlier economic impact study  for the industry group, Forest Nova Scotia, in 2016).

An ongoing series of Updates chronicle how Unifor has participated in the provincial environmental assessment process and in direct advocacy for their membership.  The January 3 update  reports to members on interactions with government, stating: “the best course of action for a viable and continued forest industry in the province is with Northern Pulp continuing to operate. We reiterated that the $50 million should be used to assist all workers in the industry through a temporary shutdown of the mill to facilitate the construction of Northern Pulp’s new effluent treatment facility (ETF)…. We also suggested the idea of a third-party expert who could serve as intermediary between government regulators and the company to establish a firm and fair process and timelines for the necessary approvals to take place for construction of the ETF.”

The update also states:  “Premier McNeil announced a $50 million transition fund for forestry workers that was of particular interest during the meeting, especially since the fund was never mentioned to the union, or anyone else, prior to his December 20 decision.”

Work and Climate Change Report has summarized the $50 million  Forestry Transition Fund here.

Further documentation: The March 2019 submission of Unifor Atlantic Region to the provincial Environmental Assessment process is here , included in a compilation of all submissions ; comments by Unifor’s National Office to the environmental assessment process in October 2019 appears here (around page 14).

 

northern pulp view

$50 million Forestry Transition Fund to retrain and support workers following closure of Nova Scotia’s polluting Northern Pulp plant – Updated

This blog has been updated on January 10 to reflect the company announcement that a new environmental assessment process may yet keep the mill alive. It also expands on Unifor’s position in supporting the mill and the opposition by environmental groups and First Nations. 

After years of controversy, Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil announced on December 20 that the province will enforce a January 31 2020 deadline for B.C.-owned Northern Pulp plant to stop pumping effluent in Boat Harbour, near Pictou Landing First Nation.  The deadline had been set by legislation in 2015, and will not be extended, despite the company’s threat to shut down the mill.  Acknowledging the job loss and economic hardship which will result from the decision, the Premier’s announcement  included a $50-million transition fund for forestry sector workers and businesses “to support displaced workers across the province, small contractors and all those whose livelihoods will be affected. The transition fund will be used for retraining and education, and for emergency funding to help those in immediate need.” On January 3, the Premier’s Office announced the composition of the Forestry Transition Team. A previous announcement had designated the provincial deputy minister of Intergovernmental Affairs and Trade as the team lead; members announced on January 3 include more government representatives as well as industry management – noticeably absent, any worker representation.

After the first meeting of the Forestry Transition Team,CBC reports that the government has  fired an industry member. The Premier has announced  $7 million to assist silviculture and forest road building operations  in the central and western regions of the province .  The January 10 article in the National Observer also states that the Premier  is working to ensure the stability and accessibility  of the mill’s pension plan .

Company enters new environmental assessment process which may yet keep the mill alive

On  January 10 , an article in the National Observer   reported on a statement by Paper Excellence Canada , the owner of the Northern Pulp mill:   … “Our team is currently focused on supporting our employees, developing plans for a safe and environmentally responsible hibernation, and working with the government of Nova Scotia and stakeholders to determine next steps.” Plant closure has been at least temporarily averted as the company has informed the government that it will continue the environmental assessment process for its proposed effluent treatment plant.  In response,  the Nova Scotia Environment Ministry released draft Terms of Reference for that assessment on January 8, giving the public and government reviewers 30 days to comment on the draft.  Following a period for company response, the terms of reference will be provided  by early April, and the company will be given another two years to complete the environmental assessment report.  The government  webpage dedicated to the environmental assessment is here , providing the new draft terms of reference, how to make a submission, and an archive of past documentation in this long-running project.

Opposing viewpoints in a long controversy

The Halifax Chronicle Herald has published many articles describing the long history and competing interests in this dispute, for example in a Timeline of the dispute ; “Nova Scotia sticks to Boat Harbour deadline; Northern Pulp confirms shutdown”;  and “Northern Pulp mill will close without extension to Boat Harbour Act, company says” (Dec. 19).

Unifor, which represents 230 workers at Northern Pulp in Local 444 , has maintained an  ongoing  Save Northern Pulp Jobs campaign , described in  WCR’s separate blog postAfter the government’s December 20 announcement, the union issued a press release, “Premier McNeil throws away 2,700 rural jobs in Nova Scotia” . Another press release on  January 3  is more detailed, reporting to members on subsequent interactions with government, and stating: “the best course of action for a viable and continued forest industry in the province is with Northern Pulp continuing to operate. We reiterated that the $50 million should be used to assist all workers in the industry through a temporary shutdown of the mill to facilitate the construction of Northern Pulp’s new effluent treatment facility (ETF)…. We also suggested the idea of a third-party expert who could serve as intermediary between government regulators and the company to establish a firm and fair process and timelines for the necessary approvals to take place for construction of the ETF.”

boat harbour rallyIn contast to Unifor’s support for the company’s proposal for an alternate effluent treatment plant, which was rejected in a provincial environmental assessment on December 17, it had been  widely opposed – by the Pictou Landing First Nation, as well as fishermen’s associations from all three Maritime provinces , tourism operators, cottagers, boaters and others whose livelihoods would be affected by the proposed dumping of treated effluent into the Northumberland Strait.

