“I became a journalist because I did not want to rely on newspapers for information.”
Living in the Maritimes, it is easy to go decades without a complete understanding of a troubling, and perhaps even corrupted system of government and an obvious state of corporate capture. We expect our governments to be transparent and open. We expect them to operate in the best interests of the province and the people who live and work here, pay taxes here and vote here. And we think we have access to facts and details on the high jinks in government, whether it is regulatory work, financial operations or legislative effort, because we have the press out there supposedly living up to the principles by which they are agreed to. We think the media will alert us to inconvenient truths, will pry for minutiae on the deals and agreements being made, and will dig deeper into and follow up on initiatives. It isn’t until you are embroiled in some conflict or disagreement with government on a very specific and personal level, that you start to look more closely and pay deeper attention.
Over the last few years, I have come to realize the media’s limitations are vast. As I started to understand more about many issues in my area, I was dismayed to know I had not been more aware. I asked myself, was I not listening closely enough? Or reading too little? I thought I was paying attention, so why was I so uninformed? My own concentrated list of concerns really only developed over the past decade or so, and I was always well aware government was not being completely transparent, but I was just like every other Nova Scotian, who felt up to date. Then as I faced my own encounter in my community, with the municipal and provincial governments, an awakening occurred starting with environmental dismay, and eventually growing to a determined and thorough examination of the political environment as I was educating myself. I came to realize no one was really looking after keeping us fully informed. And then it became more apparent where we suffered, and why.
As I have come to know, there is too great a limit on the ability or the willingness for the local media to tell the stories here in full. And our environment is the most talked about in my circle, but the least covered and most inaccurately reported sector. A three minute piece on the 6 PM Evening News about fishermen protesting a pipeline, does not relate the 50+ year history of environmental racism and impending environmental and economic disaster. A 1,000 word “article”, paid for by and written to garner readers’ sympathies for a corporation, misrepresents important facts and does not portray their violations and the impacts they have on other industries and communities where they operate. And the many newspapers owned by the family mowing down forests in NB, do not tell us the real problems with herbicide spraying and clear cutting. Just like that family’s news media does not report fully on the causes for explosions at their oil refinery, or the dumping of effluent into rivers at their pulp mill. But most of the time in Nova Scotia, the media don’t cover the issues, or just issue incorrect reports or statements.
A Global News reporter tweeted yesterday that a Supreme Court Justice had issued an injunction, “preventing protestors from blocking Northern Pulp’s plan to #pipe waste into Northumberland Strait”. The injunction was against four fishermen and it was regarding them blocking survey work being done to prepare an Environmental Assessment. The Star reported fishermen had been blocking the Mill’s survey boats “since this spring”. There had been no survey boat in Pictou until late October and it left early in December. A mill supporter, who stands to make money from the pipe plan, stated with conviction that Mill effluent had never killed any fish to date. The Star also published his statement without any reference to facts. Boat Harbour was once a vibrant and thriving fishing ground. The fish all died en masse the day the mill opened. Healthy shellfish were placed in the waters near the outfall from Boat Harbour in 2005, and tested positive for Leukemia after their exposure. These are well known facts. So why then is the media promoting false claims.
The NS Liberals have been crying poor since 2015, cutting programs and funding, fighting with unions and failing to hire enough medical professionals to prevent a healthcare crisis. Yet, the media never asked about $6 Million given to Northern Pulp last year, apparently to pay for design costs for a new effluent treatment facility and 10 kilometre pipe into the Northumberland Strait that will cost taxpayers $100 Million to install in order to keep the Mill running. It never hit any news outlet until it was brought up by private citizens and community groups after a post on social media (mine) asked why?
Never mind the hundreds of thousands or millions of tax dollars given to the mill every year, without open disclosure. The air and water pollution from the Mill, located in Pictou, and its impacts on Boat Harbour, have been a thorn in the province’s side for decades, known as the worst environmental disaster and worst case of environmental racism in the province, and has sucked up what some estimate to be about $1/2 Billion in taxpayer funds, grants, loans, etc. No media is reporting on the loan to the Mill that is not due to mature until 2040 while mill supporters claim the mill has repaid all its loans. The contentious Boat Harbour lease was only until 2030. There is plenty of cause for concern on this situation. But the mainstream media never seems compelled to investigate the financial relationship between the mill and the province, unless there is a confrontation or a court case. And they still miss the mark.
Forestry in the province has been altered by the Mill’s presence. The clear cuts and spraying of glyphosate and low stumpage rates and limited access to resources have driven people to question government decisions and behaviour for decades. The recent Lahey Review was supposed to shed light on areas of concern and guide some changes that would steer our forestry practices back toward sustainable and environmentally sound.
