A historic-looking, three-storey stone building with tall, elegant windows,framed by a few tree branches, and fronted by green lawn and garden, with a winding path leading towards the building. Credit: Communications Nova Scotia

This article originally appeared in the Halifax Examiner in January 2021, but it is more relevant than ever. The provincial government may have changed, but media relations policies and lack of government openness have not. Meanwhile, media outlets and the number of journalists in Canada have continued to shrink, while the number of communications people and the onslaught of PR and propaganda have continued to grow. In his important 2023 book, Manipulating the message: how powerful forces shape the news, Cecil Rosner notes, “There are fewer than 12,000 reporters in Canada compared to nearly 160,000 employees in the advertising, public relations, and communications industry.” And those are Statistics Canada figures from 2023. Since then, several Canadian media outlets have made even more cuts to their news rooms and numbers of journalists. Because Meta is blocking all media on its platforms in Canada, I have decided to post more of my Halifax Examiner articles on this website, which – so far – Facebook and Instagram are not blocking. 

Unbeknownst to many people — and definitely unbeknownst to me before I returned to Nova Scotia after many years of working overseas and resumed reporting here in 2016 — journalists do not have quite the same rights that other citizens do in this province.

Apparently we journalists are not supposed to try to get into direct contact with government experts or scientists or officials, as other citizens can do. Rather, all journalists’ inquiries to the Nova Scotia government are supposed to go through media relations people.

At least this is what I was told in May 2018.

This is how I learned that lesson.

Someone had sent me an online notice from the provincial government about an upcoming meeting in Halifax. The meeting was to discuss the Canadian Minerals and Metals Plan that promotes the mining industry, so that Canada can “remain a global mining leader” (which is one way of depicting the tarnished reputation that Canadian mining companies have given Canada, causing environmental harm and human rights violations in countries all around the world).

I emailed the provincial government contact provided on the notice, Tracey Medynski, asking what opportunities there would be for media to interact with participants at the meeting, which was, after all, open to other citizens who registered in advance.

A reply came back from Don James, Executive Director of the Geoscience and Mines Branch, which had not yet been moved to the Department of Energy and Mines and was still part of the erstwhile Department of Natural Resources. James said there would be no opportunities for media at the meeting.

I wrote back to ask James why, if the meeting were a government-sponsored event as it clearly was, and if government employees were involved as they clearly were, the media would not have an opportunity to interact with them, so they could inform the public about the way their money was being spent on the Canadian Minerals and Metals Plan.

Continue reading Miscommunication: how government’s PR gatekeepers are increasingly controlling the message

As media outlets disappear, PR and propaganda continue to expand

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A man with a black jacket pulling a silver carry-on suitcase walks along a paved platform with his back to the camera, apparently heading to board the rather decrepit grey passenger train parked on his left, under a pale grey sky.

This article was first published by the Halifax Examiner, as the introduction to a series of three articles about passenger rail in Canada.

Just after Christmas 2023, my spouse and I boarded a VIA Rail train in Truro, Nova Scotia, bound for Montreal, with a connection to Ottawa for a family gathering. I hadn’t been on the Ocean – the train linking Halifax with Montreal – since 1998, when my family and I needed to get to Montreal for a flight to West Africa during some vicious winter weather, when highways were closed and flights cancelled.

Apart from that rail journey to Montreal a quarter century ago, and a few train trips in Cameroon, Indonesia, Kenya and Germany over the years, I have to dig way back into childhood memories to recall train travels.

The memories that surface are fond ones.

Our parents would put us kids on the train in Halifax, and we’d ride the rails to Oxford and Amherst, where our grandparents would pick us up. I am guessing our parents felt some relief as our train pulled away from the Halifax station, knowing we were safe on board, that they’d been spared the drive on what were then crowded and narrow two-lane highways, and they were in for a couple of weeks’ reprieve from loud, rambunctious children in the house.

As for us kids, we loved those train trips. They were adventures. We kept our noses to the windows, gazing at the province flashing by – as we skirted Bedford Basin, then one beautiful lake after another, and occasionally outpaced cars beside us on stretches where the tracks run parallel to Highway 2. We held our breaths (at least I did) on narrow rail bridges over deep gullies, as we moved towards and then through the magnificent Wentworth Valley.

All of which is to say, I was more than a little chuffed to be heading out on that same train track again at the end of 2023, this time as a much, much older person.

Several friends and family members asked why on earth we would opt for that long, 30.5-hour (at best) train trip to Ottawa when we could take a 1.5-hour flight from Halifax, or drive the distance in just over 13 hours, especially given that the train – with a sleeper – cost more than $1,000 per person.

I pondered that myself.

First, there’s this thing that Swedish speakers, inspired by climate champion Greta Thunberg, call “flygskam” – or “flight shame.” It’s the guilt one feels in an aircraft spewing greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere in the midst of the climate emergency. According to the European Union, “if global aviation were a country, it would rank in the top 10 emitters.”

In contrast, rail transport, is among “the most energy-efficient and lowest-emitting transport modes,” according to the International Energy Agency. So that appealed to me, even if I would learn later that this applies to modern and efficient trains carrying lots of passengers, and not necessarily to Canada’s antiquated long-distance diesel-powered trains.

