On December 20, 2019 Nova Scotia Premier Stephen MacNeal made a historic announcement: there would be no extension of the deadline imposed by the Boat Harbour Act. As a result, on January 31, 2020 pulp effluent from the Northern Pulp mill in Pictou County would cease to flow into Boat Harbour next to the Pictou Landing First Nation.
Paper Excellence, owners of the Northern Pulp mill, had previously announced that without an extension it would be forced to shutter the mill. Shortly after the Premier’s announcement Paper Excellence announced that the mill would cease operations. It was to be a bitter Christmas for employees of the mill. As predicted in the documentary, the closure has precipitated a crisis in the forestry sector of Nova Scotia.
For the residents of the Pictou Landing, their supporters and a substantial proportion of the local community, the closure of the Northern Pulp mill was a historic moment. 50 years of pollution created by pulp processing would come to an end. Job losses at the mill and the heightened emotions that came with the Premier’s announcement muted the mood of celebration and plans to commemorate the January 31, 2020 closure date were postponed.
The Premier’s decision was remarkable in its commitment to the indigenous community of Pictou Landing to rectify what has been described as Nova Scotia’s worst case of environmental racism. The decision is also momentous for bringing to an end 50 years of government policy favouring the pulp industry, a policy that many in the forest sector saw as destructive to Nova Scotia’s unique Acadian Forest. A $50 million transition fund was announced at the time of the Premier’s announcement, an amount already criticized as being inadequate.
An uneasy silence now prevails over Pictou County as people on both sides of the issue weigh the consequences of the mill’s closure. Northern Pulp has laid off most of its workers and production ceased in mid-January. Northern Pulp has signalled that it wants to continue the environmental assessment process and vows to reopen the mill in the future. More uncertainty and more economic fallout can be anticipated until finality about the mill’s future is achieved. Whether quietly optimistic or resigned, the people of Pictou County are coming to terms with life without the mill.