Environmental advocacy and First Nations groups also oppose the mill. “Northern Pulp decision validates rights, First Nations lawyer says”  summarizes the position of the Pictou Landing First Nations and praises the Premier’s courage in “righting an injustice spanning five decades.”  And while acknowledging the hardship ahead for forestry workers, the Ecology Action Centre of Nova Scotia calls the decision “courageous” and “forward-thinking”, saying : “For the first time in Nova Scotia’s history, a government has said no to a pulp mill’s coercive demands in defence of environmental protection, Indigenous rights and human health. It is a watershed moment — a turn away from the old ways of allowing mass extraction and the pollution of the air, land and water. This decision could mark the start of a new, cleaner future and a livable planet for our descendants.”

Nova Scotia legislation targets “boldest” GHG emissions reduction targets in Canada

bay of fundy tidal turbine

Tidal turbine in the Bay of Fundy NS

Nova Scotia’s Premier Stephen McNeil issued an October 30th press release  to mark the end of the legislative session, stating: “We began the sitting by introducing a ban on single-use plastic bags at retail checkouts and calling for an emergency debate on climate change. We ended by bringing in the boldest greenhouse gas emission reduction target in the country and some of the strongest environmental legislation in North America.” The “boldest” GHG emissions reduction target referred to is stated in Bill 213, the Sustainable Development Goals Act  passed on Oct.30, calling for GHG emissions reduction of 53 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.  The Act recognizes the urgency of a global climate emergency, and states that the goal of sustainable prosperity must include the elements of sustainable development, a circular economy, an inclusive economy, and “Netukulimk”, which is defined as a Mi’kmaq First Nation concept: “the use of the natural bounty provided by the Creator for the self-support and well-being of the individual and the community by achieving adequate standards of community nutrition and economic well-being without jeopardizing the integrity, diversity or productivity of the environment”.

 

A press release from the Ecology Action Centre of Halifax welcomes the new legislation;   a more detailed EAC Backgrounder   discusses the level of GHG emissions called for, and concludes: “….. A legislated target of 53% below 2005 levels by 2030, for Nova Scotia … sets us on track to overshoot 2 degree C of global warming and it is not based on our differentiated responsibility and capability. For this reason, the EAC continues to advocate for a legislated target of 50% below 1990 levels by 2030 (equivalent to 58% below 2005 levels by 2030).”

Other initiatives introduced in the Sustainable Development Goals Act  include:  an extensive public consultation process to update the province’s climate strategy, to be called Climate Change Plan for Clean Growth and to released by the end of 2020, and a Sustainable Communities Challenge Fund to help communities with mitigation and adaptation. Summaries of the legislation are provided by articles in the National Observer  and the CBC.  

With progressive policies, Canada’s clean energy sector will provide over 500,000 jobs by 2030

Two new economic studies project the potential for growth in the clean energy sector to 2030 in  Canada and in Nova Scotia.

fast laneOn October 3, Vancouver-based Clean Energy Canada announced  its new report, The Fast Lane , which predicts that “ Canada’s clean energy sector will employ 559,400 Canadians by 2030—in jobs like insulating homes, manufacturing electric buses, or maintaining wind farms. And while 50,000 jobs are likely to be lost in fossil fuels over the next decade, just over 160,000 will be created in clean energy—a net increase of 110,000 new energy jobs in Canada.”  That translates into a job growth rate of 3.4% a year for clean energy from 2020, compared to an overall job growth rate of 0.9% for Canada as a whole and a decline of 0.5% a year for the fossil fuel sector.

missing the bigger pictureNavius Research conducted the economic modelling underlying The Fast Lane, as well as a May 2019 Clean Energy Canada report, Missing the Bigger Picture  , which reports on clean energy investment and jobs from 2010 to 2017.  The more detailed economic modelling reports by Navius are available as  Quantifying Canada’s Clean Energy Economy: A forecast of clean energy investment, value added and jobs  , and Quantifying Canada’s Clean Energy Economy: An assessment of clean energy investment, value added and jobs (May).

The message for policy-makers is made clear in the introduction to The Fast Lane by Merran Smith, Executive Director of Clean Energy Canada: “The sector’s projected growth is modelled on policy measures either in place or announced in early 2019 at both federal and provincial levels. If climate measures are eliminated—as we’ve recently seen in Alberta and Ontario—our emissions will go up and Canadians working in clean energy could lose jobs.”

