Politics

(An earlier version of this opinion piece appeared in the Halifax Examiner “Morning File” of January 15, 2021.)

The “sample copy” of the newspaper landed innocently enough in our house.

On Tuesday, January 12, 2021, Canada Post delivered a “complimentary” issue of  The Epoch Times right to our door in rural northern Nova Scotia.

It came with a “limited-time offer” for a special subscription deal to what looked – if one knew no better – like a normal newspaper.

I was one of those, unaware that in the past year, investigative journalists had revealed The Epoch Times  to be a “shamelessly pro-Trump paper,” and a “global propaganda machine” that offers a “mix of alternative facts and conspiracy theories that has won it far-right acolytes around the world.”

A 2017 study in Germany found that The Epoch Times “disseminates antidemocratic false news and conspiracy theories, incites hatred against migrants and indirectly advertises for the AfD,” the country’s far-right political party.

Yet the masthead of the newspaper makes The Epoch Times sound benign as a newborn babe, a paper that stays “outside of political interests,” and is “dedicated to seeking the truth through insightful and independent journalism.”

Recipients of the free copy are invited to take advantage of a “$1 first month trial offer.” The “best deal” subscription is six months at $3.43 a week, or $89 plus tax. Subscribers get a weekly paper with 40 pages in four sections.

The Epoch Times, says the masthead, has readers in 36 countries and 22 languages, with a  Canadian English version that has been operating for 16 years, with a “loyal readership” in Toronto, Vancouver, Ottawa, Calgary, and Edmonton.

As for its origins, it says only that it was founded in 2000 by “Chinese expats in North America.”

As I said, benign.

Or so the mysterious people behind The Epoch Times would have us believe.

Dig a little, however, and the paper looks anything but benign.

Continue reading Beware, “The Epoch Times” are here … and there, and everywhere

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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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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 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 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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By Joan Baxter

stop-harper (1)It was bad enough watching Canada’s Immigration Minister Chris Alexander on CBC’s Power and Politics lying to Rosemary Barton, telling her that the media are to blame for the country’s pathetic response to the refugee crisis.

And it certainly wasn’t any easier listening to Alexander stonewall As It Happens’ Carol Off when she asked, repeatedly, how many of the 200 government-sponsored refugees from Syria had actually made it to Canada by June 2014. That was before he hung up on her, claiming later he’d been late for Question Period.

It was equally galling reading Alexander’s nasty attack on the Ontario government after it reinstated health care to all asylum seekers after the Harper Government stripped it away. And his dangerous, preposterous comment that this would make Canada “a magnet for bogus asylum seekers” raised questions about just how low Harper’s government could and would stoop.

But nothing — absolutely nothing — could possibly be as distressing as that soul-searing, heart-wrenching photo of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi dead on a Turkish beach and the awful fact that Aylan and his family might have been granted asylum in Canada long before they got on that boat. Earlier this year, the NDP Member of Parliament for Port Moody – Coquitlam, Fin Donnelly, hand-delivered to Chris Alexander a letter in support of the privately sponsored refugee application for some of the Kurdi family to join their relatives in British Columbia. Citizenship and Immigration Canada now says no application for Aylan’s immediate family was ever received.

Regardless, it’s too late. Aylan Kurdi, his mother and his brother are now dead, like another 6,000 refugees and migrants who have perished or disappeared en route to Europe since January 2014.

There is much blame to go around in this horrendous refugee crisis. But the blame for how poorly Canada has responded lands squarely on the shoulders of the Harper Government with its rhetoric about “bogus refugees”. Continue reading Shame on the Harper Government

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BY: Joan Baxter

Former Senate Page, Brigette DePape in 2011

Former Senate Page, Brigette DePape in 2011

Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper is spending immense amounts of taxpayers’ money to promote himself, his government, the oil and gas industry, his neoconservative ideology and his neoliberal big-dog-devour-little-dog economic dogma – and this kind of propaganda machine does not bode well for Canada’s or any country’s democracy…

One of the very first things I noticed when, in the 1980s, I lived and travelled in some decidedly non-democratic countries in West and Central Africa, was the over-the-top narcissism of some of the dictators and their obsession with absolute control of their political messages, which were almost exclusively about themselves and what great leaders they were.

It was relentless. Their portraits and political propaganda were ubiquitous, filling billboards, plastered all over the front pages of newspapers, and even their most insignificant comings and goings monopolized radio and television newscasts (and caused massive traffic jams). There were no such things as genuine press conferences; rather there were staged events with fawning reporters recording the great leader’s every word while political partisans applauded.

As a young, impressionable Canadian woman who had come of age during the “just society” years in Canada, never experienced first-hand conflict or the political turmoil, excesses and human rights abuses that abound in the absence of democracy, I remember how terrifying it all seemed.

Fast forward to 2015.

Most of those African countries I lived in are now democracies, not perfect ones, but far more democratic than they were two or three decades ago. And while there is still a long way to go in many of these young democracies, at least most of the signs are pointing in the right direction.

Full speed backwards in Canada

Not so Canada, where we’ve been moving in the wrong direction, full speed backwards. Continue reading Canadians pay the high costs of Stephen Harper’s Conservative propaganda machine

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