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Pulp Dreams

Pictou Mill is Asia Pulp Paper's Latest Acquisition. There Goes The Neighbourhood!

by Miles Howe

The Pictou Mill. Fouling Boat Harbour Since 1966. Photo by Calypso Orchid.
The Pictou Mill. Fouling Boat Harbour Since 1966. Photo by Calypso Orchid.

If you thought that the Canadian pulp and paper industry was environmentally irresponsible, you were right. But the new players on the clear-cut block make them look like a bunch of patchouli-scented tree-huggers. This is the story of how Canada hopped into bed with one of Asia's worst environmental criminals, and how for the Pictou Landing Indian Band, in Nova Scotia, it's just one more proverbial slap in the face.

Amidst a lack of fanfare from mainstream Canadian media, and encouragement by the Canadian Federal Government, a company known as Paper Excellence Canada Holdings Corporation has lately been buying up Canadian pulp mills at a rapid rate. Paper Excellence is a shell company of global pulp and paper giant Asia Pulp Paper (APP), itself merely the logging and pulping arm of the massive Indonesian conglomerate, known as Sinar Mas.

APP defaulted on $12 billion in bonds in 2001, throwing the Indonesian economy, and indeed the entire Southeast Asian economy, into a downward spiral. Three independent audits have never been able to account for $3-4 billion, mostly because APP simply re-financed itself through the financial arm of Sinar Mas. APP has illegally logged a national park in Cambodia, and makes a regular practice of creating shell companies, illegally logging, and by the time the underpaid forestry authorities figure out who's responsible...POOF! They're gone.

Richard Brooks, Forests Campaign Coordinator for Greenpeace, has spearheaded a global campaign to boycott APP products. Large-scale paper distributors, such as Xerox, Staples, and Target, have heeded Brooks' message, and now refuse to carry APP products. Says Brooks:

“(APP) is on this mission to grow themselves into the largest paper company in the world...They're involved with illegal logging and deforestation in Indonesia, and quite a bit of their pulp and paper production is in Indonesia...These are old-growth, tropical, rainforests that are being cut down, and turned into acacia plantations and eucalyptus plantations, or are being turned into palm oil plantations, which is another division of their company.”

Brooks continues:

“You've got endangered species habitat that's being wiped out...orangutans, Sumatran tigers, rhinos...a lot of logging that happens outside of their legal concessions. There's evidence of them logging in protected areas...Huge amount of conflict with local communities which they are disenfranchising...basically going in, logging the hell out of the forest, putting in these (palm oil) plantations, and not asking for any approval from local communities.”

If Paper Excellence/APP/Sinar Mas get their hands on the Northern Pulp-owned mill in Pictou, Nova Scotia, and all signs point to the deal being finalized quite shortly, it will be their fifth Canadian pulp mill acquisition in as many years. The other mills are located in Howe Sound, British Columbia, MacKenzie, British Columbia, Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan, and Prince Albert, Saskatchewan.

The Canadian pulp mills in question haven't seen this much attention in years. The mill in Pictou has been surviving on a steady diet of government loans for almost a generation. The Prince Albert mill was in fact mothballed at the time of sale. But China is entering a phase of consumerism known as the 'paper-culture', and suddenly pulp is a very hot global commodity. APP simply can't keep up with the Chinese demand for toilet paper, so has come calling for the mills, and more importantly Canada's forests.

We should note that Paper Excellence is not buying any Canadian paper-making facilities. Richard Brooks interprets this to mean that we are in fact witnessing the death of the Canadian, if not North American, paper-making industry, as Canadian pulp will now travel back to Asia, get mixed up with Indonesian hardwood pulp, be made into paper, and then travel back to Canada. Keep in mind that this product is shunned by many global buyers, so thankfully you won't find it at the local Staples box-store.

Ed Roste, Vice President of Operations for Paper Excellence, and former VP at Meadow Lake, Paper Excellence's first Canadian pulp mill acquisition in 2006, claims, in an email interview, that while the majority of Canadian pulp will in fact be shipped to China to make paper, there is still a significant North American client base for Canadian pulp. Roste speaks of the “excitement” of the new market opportunities.

