Corporate Power

November 18, 2019

Morila gold mine in Mali, West Africa, 2002. Photo: Joan Baxter

This book chapter is the result of a visit to the Morila gold mine in Mali nearly 18 years ago, and is excerpted from my 2010 book, “Dust from our eyes – an unblinkered look at Africa,” published by Wolsak & Wynn in Canada and worldwide by Fahamu Books, which was shortlisted for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize in 2009. I decided to republish it here because I regret to say that based on the extensive research I’ve been doing on the gold mining industry in the past few years, it looks as if not much (if anything) has improved since then. I first wrote this story for the BBC, following a visit to the Morila gold mine when it was operated by South Africa’s AngloGold and Randgold. Today, the Morila gold mine is operated by Canada’s Barrick Gold, and is a “joint venture company held by Barrick (40%), AngloGold Ashanti (40%), and the State of Mali (20%).” The economic disparities, and the environmental, social and political havoc that such gold mines cause, are all contributing factors to the horrendous insecurity that now prevails in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger (where Canadian gold mining companies are so prevalent), causing widespread suffering – and death. If I were writing it today, I would probably entitle it, “Gold: all that glitters causes death and devastation.”

All that glitters … is taken away

… the very term investment badly distorts what’s really going on. Plundering, looting and exploiting the non-renewable resources of Africa is a far more accurate description. Gerald Caplan

In my fifth year in Mali, in late 2002, I finally obtained an invitation to accompany the country’s new minister of mines and a team of Malian journalists on a day trip from Mali’s capital Bamako to Morila, the country’s newest big gold mine.

On the short flight to the mine, I found myself seated beside a South African employee of the South African mining giant Randgold, who told me he and his wife had recently applied for Canadian citizenship and that he now lived in Toronto – when he wasn’t in Mali. He said things were deteriorating in South Africa, “if you know what I mean,” and that he and his wife, as white South Africans, felt their futures were in Canada.

He went on to tell me about the wonders I was about to experience at Morila, especially the man-made lake that was filled with water pumped 40 kilometres from a small river, a tributary to the River Niger. And as for the clubhouse, that was something to behold; he was very proud of it because he helped to design it. He called it the “Sahelian Club Med.” There were pleasure craft and a wharf on the man-made lake, he said, and lovely watered gardens, a fine bar and restaurant, with food, wine and other drinks flown in from South Africa. He said he often drove down from Bamako in his Land Cruiser to spend weekends there.

Continue reading Mali’s Morila gold mine: “not everything glitters”

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This article first appeared in the Halifax Examiner on March 5, 2019.

Northern Pulp effluent flows into the Northumberland Strait at a dam called Point D. Photo: Joan Baxter

There is much to wade through in the documents that Northern Pulp submitted to Nova Scotia Environment on February 7, 2019, when it registered its “Replacement Effluent Treatment Facility” for a 50-day, Class 1 environmental assessment (EA).

Citizens who wanted to comment to the government on the proposal, as was their right, needed to slog through 1,586 pages in 17 registration documents, and they needed to do it quickly. The public was given only one month to comment. Environment Minister Margaret Miller had until March 29 to decide on the project. [Minister Miller’s decision is detailed here.]

Not surprisingly, the EA submission starts on a very encouraging note. In the Executive Summary, Dillon Consulting, which developed the project documents on behalf of Northern Pulp, provides a table indicating the “significance of project-related residual environmental effects” on 18 items, everything from the atmosphere to marine fish and fish habitat at every stage of the project, during construction, operation and maintenance, or because of accidents or malfunctions.

Every single one of them is assessed as NS, or “No Significant Residual Environmental Effect Predicted.”

Every. Single. One.

This could mean either of two things.

Continue reading Northern Pulp’s environmental documents – missing mercury, a pulp mill that never was, and oodles of contradictions

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This article first appeared in the Halifax Examiner on February 7, 2019.

British Columbia taxpayers are on the hook for $40 million to clean up the disaster of Imperial Metals failed tailings pond at Mount Polley. Photo courtesy Cariboo Regional District.

Late last year, Nova Scotia’s Minister of Energy and Mines, Derek Mombourquette, penned an op-ed that his department sent out to the media. As I mentioned in the Halifax Examiner Morning File on January 16, 2019, the opinion piece was entitled “A little piece of Nova Scotia, everywhere,” and it claimed that the province’s mining industry was “something we can all take pride in, especially with the new Mineral Resources Act.” It would encourage “responsible mineral exploration and development” in the province.