In addition to the climate considerations, I also just don’t like flying any more. Maybe it’s my age, but for whatever reason I am increasingly fearful in the air, suspicious about the safety of the aircraft, ever more impatient with long security line-ups and body scanners and searches.

Third, I am wary – even terrified – of winter driving, especially in blizzards, and I’ve white-knuckled my way through too many of those. Nor do we have a car I really trust to get us to Ottawa without a problem.

So, for the first time in a very long time, I chose the train. I’m glad we did.

It was a back-to-the-future experience – in the same train cars I suspect I rode as a kid. I was bowled over by the courteous service from the VIA Rail crew on-board (and also the VIA reservation agents I spoke to on the phone when I booked the trip) that reminded me of a time – decades ago – before neo-liberalism took over. Back before so many public corporations and services were privatized, before passengers somehow became “customers,” and everything from support service to cleaning was outsourced to the lowest bidder, often the cheapest, most exploitive employer. The VIA Rail employees seemed genuinely happy to be looking after passengers, which they did as consummate and caring professionals.

But we hadn’t even boarded the Ocean in Truro when we started to hear horror tales about it. A security person on the platform decided that for some reason known only to him, it would be a good idea to tell a bunch of passengers that the train was always late, and had been known to back up all the way from New Brunswick when locomotives stopped working, and about a recent accident at a crossing that meant passengers had to take a bus. This didn’t sound promising at all.

And no amount of good food and good service from friendly VIA Rail staff could mask the reality that the Ocean is plagued by problems.

There were long delays on the rails, a long stretch of poor tracks in northern New Brunswick where the online VIA trip tracker informed us we were mostly going 23 kilometres an hour, and I wondered how sound those ancient train cars could really be. When I asked some of the VIA crew members about the state of the tracks and the trains themselves, which seemed not to have changed in half a century, they hinted at enormous risks facing passenger rail in our country.

Related: Federal transport plan fails to give VIA what it needs to succeed

This raised so many questions. How had we gone from a country that ostensibly existed only because of its transcontinental railway – at least that was the myth perpetuated in songs like Gordon Lightfoot’s “Canadian Railroad Trilogy” – to not having a single passenger train that crossed from one coast to another? Why was Canadian National sold off in 1995? And why was VIA Rail created in 1977 as a Crown corporation? Why did VIA Rail trains that transported people have to yield to Canadian National and Canadian Pacific freight trains? When and how had passenger train service in Canada become so diminished, and what are the prospects for VIA Rail and affordable public passenger rail transport in Canada? When other countries around the world are busy developing and expanding high-speed publicly-funded rail networks, why are Canada’s passenger trains so few, so old, and so damn slow?

Ultra-modern white electric train locomotive with headlights on at modern train platform, and the silhouette of a man wearing train conductor uniform standing on the platform beside the train. Credit: Rikku Sama on Unsplash

Modern high-speed electric train at a station in Japan. Credit: Rikku Sama on Unsplash

Back home in Nova Scotia, I set out to find people who could answer some of those questions.

A series of articles that looks at the past, present and future of Atlantic Canada’s and national passenger rail service is the result of those conversations.

The first in the series looks at the state of passenger rail in Nova Scotia and VIA Rail’s train that runs between Montreal and Halifax.

Read more

Grandiose facade of a concrete building, with pillars and empty place where a clock may once have been. The sign "VIA Rail Canada" with the yellow logo and red maple leaf is suspended between two columns, and construction is ongoing, as scaffolding is in place between the columns. Credit: Joan Baxter

This article, the first of a three-part series on passenger rail in Canada, was originally published by the Halifax Examiner. The introduction is here.

It’s a Friday morning, which means the Ocean – VIA Rail’s thrice-weekly passenger train to Montreal – is sitting on the tracks at the VIA station in Halifax, almost ready for boarding.

But I’m not here today to take the train; I’m here to talk trains with Tim Hayman.

Hayman is a board member of the citizen transportation advocacy group Transport Action Canada and president of its regional chapter, Transport Action Atlantic. He’s met me in the elegant and spacious VIA Rail station, a grandiose hall adjoining the once-grand Nova Scotian Hotel, now owned by Westin.

Both were built by Canadian National Railways in the late 1920s. CNR (now CN) was founded as a Crown corporation in 1919, bringing under one roof several railways previously owned by the government, and others the government acquired after they went bankrupt.

As Hayman and I speak, passengers trickle in with their luggage, ready to board the Ocean, scheduled to depart for Montreal at 1pm

A blue screen mounted in the upper corner of a building, flanked by a stylized old-fashioned lamp on the right, and upper casement doors windows on the left, showing Departures for VIA Rail trains from Halifax, namely a single train to Montreal at 13 hours, shown "on time"

At the Halifax VIA Rail station, three times a week the departure screen shows the Ocean train leaving for Montreal at 13h. Credit: Joan Baxter

Hayman tells me he wishes he were getting on the train, as he always does, no matter how many times he’s made the Ocean journey over the years.

