DEBATES AND PROCEEDINGS
THURSDAY, DECEMBER 13, 2007
ENVIRON. & LBR. - BOULARDERIE ISLAND/POINT ACONI:
STRIP MINING - DECISION RECONSIDER
MR. GORDON GOSSE: Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure that I rise tonight, or maybe it is not a pleasure that I rise tonight, on this late debate topic on strip mining in Point Aconi and Boularderie Island. I think they call it cleaning up the past mining and I think there has been a little bit of quickness on this government to go ahead and move forward with this project, just days before this land was turned over from Devco to the province, days before. Why this was done days before it turned over, it meant that the federal government's responsibility for the cleanup of the former Devco lands would not have to take place, because jurisdiction for onshore coal and onshore mineral rights belong to the Province of Nova Scotia.
So right now, the responsibility - the money was there from the feds, I think at one time it was $6.6 million but, Mr. Speaker, they move ahead with the project anyway. There has been no accountability to the people of Point Aconi and there has been no accountability to the people; 72 per cent of the residents in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality voted against strip mining in Cape Breton.
AN HON. MEMBER: 72 per cent?
MR. GOSSE: 72 per cent; 100 per cent of the residents in the communities that are most affected by strip mining, voted against this proposal, Mr. Speaker. Let's just say, is there anybody on that side of the House who is listening to these people?
AN HON. MEMBER: I don't think so.
MR. GOSSE: None. They listen to these people, Mr. Speaker. Digby, the Digby quarry, gone; LaFarge burning tires, gone, but the people in this area of Cape Breton Island have been done disservice by this department and this is a wrongdoing.
Let's talk about this, Mr. Speaker. I will give you an example of years gone by. The member for Cape Breton Centre, the honourable member, Dr. Mike Laffin. Dr. Mike Laffin was a member in this Legislature, a member of that government. He is quoted, in his day, in this Legislature that he would resign from politics if they strip mined in his riding. Did they strip mine in Dr. Mike Laffin's riding? No, because he told his own Party he would resign.
I will give you another example of the MLA for Cape Breton West by the name of Big Donnie MacLeod who was a member of the Progressive Conservative Party. He said, if they were going to strip mine in his riding, he would resign, Mr. Speaker. He would not be a part of that. And did they strip mine in those ridings? No. They were men of fortitude. They were men who had the guts to stand up and represent the people who they represent in their riding. They stood up in their riding and said (Applause).
Now, Mr. Speaker, we, in this Legislature today - if you were to go to the Web site of citizens against Strip Mining, on their Web site it will say the MLAs that are for strip mining and the MLAs that are against it. The MLA for Cape Breton West is against strip mining. The gentleman that sits in that chair should sit down one of these days and take his place in this Legislature and tell them, because he's against strip mining. Why are they still doing strip mining in that area?
This is the government - and I'll quote in the Speech from the Throne. The most passionate minister in Canada is for the Department of the Environment and Labour. Why is he doing this to these people in Cape Breton? Why? Explain to me why. Is it possible that - and we will go back to elections - the big corporations donate money to political Parties in the Province of Nova Scotia. Pioneer Coal, Mr. Speaker - Pioneer Coal donated $7,500 to the leadership of that Party, that's a fact. They also donated $2,500 to the fellow that lost the leadership. That's a fact. I'd like to see the minister stand in his place and deny those facts. They are facts. They are facts of this government.
These were mines that were owned by the federal government. If the people of Cape Breton don't understand - a week beforehand, when the federal government had the opportunity and had the money to clean up that land, they turned it over to the province. What did the province do? They ignored the citizens. They ignored the citizens of Boularderie Island. They ignored them.
Could you imagine the beautiful picture now from the Bras d'Or Look off of that giant hole in - I'm ashamed to go home that way, I drive home on Route No. 4 so I don't have to look at that hole coming down that mountain. It's a shame. It wouldn't have cost the taxpayers of this province a nickel, because it was a federal problem. Now, the tax - you know what, Mr. Speaker, I'll tell you, the people of this province are getting a very big royalty from this coal - $1.00 a tonne. You can imagine the employment, $1.00 a tonne.