“The new act also cuts red tape and saves industry money,” he said.

The minister went on to try to reassure readers that this did not mean the government would relinquish its duty as regulator or hesitate to stand up to industry to make sure things were done right for the citizens of the province and their descendants after the mines closed and the companies walked away from, say, toxic tailings facilities left behind at open pit gold mine sites.

“Companies that develop a mine in Nova Scotia are required to have a plan to restore the site once it closes,” wrote Mombourquette. “They must also set aside funds with the province, also called security, to do this work, even if the company goes out of business. A company’s plan will be reviewed every three years.”

Sounded promising.

Continue reading Like blood from a stone: trying to get information out of the Nova Scotia Department of Energy and Mines

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(This article first appeared in the Halifax Examiner on January 25, 2019.)

The salmon museum in Sherbrooke, Nova Scotia, is now at the heart of the NOPE campaign to prevent a proposed open pit gold mine from going in near the St. Mary’s River and jeopardizing its salmon recovery. Photo: Joan Baxter

For many years, when the St. Mary’s River Association (SMRA) held meetings in Sherbrooke on Nova Scotia’s Eastern Shore, the group members’ purpose was primarily to report on the headway they were making in their efforts to achieve their vision of “Health for our river, the Atlantic salmon and our community.”

Members would gather in the St. Mary’s Education and Interpretive Centre, which serves as a “salmon museum” that volunteers from the community built in 2001 with financial help from supporters of their cause.

The interpretive centre is a testament to the storied history of the river. It is filled with exhibits of fly-fishing gear through the ages, photos of species at risk such as wood turtles, and of huge Atlantic salmon specimens that could once be caught in the river. There is also a display devoted to famous anglers who have fished in the river over the decades, including the legendary American baseball player, Babe Ruth.

Past issues of SMRA’s annual newsletters offer a glimpse of the astounding amounts of unpaid time, energy, and enthusiasm that people in rural communities devote to trying to make their small parts of the world better and healthier places. The tone of the newsletter is always upbeat, the reports brimming with optimism and positivity.

The SMRA meeting held this week was not.

This time the subject was not the St. Mary’s River and how to improve it, but Atlantic Gold’s proposed open-pit gold mine and how to stop it.

Continue reading Friends of St. Mary’s River say “NOPE” to Atlantic Gold

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 This is the last in a series of four articles on the 21st century push for mining and quarrying in Nova Scotia. Earlier versions of these articles appeared in May and June 2018 in the Halifax Examiner and the Cape Breton Spectator. (I am pleased to say that this series of four articles has been shortlisted for an Atlantic Journalism Award in Excellence in Digital Journalism: Enterprise/Longform.)

How the mining lobby is working to undermine environmental protection in Nova Scotia

Photo courtesy Paul Strome

On a cold day in late November 2017 a couple of dozen people gathered near Kellys Mountain in Victoria County, on Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton Island, for the first in a series of protests over possible mining or quarrying on the mountain.

They were reacting to comments from the executive director of the Mining Association of Nova Scotia (MANS), Sean Kirby, that mineral deposits on Kellys Mountain were “blocked forever” because they were locked underneath the Kluscap Wilderness Area, which had been created in 2015.

According to MANS, Cape Breton’s economy was being “harmed” by protected wilderness areas, losing out on 80 jobs that could be created if a quarry were allowed on Kellys Mountain, where there were 2 billion tonnes of aggregate.[1]

Outraged by Kirby’s suggestions that part of the protected area could be swapped for another piece of land so that Kluscap Mountain could be opened up for quarrying, members of the First Nation organization, Reclaim Turtle Island, organized the demonstration on Highway 105, with support from the Council of Canadians.

The majority of participants were First Nations activists and Warriors, who came from all over the province, including Waycobah, Port Hawkesbury, Sydney, Halifax and Sipekne’katik.[2]

Speaking to CTV during the November 25 protest, Suzanne Patles said that the mountain is sacred to her people, the departure point for Kluscap, and home to the Kluscap Cave where the Mi’kmaq perform ceremonies.

Another protest on December 16 drew about 40 people, who gathered on Seal Island Bridge.