The Harper Government has opened the public coffers to pay for upgrades to mills all across the country. Canadian taxpayers are on the hook for the 'Pulp and Paper Green Transformation Program' (PPGTP), in which Canadian mills can access up to $1 billion (CAN) in grants. If Canadian pulp and paper mills were nationalized, such a program might make economic sense for Canadians. As it is taxpayers are to pay for 'greening' the mills, only to have many of them sold off to foreign investors, like Sinar Mas, with extremely poor environmental and financial histories. Paper Excellence's Howe Sound mill received more than $45 million, and the Meadow Lake mill received $2.6 million.

Not to be outdone, in January of 2011, only two months prior to the sale being made public, Peter MacKay, Canadian Minister of National Defense, whose family handily owns sizable woodlot holdings in the Pictou area, announced that the Pictou mill would be receiving $28 million under the federal grant. In a telephone interview, Don Breen, Vice-President of Strategic Planning and Government Affairs at Northern Pulp, noted that the $28 million would be used to “reduce odour at the mill by up to 70%, improve boiler performance, and invest in renewable energy initiatives.”

In Nova Scotia, the Pictou mill isn't just a taxpayer-subsidized employer to 230 mill workers, it's the home of a very dirty secret.

Opened in 1966, it is infamous for its continued use of once-idyllic Boat Harbour, a natural lagoon that is located on Pictou Landing Indian Band reserve lands, as an effluent dumping grounds. As documented by the King's College Investigative Journalist Team in 2009, an estimated 1,000,000,000,000 litres of liquid pulp-mill waste has poured into Boat Harbour since then, causing untold environmental destruction.

Indeed, a indemnity agreement was signed in 1995 between Scott Maritimes, original owners of the mill, and the provincial government. The agreement guarantees that the Nova Scotia government, i.e. Nova Scotia taxpayers, will swallow the costs of cleaning up Boat Harbour. The agreement is valid in transfers of mill ownership. The current NDP provincial government has no alternative plan on what to do with the mill waste, and the Pictou Landing Band is currently in a two-year-and-counting legal battle with the province to see Boat Harbour closed.

Boat Harbour is now a foul-smelling, foam-encrusted, 142-acre wasteland, largely devoid of life. Don Breen, one of the witnesses to the 1995 indemnity, makes no mention of any of the $28 million going to clean up the Boat Harbour disaster that he personally has helped whoever owns the Pictou mill wash their hands of.

Kevin Christmas, indigenous Mi'gmaw, Band Advisor to Pictou Landing, and long-time activist against the pollution of Boat Harbour, notes that effluent-capture technology has existed for years, and that the dire straits of the Pictou Landing Band could have been avoided from the start.

“Boat Harbour is at the tail end of a beautiful reserve called Canada.” says Christmas. “What happens there is one hundred and ten million gallons of the worst possible effluent is being dumped every day, for the last fifty years, in the middle of this beautiful reserve...Its destroying and killing the people. The children...(they) don't know what's wrong with them. But they are not going to live very long lives, and probably will never have children because of base-metal contamination. It's the end of the generation at Pictou Landing.”

And it gets worse...

Charlie Parker, Minister of the Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources, whose riding is handily located in Pictou West, site of the mill, unveiled the province's 'Renewable Electricity Plan' (REP) in 2010. The REP considers biomass burning, which can involve large-scale, whole-tree harvesting, to be a renewable source of energy.

The repercussions of this definition of 'renewable' have already been made to be felt in Northern Pulp-owned land. In the summer of 2009, Northern Pulp made national headlines in Canada by decimating a wide swath of land in the Musquodoboit-Sheet Harbour area through whole-tree harvesting. Katy Didkowsky, of the Save the Caribou Committee, and a local tourism operator, called the scene a “purposeful massacre.”

Musquodoboit-Sheet Harbour may only be the start. Frank Magazine (Issue 611) recently reported that over 28,000 parcels of land in Nova Scotia, almost 250,000 acres, are without an original Crown grant. The archaic, neo-colonial, law in Nova Scotia states that without an original grant, which may be over 300 years old by this point, the land belongs, and can revert back to, the Crown. Nova Scotia is one of the provinces in Canada with the lowest percentage of Crown land available. That the provincial government has found this new source of potentially-exploitable land is perhaps more than convenient.