Can you imagine the environmental damage? Let's see the minister speak about the damage the blasting will cause over there and the people's homes. Let's see him speak to the run-off and the water going into the ocean, killing our fisheries, bald eagles, the beautiful owls, birdwatching, it's gorgeous over there. Speak about the damage to the environment. Speak about those things.
This is the second time in 25 years that the people of Boularderie Island and Point Aconi have gone through this. Remediation? Go down to Cape Breton - it looks like a moonscape, that's what it looks like down there. It looks like a moonscape. Get your telescope and have a look at the moon, that's what it looks like. After 12 years of remediation in Reserve Mines, it looks like a moonscape. Is this the kind of thing that we want in our province? Is this the kind of thing that we want?
Mr. Speaker, who's getting wealthy on this? Who's getting wealthy? Is it creating massive employment to replace the jobs lost in the steel plant and the coal mines?
SOME HON. MEMBERS: No, no.
MR. GOSSE: Mr. Speaker, what is it doing? One dollar a tonne and the beautiful island of Cape Breton gets destroyed. Destroyed!
Was this a misconceived approach to what we're told in Cape Breton? Is this what we're told on our island? Here's this beautiful island - yet the people of Digby, the Digby quarry, they won their battle. The people of Brookfield won their battle. This minister cow towed to those people. He gave in to those people and rightfully so. He rightfully so gave into them.
What is he doing in Cape Breton? Destroying our beautiful island, destroying our island. (Applause) The beautiful Cape Breton Island - $1.00 a tonne. How can that minister stand up in his place and say $1.00 a tonne. When they had 72 per cent of the people in Cape Breton Island, in the municipal studies, saying they do not want strip mining. They do not want it.
What's going on there today? I challenge anybody in this House to drive over Kelly's Mountain and look at that hole that's there and the damage it's doing to our environment. It's a shame for this government. (Interruptions)
Mr. Speaker, why is this happening to us on Cape Breton Island? Could somebody please explain this to me? Maybe the minister will stand in his place and tell me why that beautiful island - the run off from that, the acid drainage, the scalings and everything else. Do you realize that Devco was ear-marked to clean this up? Bootleg mines - it was earmarked to clean this up, and what we're left with there is devastation, twice as bad as it was. Take a drive to Reserve and have a look at that moonscape. There's nothing that grows there. They hydro-seed it and it gets green for the summer and then it looks like a moonscape, like somebody blew it up in the winter and in the Fall.
Mr. Speaker, I went to every community meeting, I went to every rally, and I went to everything that they had going on when I was home in Cape Breton, and I support those people. I don't think that I would want to live in that riding - and there's nobody else, it became the silent cause.
There are good people there, Donna Stubbert, God bless her, Russell MacDonald, and all these people over there working so hard. So I say to the members on the government side, why have you done this to the beautiful Cape Breton Island? Maybe the minister can stand
up in his place tonight and tell me that for $1 a ton we'll destroy that beautiful island, for $1 a ton royalties.
I would table e-mails from the Premier, but I'm not like that, Mr. Speaker, I know what he said. He's going to have the people of the Department of Environment and Labour meet with them. The hole is already in there. After two and a half years, the Department of Environment and Labour is going to meet with them? The CLC, maybe the minister can stand up in his place and tell us who is in the private group, the CLC, the Community Liaison Committee. Maybe stand up in your place and tell the people of Nova Scotia who is on that committee.
They have their heads in the sand, it's a secret. The government of openness and accountability. Can you imagine? Stand up in your place tonight and tell the people of Nova Scotia who is on that committee and tell the people of Nova Scotia why you are destroying beautiful Cape Breton Island. (Applause)
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Minister of Environment and Labour.
HON. MARK PARENT: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. I appreciate the opportunity to speak to this issue and for the opportunity to put on the record a few comments which I think are important. I want to begin with the fact that most of the Boularderie Island residents who protested are extremely polite, they have worked very hard, they are concerned about this activity in their community. I have met with them on several occasions, I have gone up to visit the site and I want to commend them.