In a telephone interview, Madonna Bernard of Waycobah First Nation, tells me that the police helped control traffic on the bridge while the demonstrators conducted a ceremony for Kluscap Mountain. Continue reading Fool’s gold: the resource curse strikes Nova Scotia (Part 4)

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This is the third in a series of four articles on the 21st-century push for mining and quarrying in Nova Scotia on Canada’s Atlantic coast. Earlier versions of articles in this series appeared in May and June 2018 in the Halifax Examiner and the Cape Breton Spectator(I am pleased to say that this series of four articles has been shortlisted for an Atlantic Journalism Award in Excellence in Digital Journalism: Enterprise/Longform.)

Part 3. Gold in the hills or clean water in the rivers? Citizens take on government geologists in northern Nova Scotia

Article 3 photo SuNNS no mining sign

The news broke in November 2017 on the front page of the free monthly community paper, The Tatamagouche Light, in an article written by Raissa Tetanish under the headline “Gold in the hills?”

“The hills” are the Eastern Cobequid Highlands in northern Nova Scotia, a mostly forested area of 30,000 hectares (74,132 acres), stretching from the Wentworth ski hill to Earltown.[1]

Tetanish reported that, not only did geologists from the provincial Department of Natural Resources (DNR) think there was gold in the Cobequid Hills, they had been prospecting there for six years. And now, reported Tetanish, DNR was preparing to invite mining companies from around the world to come and do more advanced exploration.

Screenshot taken from DNR geological map showing enclosure area slated for gold exploration in the Cobequid Highlands in Nova Scotia.

In 2016, the government had closed the area to any other prospecting while DNR geologists did their own hunting for gold. About half the enclosure area was the French River watershed, which supplies the village of Tatamagouche its drinking water. Concerns about the water supply aside, the geologists were “enthused” by what they’d found and “optimistic for the future,” reported Tetanish.

The article explained that there were plans to hold an “open house” to inform citizens about the findings, and the geologists said they would be promoting the “opportunity” at the next Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) convention, which would be held in Toronto in March 2018. After that there “could be a Request for Proposals (RFP) to see if there’s interest from mining companies.”

Garth DeMont, a geologist with the Geoscience Branch of DNR (which was moved to the Department of Energy and Mines in July 2018), was quoted as saying, “All we need is the discovery of one significant gold vein and the Cobequids will light up.” Continue reading Fool’s gold: the resource curse strikes Nova Scotia (Part 3)

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There’s a 21st century gold rush starting in Nova Scotia on Canada’s Atlantic coast, just as industrial gold mining is increasingly coming into disrepute around the world. It has been described as an “environmental disaster,” which often leads to contamination of water sources on which life depends. This is the second in a series of four articles on mining and quarrying in Nova Scotia. Earlier versions of these articles appeared in May and June 2018 in the Halifax Examiner and the Cape Breton Spectator. (I am pleased to say that this series of four articles has been shortlisted for an Atlantic Journalism Award in Excellence in Digital Journalism: Enterprise/Longform.)

Part 2. Going for gold

Screenshot of BNN interview of Atlantic Gold CEO Steven Dean (left) at the 2018 Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) convention.

The CEO and chairman of Vancouver-based Atlantic Gold Corporation, Steven Dean, a man with a history of international coal and metal mining and former president of Teck Cominco, was being interviewed by Andrew Bell of the Business News Network (BNN).[1] Dean was talking up his company’s first gold mine, named Touquoy after a French miner who worked the deposit in the late 1800s, which had just gone into production in Moose River, Nova Scotia.

The interview was held at an ideal venue for Atlantic Gold to showcase its new open-pit gold mine, the first ever in Nova Scotia: the 2018 convention of the Prospectors and Developers Association (PDAC) of Canada in Toronto, the global mining industry’s “event of choice.”

Bell expressed amazement at the low cost – $550 – of producing an ounce of gold at the Touquoy mine. Dean told him the mine would produce about 90,000 ounces a year which, at current gold prices, would make it a “profitable mine” with about $90 million in “operating cash flow.” And, said Dean, Atlantic Gold planned to enter its second phase of operations by 2022, with more mines operating in the area, producing a total of 200,000 ounces a year. Continue reading Fool’s gold: the resource curse strikes Nova Scotia (Part 2)

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There’s a 21st century gold rush starting in Nova Scotia on Canada’s Atlantic coast, just as industrial gold mining is increasingly coming into disrepute around the world. It has been described as an “environmental disaster,” which often leads to contamination of water sources on which life depends. This is the first in a series of four articles on mining and quarrying in Nova Scotia. Earlier versions of these articles appeared in May and June 2018 in the Halifax Examiner and the Cape Breton Spectator. (I am pleased to say that this series of four articles has been shortlisted for an Atlantic Journalism Award in Excellence in Digital Journalism: Enterprise/Longform.)

