HALIFAX (From news reports) -- With the deadline looming for the province's largest pulp and paper mill to close an integral part of its operations, the union representing thousands of forestry sector workers is renewing its push for the government to let the mill build a controversial new wastewater treatment facility.
Unifor, a national union that represents 240 workers at the Northern Pulp mill in Pictou County and 23,000 other forestry workers across Canada, released an economic impact study on Wednesday that estimates the direct and indirect consequences of the mill's potential closure.
Jerry Dias, national president of Unifor, said the results underscore what his union and other mill supporters have said before: the forestry industry in Nova Scotia would collapse without Northern Pulp.
The study, which was paid for by Unifor and conducted by local consulting firm Gardner Pinfold, found that Northern Pulp spends $279 million annually, with almost half going to purchasing, harvesting and transporting raw materials from around the province.
According to the 2018 figures, the study says more than 1,300 companies were connected to the mill through the supply chain, more than 2,600 full-time equivalent jobs were supported by the mill and workers earned $128 million in income.
It says the mill generated $38 million in provincial and federal tax revenue.
Dias said the province needs to make an immediate decision about the mill's proposed wastewater treatment facility and pipeline or risk losing all the jobs and revenue associated with Northern Pulp's operations.
"I'm appealing to the government, to the premier, let's get on with this," he said at a press conference Wednesday.
The province set a deadline of Jan. 31, 2020, to close Northern Pulp's current wastewater treatment facility, which dumps effluent into Boat Harbour next to the Pictou Landing First Nation. The Mi'kmaq people in that community have long been calling for the closure of Boat Harbour because of the negative physical and mental-health impacts experienced and seen by generations of community members.
The mill proposed an alternative wastewater treatment facility that would send effluent into the Northumberland Strait through a pipeline -- an option that has also seen opposition over the impact it may have on the environment and the fishing industry.
Former provincial environment minister Margaret Miller said in March the mill had not provided enough information for her department to make a ruling on the alternate facility, and sent the mill back to work with a request for an additional report, which is due by March 2020.
Kathy Cloutier, spokesperson for the mill's parent company, Paper Excellence, said the new report would be ready for the province to review by the end of September. Once submitted, the province will open a 30-day public consultation period and then the environment department has 25 days to decide if it will approve the project, reject it or ask for more information.
In March, Paper Excellence said it would be impossible to have a new treatment facility up and running in time for the Boat Harbour closure deadline, meaning the mill would have to close at the end of next January.
Gardner Pinfold interviewed representatives from nine saw mills around Nova Scotia and New Brunswick that sell chips to Northern Pulp, and four said closing the Pictou County mill would likely put a halt to their operations, too.
Dias said Paper Excellence holds some of the responsibility for the endurance of the forestry sector, but he believes the company has done its job in proposing a new treatment facility and the rest lies in the hands of the provincial government.
"As a government, do we want a forestry industry or not? It isn't any more complicated than that. It's yes or no. And if the answer is yes, well then, let's get the shovels in the ground, let's start building the solution."
Since March, Premier Stephen McNeil has said repeatedly the future of the mill depends entirely on Paper Excellence's response to the government's requests, and that the Boat Harbour deadline will not budge.
Despite the province saying it did not have enough information to assess the environmental implications of the new treatment facility, Dias said similar systems are used at mills in other parts of Canada with no complications.
"This isn't new, this isn't revolutionary, this is technology that works, and if this works in other provinces across the country ... why can't this be the solution here in Pictou?"