Last month, I posted on Facebook, a very intriguing peek into the ineptness of the NS Government. Lenore Zann had gone to Public Accounts to stand in for a colleague and during the session, was the only MLA on hand to ask the Deputy Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture any serious indepth questions about his views, concerns, and perspective on the plan to start dumping toxic mill waste water into the Northumberland Strait,
into a delicate and ultra-integral area of the lobster fisheries. Without going into too much detail, rehashing the entire discussion, I have not been able to stop thinking about this exchange. In the end, it appears the NS Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture has no idea what the plan is, has never paid any attention in the past, does not know if they will pay attention in the future and isn’t going to go see if they should pay attention either. Yup, that is what we heard.
I have gone very carefully over my observations and have drawn some very basic, but apparently, previously unheard of conclusions.
Within our government, we have a divisive and opposing tendency to never appear in agreement between parties. There is a need to be partisan, always, to not find common ground, and there is very little evidence that we accomplish much in a non-partisan environment including actually being non-partisan at all. Nova Scotians are often put off by the idea of a minority government, thinking nothing ever gets done, but as we have seen lately, majority governments appear to run wild and when they are in the process of screwing things up badly, the only thing maybe stopping them is an upcoming election, and their desire to get re-elected. Even then, that’s a big maybe.
I hated the last election because of the horribly negative and combative mood, and the over confidence of the opposition candidates, that those darn Liberals were just simply going to lose. There was the side of the debate that hated them so badly, they weren’t willing to negotiate on who should replace them. There were some really poor candidates in some ridings to choose from. And then there were the Liberals. I got the sense that Stephen McNeil wasn’t overly joyful or celebratory on election night. Maybe he didn’t want to win. But getting there was something straight out of a US election, and we really don’t need to do that. We shouldn’t do that. The lack of non-partisan consideration made many candidates, and now current MLAs, remain really silent on really major concerns.
Anyway, back to the epiphany I have been adding to over time. While party politics poisons our ability to attain real representation, bureaucracy actually poisons us, literally. The bigger problem in our government, is the unwillingness for any department to take responsibility for their role in decision making. Decisions are based on jobs. No matter how few. No matter what type. Politicians believe jobs make them popular and if they use that word when selling their souls to industry, they are heros. And then bureaucrats are willing to just act, as if none of the very things that impact their mandate are even in their scope of concern, because it’s about the jobs. Government is not supposed to prop up politicians. They are supposed to be working for us, in our best interests.
We see this blind approach in Fall River. NS Environment checks off a list without really looking at what is in the items on the list. When a quarry is being approved by the Department of Environment, concerns about blasting are deemed to be outside of their mandate. Residents are told NS Labour and Advanced Education look after blasting. What exactly does blasting have to do with Labour and Advanced Education? NS Environment is approving the blast plan, yet they don’t really (in their words) have any expertise in blasting. This assignment of a major component of mining and resource extraction has been intentionally deligated to a different department from the one that approves it… The most environmentally destructive and dangerous element, approved by a department who does not know about, care about or understand it. One would think then that the two departments would consult on this element. Yeah…. No. Not so. Labour only gets involved if there is an incident. After the damage is done. And the jobs? Ten. Max.
The travesty that is Boat Harbour and its protagonist, Northern Pulp, are a prime example of this deflection of duty and how this is failing us as a province. This bizarre mentality screamed at us, during the exchange between Lenore Zann and Deputy Minister Frank Dunn at Public Accounts. It was like an inner child was begging and pleading for someone to take notice. Numerous times the Deputy Minister’s responses to her inquiries indicated he had not considered playing any role in the plan recently released, and the risks associated with it. He also stated numerous times, this was a job for the Department of Environment. During the entire session in Public Accounts, you heard about growth in the fishing industry, about Nova Scotia being a powerhouse in Canada’s Fisheries. And yet he sat there, bewildered why anyone would think he or his department would have an interest in something that will create impacts to the Power House he is responsible for. It would have been really comical to listen to if it hadn’t been so damned scary.
