Canada

This article was originally published by the Halifax Examiner on November 28, 2021.

Sign on Highway 4 in Cape Breton advertising waterfront for sale on the Bras d'Or Lake. Photo by Joan Baxter

Photo: Joan Baxter

Nova Scotia has long been a popular place not just for settlers, but in the last century it also became a popular place for non-residents — including many well-heeled Americans and Europeans — to purchase properties.[1]

For decades, scholars and successive governments have debated the issue of non-resident land ownership in a province with relatively little Crown land, with waterfronts being carved up into private properties that reduce public access to Nova Scotia shorelines.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a real estate boom in Nova Scotia, including most rural counties, as people from urban centres, elsewhere in Canada and abroad, looked for ways to escape crowded urban areas.

A few months into the pandemic, the German magazine, Der Spiegel, broke the story that some right-wing conspiracy theorists were marketing Cape Breton to like-minded German-speaking Europeans, which added yet another dimension to long-standing questions about non-resident land ownership in Nova Scotia.

This three-part series follows up on its 2020 coverage and looks into some of these questions it raises, even as the province prepares to change the property tax rate for non-resident owners.

This, the final of three articles, looks at previous efforts to come to grips with the question of land ownership regulation in Nova Scotia, what it means for affordability of properties, and why it’s all been so contentious for so long.

Read part 1 here.

Read part 2 here.

Stunning white rock shoreline near Terence Bay. Photo by Joan Baxter

Nova Scotia coastline near Terence Bay. Photo: Joan Baxter

It was a spring day, and as they’d been doing for some weeks, Jan and Paul (not their real names) were driving around looking for land on the South Shore of Nova Scotia, where Jan had spent a good part of her childhood.

Both were living and working in Halifax, and wanted a property they could call their own, where they would settle down and eventually retire. They had been scouting out properties for weeks, and had yet to find a place they could afford. For many years, the South Shore had been popular with American and European buyers who had no problem paying hefty prices for oceanfront properties.

“One day we were driving out near Terence Bay,” Jan recalled for the Halifax Examiner. “And we saw this sign that said ‘lots for sale’ on a dirt road that seemed to lead to the waterfront. So we just started driving. The gate was open.”

Suddenly another vehicle came out of nowhere and cut them off. The woman driver stopped her car, slammed the door, and approached their open window, angrily informing them they were on private property.

“We said we were sorry but that we had seen a sign that there were lots for sale, and we told her we were potential buyers,” Jan said.

The woman, who had a strong German accent, was still angry, and proclaimed loudly, “We don’t sell to Canadians.”

She said the lots were only for Europeans.

Jan and Paul turned around and headed back to the main road.

Jan, a fifth generation Nova Scotian, was in tears.

This happened back in the mid-1990s, but Jan remembers it as if it were yesterday, especially her visceral reaction to being told that Canadians were not welcome to buy land in … Nova Scotia.

A new tax levy for non-residents?

Non-resident land ownership in Nova Scotia has been a contentious issue for decades.

Canadian Pioneer Estates billboard in Richmond County, Cape Breton. Photo by Joan Baxter

Canadian Pioneer Estates sign in Richmond County, Cape Breton. Photo: Joan Baxter

The question of whether those who own land, reside and pay taxes in Nova Scotia should pay lower property taxes than those who do not has been debated, discussed, and disagreed on since the 1960s. Continue reading “Please don’t sell Nova Scotia:” Additional taxes on non-resident landowners have been discussed since the 1960s. Now the debate is on again as non-residents snap up property in Cape Breton.

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This article was originally published by the Halifax Examiner on November 23, 2021. Note that since it was first published, Frank Eckhardt who is featured in this article, has been arrested twice in Cape Breton, once on extortion charges, and a second time for a slew of firearms offences.

Sign on Highway 4 in Cape Breton advertising waterfront for sale on the Bras d'Or Lake. Photo by Joan Baxter

Photo: Joan Baxter

Nova Scotia has long been a popular place for settlers, but in the last century it also became a popular place for non-residents — including many well-heeled Americans and Europeans — to purchase properties.[1]

For decades, scholars and successive governments have debated the issue of non-resident land ownership in a province with relatively little Crown land, and waterfronts being carved up into private properties that reduce public access to Nova Scotia shorelines.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a real estate boom in Nova Scotia, including most rural counties, as people from urban centres, elsewhere in Canada and abroad, looked for ways to escape crowded areas.

A few months into the pandemic, the German magazine, Der Spiegel, broke the story that some right-wing conspiracy theorists were marketing Cape Breton to like-minded German-speaking Europeans, which added yet another dimension to long-standing questions about non-resident land ownership in Nova Scotia.

In this three-part series, the Halifax Examiner follows up on its 2020 coverage of this issue, and looks into some of the complex questions it raises, even as the province prepares to change the property tax rate for non-resident owners.

Read Part 1 here.

This second article looks at more of the real estate and land development companies or individuals marketing Cape Breton Island to German speakers, and at how the trend developed.

Evans Island bridge with gate. Photo by Joan Baxter

Evans Island bridge with gate. Photo: Joan Baxter

It would be easy to miss the turn-off to the island that juts out into the Bras d’Or Lake at Hay Cove in Cape Breton.

The only indication it’s there is an innocuous sign on the edge of Highway 4 in Richmond County that advertises “waterfront” for sale. If you follow the arrow on the sign, you’ll go about a kilometer on a dirt road to a gated bridge that leads to an island.

