Premier Stephen McNeil likely didn’t need the reminder from the union representing workers at the Northern Pulp mill near Pictou.
Surely he’d prefer to spend the summer making good-news announcements and avoiding tough questions about how the Boat Harbour treatment facility will be replaced.
But there was Unifor president Jerry Dias earlier this month, insisting that the province get to work saving his members’ jobs by getting the new treatment plant started.
It’s a controversy that is not going away, and the clock is ticking toward a deadline that can’t be met. Sooner or later, McNeil will have to deliver bad news to someone.
It’s an unpleasant choice, a political nightmare that will make a lot of people unhappy no matter what the premier does.
McNeil stood his ground, insisting that the mill has to answer questions about whether the plant will meet environmental standards before it is allowed to go ahead.
But that doesn’t answer the real question, which is: “How can the mill complete the new treatment plant, even if it gets approval from the province today, before the province’s deadline of Jan. 30, 2020?” (That’s when McNeil says the Boat Harbour treatment facility must close. If that facility is shut down, the mill can’t operate.)
The answer is that Northern Pulp cannot meet the deadline. What the premier did not say was whether the goalposts will be moved. If the mill is to remain open, the deadline must be extended and the province must anger and disappoint the Indigenous community in Boat Harbour, along with the fishermen, environmentalists and others who oppose the mill remaining open.
By holding open the possibility of an extension if the mill meets environmental approval, McNeil is giving its owners tacit approval to keep spending money toward the new treatment plant’s construction. And if you still wonder what might happen to Northern Pulp, consider this: an NDP government spent millions to keep the mill in Port Hawkesbury open in 2012. With hundreds of jobs at stake again, the Liberal government must be thinking very hard along similar lines.