In this light, it is no great stretch of imagination to interpret the $28-million grant for odour reduction, improved boiler performance, and 'green' energy capture as simply implying that emissions from the mill will smell better, while processing more trees, potentially whole trees, and burning more wood as biomass. Anonymous sources in Pictou confirm the mill's preparedness for increased production, and note that boilers “which have not been active for years” are now operational.

The Pictou Chamber of Commerce has come out in favour of the mill's sale. The Communications, Energy, and Paperworkers Union of Canada (CEP) has also endorsed the sale of the mill in Pictou, as it has done for the other four Paper Excellence acquisitions. Representatives from the CEP were unavailable for comment on whether they knew, or cared, who the actual new owners of the mill were.

The NDP government of Nova Scotia went so far as to engage in a public meet-and-greet with Paper Excellence's VP Ed Roste, and fully endorsed the sale. When Richard Brooks questioned whether the government knew of the links to APP and Sinar Mas, the province pleaded ignorance.

All groups were shamefully mum on addressing the decades-overdue clean-up of Boat Harbour.

For the rest of Nova Scotia, and Canada, it remains to be seen whether we will see the forest for the trees. 

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Topics: Environment
1687 words


Miles needs to visit the forest

What a negative way to start an article.  That is the problem with reporting, they can say whatever they feel justified and have to provide no proof.  I think the pulp and paper industry does an incredible job of managing our forests.  To open his article with a blanket statement about being right about the pulp and paper industry being environmentally irresponsible is ridiculous.


When i see comments like this i would like to visit these people to see how they live.  Oftern these people are the biggest hypocrites.  This person should not being writing for newspaper as he is knowledge challenged and has obvously inhaled too much carbon dioxide.  The forests need to be managed properly so that we can remove some of the carbon dioxide from the air to save others from the fate poor Miles has experienced.  We should shut down all businesses so Miles can enjoy his tranquility in his perfect world

" I think the pulp and paper

" I think the pulp and paper industry does an incredible job of managing our forests."

As a woodlot owner in the area near the Pictou mill, I agree. It is incredible the devastation the pulp industry does to the environment, waterways and the local economy. Giving mills the right to timber on crown lands for a nominal fee destroys the value of private woodlots. 

Allowing vast clearcuts with no replanting is bad economy. Allowing millions of gallons of toxic waste into fishing areas is criminal. The town of Pictou is beautiful but smells like a toilet. If the mill wasn't there I would buy a house there. All of the worst practices are designed to return the least income and wealth to the local community.  Spraying valuable hardwood with herbicides from the air is just a way of stripping local workers of the income from working in the forest. These foreign companies will do everything they can to strip our wealth for their short term profit.

Stora can't do what they do here at home. Other countries get much more value from their wood than we do as our governments prostate themselves to keep our incomes low. Treating Pictou County as a sewer is not good for Pictou County.

The Pictou mill is a very low added value plant. The low paying dirty jobs are here but the high value jobs are elsewhere. Slash production for manufacturing toilet paper and newsprint in the US is not the way to return the best value to the economy. Furniture, fine paper manufacturing, hardwood flooring all return more to the economy. 

we only have 2 boilers and

we only have 2 boilers and they have been running for the last 50 years

most of these statements are

most of these statements are false because theres only two boilers at northen pulp and they have always been operational. 

Holy Indemnity Agreement Batman!

WOW...just looked up the Indemnity Agreement that was mentioned...according to this, the mill only has to worry about what to do with their profits...everything else is the taxpayers of Nova Scotia's problem...and worst of all the province has signed off on this and there is nothing we can do about it!  What a crime!

After reading the agreement nobody could argue that, when the province signed this, it was in the best interest of Nova Scotian taxpayers, we are responsible for everything from environmental restoration to any and all legal and health issues and everything in between that may ever arise with respect to the operation of the mill!  We're even responsible for any and all debt...awesome...

I'm sure private woodlot owners would also be intersted to know about the uneven playing ground this agreement creates...

Read it for yourselves, here's a link :


How many other Indemnity Agreements are out there that we're responsible for?!? 