On the island side of the bridge is a road sign that indicates that you are now on Katja Rose Drive. Just past that is a large notice that trespassing and hunting are forbidden, which advises that the island and its roads are private property.

Sign for Katja Rose Drive on Evans Island. Photo by Joan Baxter

Katja Rose Drive on Evans Island. Photo: Joan Baxter

But the “waterfront for sale” sign did seem like an invitation to visit, so it seems OK to continue along Katja Rose Drive to see what is on the market.

On either side of the gravel road are small signs fastened to trees indicating lot numbers, some with small red “sold” signs in the trees. There are also some clearings with mobile homes on them.

One lot bears a “For Sale / zu verkaufen” sign with the name and contacts for a couple in Germany. For the three-acre property, the couple are asking $96,000, the price they paid for it. There is no well or septic system on the lot, and they tell a person who recently inquired about the property that there is a high risk around the Bras d’Or Lake of drilling a well and not finding good drinking water.

Further along Katja Rose Drive there is a large billboard that has fallen down on the side of the road, which lays out the development phases of subdivision called “Adventure Island Lake Estates,” a joint venture by Canadian Pioneer Estates and Canec Land Development Inc.

This photo shows a fallen-down signboard for the Evans Island development plan. Photo by Joan Baxter

Evans Island development plan. Photo: Joan Baxter

Welcome to Evans Island.

It has been carved into 129 lots, most about two acres, nearly all of them purchased by non-resident Germans. Continue reading Developers are selling off Cape Breton, one subdivision after the other, to German-speaking non-residents? What — if anything — is wrong with that?

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This article first appeared in the Halifax Examiner on March 7, 2019. As decision-day approaches on Northern Pulp’s proposal for a new effluent treatment facility that would be constructed very close to the Canso Chemicals site, which is heavily contaminated with mercury, I decided to republish the article here.

Canso Chemicals hasn’t produced any chemicals for 29 years, but — contrary to what I wrote in the Halifax Examiner in “Northern Pulp’s environmental documents: missing mercury, a pulp mill that never was, and oodles of contradictions” — the company lives on.

Sort of.

For two decades Canso Chemicals produced chlorine for the pulping process at a site adjacent to the pulp mill on Abercrombie Point in Pictou County, but when new pulp and paper effluent regulations came into effect in 1992, the mill switched to chlorine dioxide. No longer needed, the chemical plant was closed.

A Google search for “Canso Chemicals” turns up an address (Granton Abercrombie Road, New Glasgow, NS) and a phone number, which I called. Although the Google result states that it is “permanently closed,” someone did answer the phone with the words, “Canso Chemicals.” When I introduced myself, he said he could not make any comment, but would try to find someone who could answer my questions about the company. He took my number. I haven’t had a return call.

Continue reading The curious case of Northern Pulp’s neighbour Canso Chemicals, and why its owners keep it alive

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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 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?

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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 article was first published by the Halifax Examiner on February 1, 2019.)

On January 31, 2019, Pictou Landing First Nation started counting down the days until Boat Harbour is closed to pulp mill effluent. Photo courtesy Matt Dort.

The children of Pictou Landing First Nation didn’t mince words when they addressed the standing-room-only audience that gathered in their school gymnasium on January 31, 2019 to mark the start of the one-year countdown to the legislated closure of Boat Harbour.

They “hate” Boat Harbour. It makes them “sad.” And “it stinks.”

Pictou Landing First Nationyouth council president Shyanna Denny (L) & PLFN Band Councillor Haley Bernard (R) distribute A’se’K (Mi’kmaq name for Boat Harbour) t-shirts at closure countdown celebration. Photo: Joan Baxter

Once the mill stops pumping its effluent — up to 90 million litres of the reeking stuff every day — into the lagoon that backs up against their Reserve, Alden Francis told the audience that “everything won’t stink really bad” any more. He said he can’t wait for the smell to be gone.

But it’s not just Boat Harbour that stinks. Continue reading “Everything won’t stink so bad”: The countdown to the Boat Harbour closure begins

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This article first appeared in the Halifax Examiner on November 3, 2018.

The pulp mill effluent is aerated in this basin before flowing into Boat Harbour, where it settles for up to a month before being released into the Northumberland Strait. Photo: Joan Baxter

The numbers are staggering.

For the past 51 years, the bleached kraft pulp mill on Abercrombie Point in Pictou County, Nova Scotia, has piped about 1.25 trillion litres of toxic effluent into Boat Harbour.[1] That’s enough to fill about half a million Olympic-size swimming pools, or a pipeline one metre in diameter stretching about 1.6 million kilometres, the distance to the moon and back – twice.[2]

But in less than a year, the Northern Pulp mill has to turn off the flow. The 2015 Boat Harbour Act gives the mill until January 30, 2020 to use Boat Harbour for its effluent. The Pictou Landing First Nation has a “Winds of Change” clock on its website, counting down the days, hours, minutes, and seconds until Boat Harbour pipe outlet is closed.

Proposals for an alternative treatment and disposal facility for the mill’s have met with vigorous and vociferous opposition from the Pictou Landing First Nation and fishermen in the three Maritime provinces, leading to rising tensions in the area.[3]

Despite the rapidly approaching deadline for closing the pipe into Boat Harbour, Premier Stephen McNeil has told CBC that he made a commitment to Pictou Landing First Nation, and unless the people there tell him otherwise, the closure date remains. Continue reading Containing Northern Pulp’s mess: A half century of toxic waste in Boat Harbour, a leaky pipeline, and what happens next in the mill saga

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