And he’s made it a lot.

A smiling man with short dark hair, wearing a black thigh-length jacket and a red and white scarf, blue jeans and sneakers, stands with his hands in his jacket pockets in front of a wooden desk with the words "The Ocean" on it, and underneath an overhead sign saying "VIA Train 15, Montréal.

Tim Hayman at the Ocean departure gate in Halifax VIA Rail station. Credit: Joan Baxter

Hayman documents his many trips in a colourful and fascinating “Tim’s train travels” blog that tells tales – some of them harrowing – about the ups and downs, the joys and also the woes, the delays and major disruptions that are part of the experience of travelling a train as antiquated as the Ocean, and running on tracks where VIA trains have to cede priority to massive freight trains owned by CN, which owns the tracks.

Even with all the pitfalls Hayman details in his blog, he loves the Ocean.

And he is happy to count the ways.

Continue reading The Ocean: VIA Rail’s little old train that hopes it can

There was a time when Atlantic Canada had wonderful passenger rail service – today, all that’s left is one problem-plagued slow train between Halifax and Montreal

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Large sign with dark blue background, and VIA in yellow letters, then a red maple leaf, and underneath the words "VIA Rail Canada" in white lettering. Behind the sign, a red brick building and a very blue sky. A white seagull sits atop the sign.

In this second article in a series about passenger train service in Canada – past, present and future – we look at just how dramatically passenger rail service has been diminished, the myriad problems VIA Rail faces, and at the efforts by some parliamentarians to support and protect the Crown corporation responsible for passenger rail service in the country. Part 1 is available here. This article was first published by the Halifax Examiner.

If Green Party leader Elizabeth May had her way, VIA Rail would have its very own legislation, something the Crown corporation has not had since its creation in 1977.

A VIA Rail Act, she says, would enable the Crown corporation to fulfil its mandate to provide modern safe, efficient, climate-friendly and reliable passenger rail service in Canada.

That’s why, in 2022, May tabled Bill C-326 – the VIA Rail Act – that she hoped would accomplish just that

Alas, as a private members’ bill, the VIA Rail Act didn’t go anywhere after first reading, and is still languishing on the table.

But May hasn’t given up hope for improved and expanded passenger rail in Canada, as she says in a phone interview from her home in British Columbia. Continue reading Trying to give VIA Rail a chance

Parliamentarians have tried to protect and improve rail passenger service in Canada

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Concrete facade of an imposing building, looking a little worse for wear, with a Canadian flag flying to the left of the columns and entrance to the building, over which there is a blue sign with the yellow logo of VIA Rail and its red maple leaf.

This, the third and final article looking at passenger rail service in Canada, was originally published by the Halifax Examiner. It delves into the decision by the federal government to privatize the most lucrative VIA Rail route in Ontario and Quebec, and what this could mean for passenger rail service in the rest of the country. The first two articles are available here and here .

On March 9, 2022, Omar Alghabra, then Canada’s transport minister, announced that the federal government was about to privatize the country’s busiest passenger rail corridor between Windsor, Ontario, and Quebec City.

Of course that is not quite the way Transport Canada worded the surprise announcement in its press release full of doublespeak, under this deceptively benign headline: “Government of Canada launches the next phase in the procurement process of High Frequency Rail.”

The word “privatize” is nowhere to be found in the press release, even though it clearly states that the government of Canada was launching a “Request for Expressions of Interest” from “industry” on the High Frequency Rail (HFR) project, to allow the government to “seek feedback from experienced private sector companies to help shape” the HFR project.

Almost as an afterthought, towards the end of the press release, Transport Canada gets around to mentioning the Crown corporation, VIA Rail, and its employees, which it says “are central to the success of High Frequency Rail and will continue to play a key role across Canada as our national passenger rail provider.”

That March 2022 announcement made one thing very clear: the plans for the future of VIA Rail’s passenger rail service had changed.

Not just changed, but really changed.

Instead of simply moving ahead with the “High Frequency Rail project” in VIA Rail’s Windsor-Quebec City corridor, which would “offer a faster, more frequent, accessible and sustainable rail service,” the federal government was now planning to privatize that chunk of the VIA Rail passenger service.

The high frequency rail project – not to be confused with high speed rail (HSR) for which there are no plans in Canada – had been in the works since VIA Rail first proposed it in 2016. It would involve some new tracks exclusively for VIA Rail’s use and improved tracks elsewhere to allow passenger trains to move at good speeds without ceding way to CN freight trains. It would also include new trains for that corridor.

In addition, VIA Rail had been hoping for federal funding so it could replace its antiquated equipment on its long-distance routes – the Ocean train between Montreal and Halifax, and the Canadian between Toronto and Vancouver.

All of this – the HFR project and the new equipment for long-distance trains – would be managed by VIA Rail, greatly improving its passenger rail service and securing its future as a crucial public service.

At least that had been the plan before March 2022.

Continue reading Privatization ahead for VIA’s most travelled route

Pleas for the federal government to save VIA Rail long-distance passenger trains linking Montreal and Halifax, Toronto and Vancouver

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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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