Not only is there a true and dire risk to the fisheries and in particular the lobster fishery, but there is a real risk of damage to the entire brand of Nova Scotian Fisheries. Once one area is deemed unfit, the reputation is going to impact the larger industry as a whole. A $1.4 Billion industry. Others have pointed out that the same was apparent in the Alberta Beef crisis. One cow was found to have mad cow disease, and the entire industry was marked. The consumer will hear, “Nova Scotia lobster” and if you are not from Nova Scotia, you will likely never know or care that only one area is a problem. The entire region will have its brand deemed unacceptable or unfit. And it may spread out over other fisheries. It will be a permanent and devastating mistake to make. Judgement will be cast upon the departments both federally and provincially, not only by the people who consume the seafood, but also by governments who would permit the food to be imported. You know this will be a set back for Canada as a whole exporting to the US with the current mentality there. America First will be permanent and unmovable when it comes to Canadian Lobster. Then there is food security, a concern everywhere. But the Deputy Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture thought, “Not my responsibility.” I have said, if I was the Deputy Minister, or especially if I was the Minister, I would be pounding on table tops and fighting this plan tooth and nail. I would know I have a role, I would take that role very seriously. I would never sit silently, with blinders on and earplugs inserted, while another department wreaks havoc on my industry. I would have the foresight to know if I wasn’t standing up for the fishery, my job is quickly going to become a very difficult and untenable existence.
The Department of Environment has been a participant for all these years in the degradation of the air quality, and the release of toxic effluents into the environment. They have ignored and sloughed off the public over this mill forever. I have heard so many stories over the last year about their partnership with the Mill. Members of the public have reported calling NS Environment in Pictou to complain about the smog and odor. NS Environment looks out the window facing away from Pictou and reports the air looks clear from where they are. There have been reports about NS Environment staff using Northern Pulp vehicles to get around. And then there is the issue of ongoing failed tests and violations by the Mill, that should see fines, charges, and even at times, closure, as a result, that appear to go unnoticed and certainly unrepented. Recently, only after a Freedom of Information request provided evidence that the Mill had failed 4 out of 10 tests, did the department issue a charge and fine against the Mill. A whopping $697.50 fine for one of multiple stack test failures by a Mega Billion Dollar company. That was a slap in the face to the public who have to contend with the air that is impacted by the emissions failures, but I was also curious about another thing. If the Pictou resident had not filed and received the FOIPOP request, would the public ever know they had failed even one stack test? Would NS Environment ever have taken any action if not for the Access request? A previous fine had been chased off of their record, when the Mill threatened to take the province to court. Imagine, threatening to spend how much on legal costs? to fight a $697.50 fine, and the province bought it. But in the end, the Mill was continuing to do exactly what they were fined for in the first place.
So with this awareness of the Department of Environment, and this new found knowledge of the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture, this got me really thinking about the other departments that should be interested, could be impacted and would be valuable resources for decision makers in every scenario.
The Department of Health turned their backs on Pictou County a long time ago. Requests have been made through the years to study the high rates of cancers, and cardio vasulcular disease. These have always been turned down. The residents can easily surmise that it would be prudent to assess the situation, for the sake of human health, but the government has adopted the tactic of “Don’t look for what you don’t want to see.” The Minister of Health has nothing to say, when he should be ordering the operation be suspended until solutions for emissions and pollution abatement are found. He should also be concerning himself with the impacts this is having on multiple generations of former and current residents, while demanding his department provide statics and disclosure on the varied health impacts. He should be talking about the costs to the heathcare system.
And what about Tourism? A $2.6 Billion industry last year. Beaches, recreational fishing, whale watching, camping and seaside cottages, historic towns. All of these things are part of the region and are part the tourism equation. And the new equation is to increase tourism to $4 Billion by 2024. Yet the Northumberland Strait, an epicentre for tourism, could be sacrificed to accommodate the Mill. Pictou continues to be sacrificed and there is strong evidence that people who would stay in Pictou are driving straight through once they see and smell the Mill. Inns have reported guests checking out early or cancelling their check ins altogether, because of the Mill. Area businesses have voiced their experiences too. Yet government doesn’t provide perspective.
I could go on, and on, but I hope you are seeing my point. There is a blatant and incredibly destructive avoidance by government of reality and facts, of tying the Mill to any negative impacts, when it’s so incredibly obvious, they look crooked. There is a major crack in the logical and easily anticipated relationship between departments who should be collaborative for the betterment of the province. I cannot fathom that this is a completely foreign concept, but for a foreign corporation, they are willing to act daft and treat this logic as impossible or unwarranted. They would rather appear inept than do the right thing.