An article in The Energy Mix summarizes  The Fast Lane . It quotes Lliam Hildebrand, Executive Director of Iron and Earth , a worker-led non-profit which promotes upskilling and retraining for fossil fuel workers:  “It’s really important for people to know that most fossil fuel industry workers are really proud of their trades skills and would be excited—and are excited—about the opportunity to apply those skills to building a sustainable energy future …. But they need support in making that transition.”

A similar message comes through in “After oil and gas: Meet Alberta workers making the switch to solar”  , an article in The Narwhal which profiles three workers who have transitioned from jobs in the fossil fuel industry. The article also summarizes the policy environment in Alberta, where according to Statistics Canada, roughly 1 in every 16 workers in Alberta is employed in the category described as “forestry, fishing, mining, quarrying, oil and gas.” The Narwhal quotes  Rod Wood, national representative from Unifor, who states that the global energy transition “is going to happen in spite of Alberta…You’re either part of the conversation or you’re lunch. It’s just going to steamroll over you.” And  Mark Rowlinson of the United Steelworkers Union and BlueGreen Alliance Canada states: “ The market tends to move with its own feet. If the market sees that the future of the fossil fuel industry is not looking great, it will move quickly… And it will move without a plan. That means there will be wreckage left behind it, and that’s what we need to try to avoid.”

Clean economy policies could bring 180,000 jobs to Nova Scotia by 2030:

Nova Scotia’s Ecology Action Centre submitted what it calls a “Green Jobs Report” to the province’s consultation on its proposed Environmental Goals and Sustainable Prosperity Act, just ended on September 27.  EAC proposed six policy choices, including supplying 90% of the province’s electricity from renewables by 2030, with a summary  here.  A detailed report, Nova Scotia Environmental Goals and Sustainable Prosperity Act: Economic Costs and Benefits for Proposed Goals  was prepared by economic consultants Gardner Pinfold and estimates the benefits of each proposal,  with the conclusion that the proposed policies could create over 15,000 green jobs per year in Nova Scotia, for a total of just less than 180,000 job-years between now and 2030.

 

Nova Scotia environmentalists campaign for a moratorium on oil and gas drilling after BP spill

In late June, the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Drilling Board  (CNSOPB) issued an incident report –  summarized in the National Observer in “ BP Canada spews thousands of litres of toxic mud during offshore drilling incident near Halifax” ; CBC reported “Mi’kmaq want answers from BP Canada after drilling mud spill off Nova Scotia coast” (June 26) .  Yet on July 23, the Board issued   a notice allowing BP to re-start operations, and describing the terms of  an investigation into the incident.  CBC summarized it all in “BP Canada restarts drilling off Nova Scotia after spill”. 

In response, the Offshore Alliance of Nova Scotia on July 19 sent  Open Letters to Prime Minister Trudeau  and to the Premier of Nova Scotia  , stating : “The inadequacies of the current regulatory and impact assessment regime, the failure to consider the latest science (on risk assessment, dispersants, impacts of seismic, added risks of deepwater drilling, ocean acidification, and recovery of the fishery, to name a few), the poor state of public awareness and involvement and the magnitude of the risk to the marine biosphere and to the present and future economic base of Nova Scotia’s coastal communities all demand an up-to-date, thorough public re-examination. We anticipate an inquiry of this nature could take up to two years. In the meantime, there should be a moratorium on all new oil and gas activity offshore respecting the established precautionary principle.”  Similar demands had been made in an  Open Letter in June to Canada’s Environment Minister, and names the members of the Offshore Alliance – approximately 20 fisher, social justice and environmental organizations, as well as concerned communities and individuals. They issued their call through the Sierra Club of Canada – the July 19 press release is here .

Nova Scotia offshore drilling signsLocal member organizations of the Offshore Alliance of Nova Scotia include the Clean Ocean Action Committee (COAC), which represents fish plant owners, processors and fishermens’ organizations in southwestern NS, and the Campaign to Protect Offshore Nova Scotia (CPONS) .  The CPONS explanatory Position Paper discusses the issues of what is at stake, and  asks “what is regulatory capture?”.  The CPONS website includes resources to “Take Action”,  including a number of petitions and addresses for a letter writing campaign.  The Council of Canadians is also monitoring offshore drilling on the East Coast here  , and maintains its own active petition  which calls  on the federal government “to stop BP from drilling up to seven exploratory wells and institute a moratorium on oil and gas exploration in offshore Nova Scotia. We further demand an end to proposed changes under Bill C-69 that would grant east coast petroleum boards more power in the environmental assessment process for Atlantic offshore drilling.”