Will the oil and gas companies as well as other possible polluters be 'kept free from harm', at all costs, as this Indemnity Agreement stats?

We need to start asking questions!!!


An indemnity agreement like the one that the province signed on Nova Scotia's behalf turns us against the Pictou Landing Band, because the clean-up of Boat Harbour hits us in the pocketbook, not the mill owner. So we'll bicker over whether the two boilers have been turned on for fifty years or not, devaluing whatever else of information is written here, and whoever owns the mill laughs all the way to the bank, and Pictou Landing is sick, and Pictou stinks. I call it genocide for the sake of a few jobs. 

Consider also that with the tens of millions of dollars in loans over the years, and 28 more million as a grant, the mill for all intents and purposes is ours as taxpayers. I never heard one mention of owning it as a coop, instead we just shop it around and are glad when a bottom of the barrel company buys it and ships the pulp away. Why? For 230 jobs who's salaries I and the rest of Nova Scotia pay for? We're supposed to take that tiny crumb off the floor and be happy? Oh no, wait, the 230 jobs have spin-off, and the Tim's would close if those jobs went, so really it's more like 500 jobs. Please, we would have owned that mill a long time ago on our own if we were Argentinians.

Another thing that we really should consider here is that we're being softened up and introduced to the new technique of whole-tree harvesting. As far as I can tell this is new, if only because the proud forestry beasts never had a use for stumps and limbs until now. But now that we can burn them for clean energy, well, get ready. It seems to be a new technique, ushered in under the RIP...I mean...REP...and the EAC did react to it, and a letter campaign did happen, and an angry couple of protests did occur here in Halifax.

But do you think Sinar Mas is really going to care? Look, we're a laughing stock, and rather than tell me I should stop breathing CO2, maybe you should listen. This is a company that the financial world outside of Pictou, Nova Scotia (yes, it does exist) basically holds as the hallmark example of swindling the world out of billions. Stocks started at something like $18 and dropped to 8 cents. And it was all planned! And I'm not actually making this up! They stole billions! You too, can google and read about it, easy! And they cut down forests really badly! And now they're your bosses! What aren't you understanding here?

government regulations on

government regulations on canadian forest management should prevent any illegal harvesting.  Nova scotia foresters will continue to manage the lands and no i don't work for this company.


This company has a poor track record and wants canadian product for the good reputation it has

I challenge those making the

I challenge those making the decisions on keeping this mill running, or those who have jumped on the bandwagon to welcome yet another owner (free of any liability),  to come and live for a week in PIctou Landing where the fumes coming off Boat Harbour are so toxic one can't leave windows open  at night and where any quality of life is almost nil (what other Canadians have to plan their daily activities depending on how bad the toxic  fumes are in their community for that day?) .  This toxic dumping site sits in the middle of what was once a beautiful rural community.,  Is it no wonder that the government appears reluctant to do a health study for residents in Pictou County, which has the highest rates of cancer in Nova Scotia? It appears they have made the taxpayers of NS liable for any adverse outcome or any  lawsuit that may arise from years of pollution by this mill. But why not?  It is only the taxperswho will have to pay the piper. With such goverment decisions, it is no wonder that Nova Scotians(NS being one of the poorest provinces), pay the highest taxes in all of Canada?.

And this describes only  the pollution from Boat Harbour. The plumes from the mill stacks regularly spew across Pictou Harbour to engulf the PIctou Landing community. A double whammy.This community gets both - full blast.  I guess giving millions to the mill makes for better publicity than does reporting the  Healthcare dollars that are spent on treating disease caused by pollution. I might add that it is interesting the article mentions the most recent gift money to the mill will be spent on improving the odurs from the mill. The smell from the mill can't hold a candle to the toxic fumes coming off Boat Harbour. But of course, Boat Harbour affects only the immediate community; the smell from the stacks can be noticed by the tracvelling pubic. People visiting easily detect the "bad" smell  and we must try to improve our public image. What we need to do is reroute the highway around Boat Harbour.

Not to mention the complete ruination of the several once beautiful recreational beaches along the Northumberland Strait affected by  Boat Harbour.

Need I go on????????

Boat Harbour

I'll come live in Pictou Landing for a week.

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