Part 1. Welcome to the gold rush

Atlantic Gold’s open pit gold mine in Moose River, Nova Scotia, one of four the company has planned, and one of six proposed for the province’s Eastern Shore. Photo: Joan Baxter

In October 2017, Vancouver-based Atlantic Gold opened Nova Scotia’s very first open pit gold mine, one of four it has planned for the province. The Touquoy mine, about 100 kilometres from Halifax, is named after French miner Damas Touquoy, who first worked the Moose River deposit back in the late 1800s.[1]

Officiating at the opening ceremony, and energetically applauding the cutting of the ribbon, was Nova Scotia’s Minister of Transport and Infrastructure Renewal, Lloyd Hines.

Years earlier, Premier Darrell Dexter’s NDP government in the province gave the mine a helping hand when then minister of natural resources, Charlie Parker, issued a vesting order allowing the mining company to expropriate land that had been in the Higgins family for 120 years.

It looks as if Nova Scotia, where small-scale, underground gold mining persisted from the mid-1800s until the 1940s, is once again pinning a good part of its future on gold. Continue reading Fool’s gold: the resource curse strikes Nova Scotia (Part 1)

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The pulp mill in northern Nova Scotia. Photo by Dr. Gerry Farrell

By Joan Baxter

December 12, 2017 (updated November 22, 2019)

When I held the first copy of “The Mill – Fifty Years of Pulp and Protest” in my hands two years ago, in November 2017, I would never have believed that the book would ever make any headlines, let alone national ones, or make any bestseller lists, or receive any special mentions from the incredible actress and activist from Nova Scotia, Ellen Page.

Right to left: Acclaimed ward-winning songwriter and musician Dave Gunning who inspired the book, the incredible person, activist and actress Ellen Page, myself, and Lil MacPherson, climate activist and co-owner of the Wooden Monkey restaurants, who passed “The Mill” on to her friend, Ellen Page, to read.

But it did. And what’s more astounding is that the book went from almost total obscurity when it came out, to the front pages of national media because of the actions of the very people who tried to suppress its promotion, ensure it remained obscure. Just desserts?

The book and its birth – a short history

But I need to take a breath here, and go back to the beginning. It’s been an overwhelming two years and I’m still trying to make some sense of it all and how it transpired.

Even before the book came out, there were times – late at night – that I lay awake questioning the wisdom of spending more than a year researching and writing a book about a pulp mill in a small town in a small province in eastern Canada. It was an intense (and income-less) time.

Not that it wasn’t a fascinating and fulfilling journey of learning. It was that and more.

It was a great pleasure and privilege to meet and listen to so many interesting, informed and passionate people who had been involved in one way or another with the mill over the years. Some had family members working there or had worked for the mill themselves at one point. Their views on the mill were nuanced. On one hand, it provided jobs and supported a lot of service industries in the area and forestry contractors around the province. If it smelled, so be it – that was just the smell of money.

But others felt the county had paid too high a price for the big smelly mill. Over the five decades that it had been in operation, one group of citizens after another had come together to create waves of protest, to try to get one government after another to do its job and protect them from the harmful effects of a large industry. Continue reading What happened when The Mill protested the book “The Mill – Fifty Years of Pulp and Protest”

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Cover photo by Dr. Gerry Farrell

This book explores the power that a single industry can wield over an entire province, namely Nova Scotia in eastern Canada. It is a story that has been waiting to be told. With a powerful foreword by Elizabeth May, leader of Canada’s Green Party and Member of Parliament for Saanich-Gulf Islands, British Columbia, it has local, national and even global relevance.

November 2017

Fifty years ago this month a long list of dignitaries and politicians gathered at Abercrombie Point in Pictou County, northern Nova Scotia, for the official luncheon and opening of the brand new pulp mill owned by Scott Paper of Philadelphia.