There are a few of the people who I cannot say that of, and I have been extremely disappointed with threats that have been made against me personally, to shoot me. I have been extremely disappointed by comments that have been made, calling my EA a bitch, Mr. Speaker, and e-mails to that effect. So this is some of the behaviour of a very small group, but part of the residents who have complained. I can table those e-mails if you want, Mr. Speaker. I want to put on the record my concern with that type of activity. Most of them have been very thoughtful, passionate, which I applaud them for, and thoughtful about their complaints.
I will listen, Mr. Speaker, I will listen always to people who are passionate, who care, who have a different opinion than I may have or the government may have, but those sorts of protests that I mentioned before simply demean the whole process, and I'd like to put that on the record. More importantly, this motion puzzles me because the motion reads like this: that the minister reconsider his decision about the Boularderie Island/Port Aconi area.
Mr. Speaker, there has been enormous confusion, and the member opposite must be confused as well. I've tried to explain it time and time again, so I have the opportunity to explain it once more. Even the member to my left, who has hounded me with concerns about
this, the member for Victoria-The Lakes, and has been a pain in a certain part of my anatomy which I shall not mention, even he seems to be somewhat confused about this even though I have explained this time and time again to him - I approved the industrial approval.
Mr. Speaker, industrial approval is a process that deals with the method of what they're going to do, not with the fact that they're going to do it. The environmental approval was given in 2005. I approved that they do it in a safe manner. So do you want me to undo my approval of doing it in a safe manner? Do you want them to do it in an unsafe manner?
That was the approval I gave, Mr. Speaker. That was the approval the Minister of Environment and Labour had before him - on how to do it in a safe manner. I asked them to look at water. I asked them to look at reclamation and I made sure that they had the very safest methods for doing what was approved back in 2005. So does the honourable member want me to undo that? Does the honourable member want me to give an industrial approval in an unsafe manner? Is that what this motion is asking for?
AN. HON. MEMBER: We don't want it at all.
MR. PARENT: You don't want it at all. Yes, they don't want it at all, but the motion speaks to a decision I made on industrial approval, and the industrial approval, honourable members, is how to do it in a safe manner. The decision to do it was done in 2005. The decision that I made, that this motion refers to, was how to do it in a safe manner. I went through every part of that and made sure, along with my staff, that the conditions that were put on the mining operator there, were to be done in the safest manner. Is that what the member opposite wants me to undo? Does he want me to take away the conditions that I put to protect water? Does he want me to take away the conditions I have put to control noise? Does he want me to take away the conditions that I put on reclamation? If that's what the honourable member wants, stand in his seat and tell me which condition that I put on them, he wants me to take away.
I challenge any member opposite, stand in your seat, tell me which of the conditions put on the industrial approval that I put on as minister, which one do you want taken away? The safety ones, the noise ones, the water ones, the ones on the environment, which of those conditions? Have you read the conditions, honourable members? Probably the member opposite has read them at least. Which of those conditions, honourable member, do you want taken away, because that's what the motion is about. It's saying that I could reconsider those safety decisions. So which ones? Environmental decisions, which ones should I take away?
Mr. Speaker, I'll talk about some of them if you want a little further in the industrial approval because my staff have been onsite twice a week monitoring this project. We receive numerous complaints and we respond to every single one of them. So let me tell you some of the things that we've had complaints about that we've looked at. We've looked at noise coming at night. So we spoke to the proponents about the noise coming at night and they
committed to minimizing working in the vicinity of homes during evening hours. That was one of the things.
Mr. Speaker, we looked at site boundaries. That was one of the conditions we put upon the proponent, that there be proper site boundaries and we had complaints about that. We checked back and found that they weren't working outside their approve site boundaries. We put conditions on about water collection systems and we've been onsite monitoring the water collection systems. We put conditions on about technical staff review data and monitoring measurements to ensure compliance in blasting noise and ground vibrations. Is that what the honourable member wants me to take away, the condition about ground vibrations, and say, oh, you don't need any conditions on there about ground vibrations.
I mean this motion is very, very confusing, Mr. Speaker. He wants me to take away all the safety conditions that were put on in the industrial approval and that's perhaps where this motion is confused, because the approval that I gave was on the industrial approval. We put conditions on water, on the groundwater, on reclamation, on noise, on site boundaries. Those are all good conditions and yet the honourable member wants me to take them away. It confuses me. He, obviously, doesn't care about protecting the environment.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Kings West.
