Neoliberalism

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 am inspired 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 changed 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%).” I decided to resurrect the chapter now because 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”

Read more

This article was originally published in the Halifax Examiner on February 21, 2019.

“We care,” says Northern Pulp on the website it has created to spread the word that it “cares about forestry families of Nova Scotia.”

The site is a vehicle for the company’s letter-writing campaign to get people in the forestry sector to contact Premier Stephen McNeil, their MLA, MP, or even Canadian Senators to ask for an extension to the legislated deadline of January 31, 2020 for the closure of Boat Harbour as a stabilizing lagoon for effluent from the Northern Pulp / Paper Excellence mill in Pictou County.

Effluent from the Northern Pulp mill flows out of a pipeline. Photo: Joan Baxter

The form letter on the site requests the extension “to allow Northern Pulp and Paper Excellence the time required to commission and construct a new, environmentally responsible onsite treatment system.” The letter is signed, “A concerned supporter of Nova Scotia’s forest industry.”

This isn’t the first time Northern Pulp has resorted to composing and sending out form letters to try to garner support for itself and its interests, be it to town councils trying to get them to lend their support to a campaign to get the Boat Harbour closure date changed, or to its employees and former employees to get a (my) book signing cancelled in New Glasgow.

The Northern Pulp “cares” website is just part of the company’s intensive PR and lobbying campaign, which also means rallying its supporters in Canada’s largest private sector union, UNIFOR, to get the pro-mill message out in advertisements on the airwaves and social media.

Continue reading Northern Pulp says it “cares” – but for whom and what?

Read more

 

(This article was first published by the Halifax Examiner on September 14, 2018)

A no-fracking float in a 2011 parade in Tatamagouche, Nova Scotia. From 2011 until 2014, when Premier Stephen McNeil put a moratorium on the practise, Nova Scotians staged frequent demonstrations to call on the government not to allow fracking in the province. Photo: Joan Baxter.

On a late summer evening in September 2018, about 200 people gathered in Pugwash, filling the Northumberland Community Curling Club for a debate framed around the resolution “fracking will be beneficial to Cumberland County” in northern Nova Scotia.

The audience was, not surprisingly, clearly divided between those in favour and those against. For many, including several members of the Nova Scotia Fracking Resource and Action Coalition (NOFRAC), it was like déjà vu, a step back in time to 2011 through 2013, when they took to the streets frequently in their efforts to try to convince the then-NDP government to ban on fracking.

Eventually the NDP government of Darrell Dexter launched an independent review of the socio-economic impacts of the process under the leadership of then Cape Breton University president, David Wheeler.

It’s now four years since the report by a panel led by Wheeler recommended that a great deal more knowledge was needed about the many risks of hydraulic fracturing before the controversial practise be allowed in Nova Scotia. A few weeks later, the government of Stephen McNeil passed a bill to place a legal moratorium on fracking in the province.

But the matter has hardly been laid to rest, and certainly not by die-hard proponents of fracking, who have been popping up all over the province this year. Continue reading “Pig in a poke”: die-hard proponents want to open Nova Scotia to fracking

Read more

 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)

Read more

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)

Read more

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)

Read more

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)

Read more

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!)

 

Read more

BY Joan Baxter

July 12, 2017

(This article is the first of two adapted excerpts from the book, Seven Grains of Paradise – A Culinary Journey in Africa, available in print and Kindle edition at Amazon.ca, as an e-pub globally from Amazon.com and Kobo, and in print in Canada from Nimbus.)

Seven Grains of Paradise-Proof4.oct 25Type “Why is Africa” into Google and these are the top four phrases with which it fills in the blank: “so backward,” “such a mess,” “so poor,” and “so underdeveloped.” Change the query to “Why can’t Africa,” and Google finishes that question with: “grow food.”

Depressing stuff, but it’s not Google’s fault that such negative stereotypes abound. They go back many decades, if not centuries, and obviously still persist to shape online searches. And they’re as misleading and wrong now as they’ve always been.

First, Africa is an immense and diverse continent, which is no more “backward” (whatever that really means) or more of a “mess” than many other parts of the world. Many African countries may be monetarily poor, but the continent is enormously rich in culture and resources, and parts of it are catching up, if not surpassing, other more “developed” countries, depending, of course, what exactly we mean by development.

And as for the notion that Africa can’t grow food, that’s so far off the mark that it’s hard to know where to start to debunk it. But I’ll try. In 2015, a landmark study that examined diets in 187 countries around the world in 1990 and again in 2010 found that nine of the ten healthiest were in West African nations. Continue reading Celebrating Africa’s food and farmers

Read more

By Joan Baxter

It’s a very humid and hot Saturday morning when we set out from Kenema, heading south to a village called Bongor in southeast Sierra Leone.

This is prime cocoa- and coffee-growing land. Just about every family in every village can lay claim (in an informal way, because there is no such thing as formal land title here) to a small “tree-crop” plantation, or agroforest.

These agroforests are generally a few acres that farmers plant and manage. They are full of economically important trees that add a lot of value to the farms and complement income from cocoa and coffee.

A local agricultural extension officer and I are hoping to meet up with some members of a women’s farming group and learn what crops they grow and how well they’re doing from them. A man from a local group called the “Agroforestry Farmers Association” has informed the community we are coming, as is custom when strangers are planning a visit to any village. Our visit is supposed to be innocuous and low-key.

When the vehicle pulls into Bongor, it looks as if there is a giant party going on. It turns out it’s to welcome us.

The “Court Barray” — the village meetinghouse with a tin roof and spacious open-air interior — is jammed with women and children. They rush out to greet us, dancing and singing and corralling us into the Court Barray.

So much for innocuous and low-key. Continue reading Musing on the bounty in rural Sierra Leone

Read more