Since it went into operation in 1967, the mill has provided valuable jobs and found support from governments of all levels and all stripes. But it has also fomented protest and created deep divisions and tensions in northern Nova Scotia.

Twelve premiers and five foreign corporate owners later, the mill remains a smelly fixture across the harbour from the picturesque waterfront of Pictou, the birthplace of New Scotland.

Its fascinating story is one that has been waiting to be pieced together and told. And that is what Nova Scotian journalist and award-winning author Joan Baxter does in the new book The Mill: Fifty Years of Pulp and Protest.

Picturesque Pictou waterfront across from the pulp mill. Photo by Joan Baxter

It meticulously and dispassionately documents the history of the Pictou County mill using archival material, government records, consultant and media reports, and poignant interviews with people whose lives have touched by the mill and the pulp industry. By weaving these personal stories into the historical narrative, the book brings to life five decades of controversy and citizen-led campaigns to have the mill clean up its act, and to have government protect the people and environment rather than lavishing hundreds of millions of dollars of financing and other concessions on a mill owned by large corporations.

Boat Harbour in June 2016. Photo by Joan Baxter

This book takes readers to Pictou Landing to hear from members of the First Nation there, and learn about their betrayal by both provincial and federal governments, which turned Boat Harbour – so precious to them that they called it “the other room” (A’se’K in the Mi’kmaq language) – into a stinking, toxic wasteland. It gives voice to people whose well-being, health, homes, water, air, businesses have been affected by the mill’s effluent and emissions, and to people whose livelihoods have depended on the pulp mill.

This compelling book is a rich tapestry of story-telling, of great interest to everyone who is concerned about how we can start to renegotiate the relationship between the economy, jobs, and profits on one hand, and human well-being, health, and a healthy environment on the other.

The Mill tells a local story with global relevance and appeal. It is a story of corporate capture of governments and regulatory agencies that citizens have been protesting and struggling to reverse for the last half century … and even longer.

About the author: Joan Baxter is a journalist, science writer, anthropologist and an award-winning author. She has written seven books, authored many media and research reports on international development and foreign investment, and reported for the BBC World Service and contributed to many other media, including the CBC, Le Monde Diplomatique, Toronto Star, The Globe and Mail, The Chronicle Herald, The Coast.

In the media …

CTV Live At Five, November 27, 2017, Host Kelly Linehan interviews Joan Baxter about “The Mill – Fifty Years of Pulp and Protest.”

The News (New Glasgow), November 23, 2017, “Author releases book offering critical look at pulp mill,”by Sam MacDonald

If there was anyone who didn’t agree with Baxter and her position, they did not speak up that night. The Tuesday evening event had an air of utter solidarity, with singer and activist Dave Gunning, a member of the Clean the Mill Group, opening with music that was a propos to the theme of the book.
Baxter admitted she was surprised that nobody spoke out against her writing and assertions, saying, “I was talking to a friendly audience and I was a little surprised that I didn’t hear any differing opinions.
“I understand that this can be a sensitive topic – livelihoods depend on the mill. I would have been happy to engage people, if they read the book.”

Author interviewed on The Rick Howe Show, News 95.7, Halifax, Nova Scotia November 23, 2017, 9 – 10 AM, at 39 minutes 42 seconds

“The Mill – Fifty Years of Pulp and Protest” is available in selected bookstores, and also online at:

Chapters Indigo

Nimbus Publishing

Amazon

 For more information / media inquiries:

Joan Baxter: Themillthebook@gmail.com, joanbaxter.ca

Lesley Choyce, Pottersfield Press: lchoyce@ns.sympatico

Upcoming events

Author book signing “The Mill: Fifty Years of Pulp and Protest”, Saturday, November 25, 2017: 12 noon – 1:30 PM, Indigo Chapters bookstore, 41 Mic Mac Boulevard, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia

Author book signing “The Mill: Fifty Years of Pulp and Protest”, Saturday, December 2, 2017: 12 noon – 1:30 PM, Coles Bookstore, Truro Mall, 245 Robie St, Truro, Nova Scotia

Author book signing “The Mill: Fifty Years of Pulp and Protest”, Saturday, December 2, 2017: 3 – 4:30 PM, Coles Bookstore, Highland Square Mall, 689 Westville Rd, New Glasgow, Nova Scotia (This event will not take place on December 2, 2017 … if it is rescheduled, I will keep you posted!)

 

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