MR. LEO GLAVINE: Mr. Speaker, I'm pleased to rise in my place to speak for a few minutes on this issue, which has been a longstanding issue for the residents of Boularderie Island as well as the surrounding area of Cape Breton. I have been to Boularderie on two occasions to meet with residents there. I attended a meeting that was organized by the member for Cape Breton North to explore all of the possibilities around this issue. You know, certainly my heart goes out to the people, to the citizens against strip mining, people as were mentioned by the member opposite, people like Donna Stubbard, who invested tremendously of their time, to background and to understand the issue and try to look at all sides and stop and see if there were truly any enormous benefits that could be derived from this project.
There were two or three accounts at the meeting in Cape Breton North at Memorial High School, I believe, if I remember correctly, of people who came to the island - one I remember as a tourist and two others as business people, to do business on the island - to hear their accounts of falling in love with Boularderie Island. The reality was that they discovered one of these special places and my own view of having gone around the island on two occasions, I was struck, perhaps more than anything, by the agricultural land, the amount of agriculture on Boularderie Island. Residing in one of the prime agricultural areas of Nova Scotia, I was surprised to see, in fact, that there were these extensive farming areas on Boularderie Island.
You know, while the island has a history of mining, and in particular a great deal of bootleg mines, I think a golden opportunity was missed, with the federal dollars, to clean up the entrances and the sites of the bootleg mines and not use this as a rationalization to go ahead with the strip mining project. So it was unfortunate, along the way, that was put aside.
You know, we are reaching a point, not only here in Nova Scotia, but throughout the western world, where the people's input, the people's view of whether strip mining or large quarry operations will go forward, is being given very strong consideration. In this case here, the people's view didn't seem to get that kind of an account. They seemed to have been left out of the environmental review process. In other words, they didn't have a panel review, such as they had with Whites Point Quarry on Digby Neck. In my view, it was the people who turned the tide, the leaders of the local community who talked about what, for some, has been a subject of criticism, and that is the core values of the community. I think all of us in this House need to be very careful if we're going to push aside core values and work for manners in which development does take place.
So I think we can learn a lot from Whites Point Quarry and the process that went on there and for people rising up in a very informed way. They engaged in a long-term planning process to reverse what was looking like a government decision to do this.
I still think the environmental review was really not sufficient. Yes, it addressed the hydrology, it addressed some of the runoff issues, but when I read the review, in my view, I saw that note of uncertainty. There was some uncertainty around what would happen with a full-scale, strip mining operation. I hope that there will be a review. I hope that this is not a completely dead issue, that the residents and the political representatives will reach a point where they will say, Mr. Minister, this is something we need to take a second look at. I'm hoping that process will come forward.
If something goes terribly wrong here, if we have an impact on the water and the hydrology of this area - and I speak about that in particular because just recently I read of a novel demonstration agricultural irrigation project of Boularderie Island - I see the member for Victoria-The Lakes nodding his head on this.
So, on the one hand, we have a very progressive activity going on and then on the other we have strip mining, which the people were against, possibly could work counter to the agriculture. We have to realize that agriculture and tourism, these are sustainable projects - the history of strip mining in Cape Breton is a scarring and a blight on the landscape that is only in its infancy to be reclaimed properly, and to restore what more and more citizens are expecting.
The other aspect here that comes to mind is that we have to take a look at burning coal in this province. We are at a critical time now. All leading experts, scientists, politicians around the world realize that the high rate of carbon CO2 emissions are impacting on global warming. If we can get easy and cheap coal, we seem to be continuing down that path. You know, if we're going to use coal, we have to look at third-generation power plants that will pretty well eliminate CO2 and sulphur emissions; in fact, we may need to be looking at a gasification process if we are going to use coal.
We still seem to be subscribing to quick fixes, short-term economics, and not looking at next generations and how we can be doing sustainable economic projects and activities in our communities. I think this is one that could very well come back to haunt this government if something does go wrong. With that, Mr. Speaker, I will take my place.
MR. SPEAKER: I would like to thank all the honourable members for taking part in tonight's late debate.
The House will recess until 6:30 p.m.
[5:33 p.m. The House recessed.]