The media did not refer to the missing monster in this dark walk through the woods, biomass. Environmentally concerned citizens brought it up. And in the weeks since its release, media did not seek answers to the high volume of clear cuts being considered and approved. Even though just last spring, a huge controversy erupted when an old growth forest was harvested with more slated to follow, another old growth forest was put on the block this month. Lands and Forestry (formerly DNR) knows where the old growth forests are in the province, and yet they allow these forest stands to be added to the list for harvest. If the public are not loud enough and persistent enough, all these protected forests could easily be wiped out by the department tasked with ensuring their preservation. The media didn’t even carry a story on this, while the public and various groups across the province were scrambling to get the word out and create heat. They succeeded in giving the Minister enough concern to announce the stands should never have been up for consideration. Media ignored the weeks of public outcry over Glyphosate spraying last fall, until the Federal Government decided to look deeper at the chemical’s links to cancer.
A really concerning trend in the news media with regard to the mill is the willingness to take their money to promote their “story”. Along with regular advertising, advertorials ran regularly in the province wide Saltwire Network of newspapers. Unchallenged, prepared stories about the Mill’s importance, goodwill and outstanding environmental achievements misled Nova Scotians reading the business section of the paper, without realizing it was paid promotion. Propaganda. The local news radio channel News 95.7 ran ads multiple times per day that claimed the mill employed 339 people at the mill and indirectly 11,000 people across the province. News reports claimed the mill employed 3,000 people. The Mill, in recent court filings, disclosed they employ 277 at the mill and 640 indirectly across the province. False advertising is a criminal act in Canada.
The poor and sparse reporting on the environmental issues around the province is not limited to just the issues around Northern Pulp. The broad list of issues across Nova Scotia share equally in their lack of attention. The media did not demand explanations on funds and environmental concessions directed toward the failed OpenHydro Tidal Turbine Project in the Bay of Fundy, or the undisclosed and unverified security that should have been paid on that project, until the project had gone bankrupt, the turbine was left busted in the Minas Passage and dozens of local companies have not been paid for the project. Oddly enough, the project was reported on
by CBC via their Saint John, NB office, even though the project is in Nova Scotia, under the jurisdiction of the Nova Scotian and Canadian Governments, at the Fundy Ocean Research Centre for Energy (FORCE) site, near Parrsboro. Maybe if the press had shown interest in the risks being outlined by the public for years, there would have been a disclosure and government would have felt obligated to prove they were ensuring that protection was in place. Even today, the government has not proven there is a security, it has not been accessed, and there is a massive non-functioning turbine sitting in the rushing waters waiting for someone to take it out and sell it for scrap.
An 11 kilometre long pipeline has been built that intends to be used to pump water from and to the Shubenacadie River, to brine out salt caverns 1 km underground near Alton, NS. The caverns will be used to store natural gas. There is a plan to carve out 18 of these caverns over time, and then use them to store gas while it is cheaper and sell it in winter when the price goes up. Sipenak’atik First Nation members have stated they were never informed of the salt caverns and a plan to dump 10 million litres of salt brine into the river every day. They have said they found out about the pipeline, when they saw it being installed. The news media barely reported on the project until the local community started speaking out and holding rallies and closing highways to raise awareness. Now there is a permanent camp at the River end of the Alton Gas Project site, protecting the river from the company’s plan. Perhaps better reporting on such a massive project, with such great implications on the local environment and local population, would have helped inform the locals who will have to live near the caverns, and who would have to absorb the risks of living there. Perhaps the consultation would have been broader and complete. Perhaps the media could have given a better rundown of the environmental risks associated with this project.
The need for independence and better coverage of all issues, not just environmental, has prompted the formation of a number of independent, and investigative news and blog sites, some that require subscriptions, some that rely on donations, and some, like this one, that can only do this work when there is time available for no money. The importance of independence and deeper digging has required they remain un-commercialized and so there is no advertising revenue. The work and volumes of research that occurs should prompt the daily news providers to consider their behaviour. They have the funding and access. They can usually rely on their positions in the media to prompt a level of tolerance compared to the independent citizen with their enquiries. We do have good independent sources for real investigative reporting in this province. And they should be proud of the work they do. And I highly recommend supporting them, sharing their reporting, subscribing to their feeds and sending them note on occasion, with a story you think could use some coverage. The Nova Scotia Advocate gives us a hard and solid look at the communities and issues that need the most attention, but tend to be left out of the dialogue, low income issues, mental illness, First Nations communities, and environmental concerns, among others. Halifax Examiner does major investigative journalism pieces that require months of effort and bundles of access to information. There is also a daily grinding out of further facts and healthy skepticism on current affairs. They have a sister publication, the Cape Breton Spectator, that offers similar effort in reporting. Social media groups do a better job of informing and sharing factual reports on the various projects and ongoing concerns in the province. I recommend you subscribe to as many independent sites as you can, to be kept informed by a knowledgeable crowd of very concerned citizens.
We all need to dig a little deeper to find the truth. It is our health and well-being and our future existence that is on the line.