The Northern Pulp Mill and Wastewater Treatment Plant
Northern Pulp Nova Scotia Corporation runs a pulp mill at Abercrombie Point and a wastewater treatment plant in Boat Harbour – both near New Glasgow, Nova Scotia – in the Aqq Piktuk district of Mi’kma’ki.
The mill and treatment plant have been sites of struggle for a long time.
The mill is the largest consumer of wood in Nova Scotia, producing about 280,000 tonnes of pulp every year for export. As a result of this, almost half of the harvestable forest in Nova Scotia has been clear-cut, and about 1.4 million acres of land is approved to be cut in central and southwestern Nova Scotia. Northern Pulp also has government approval to spray herbicide in woodlands, which is intended to cull hardwood trees and allow the growth of coniferous softwood for the company to cut and process at its mill.
The mill itself produces air pollution that routinely exceeds legal limits. The treatment plant uses the Boat Harbour lagoon to flush out wastewater contaminated with arsenic, mercury, and other toxins.
These injustices violate the Peace and Friendship Treaties of Mi’kma’ki. They threaten the air, the water, the land, and all of us who rely on them.
Capitalism and the Environment
We cannot address issues like this without addressing capitalism. Capitalism is an unjust economic system that puts profit ahead of the needs of people and the planet. Under capitalism, destructive companies like Northern Pulp are propped up by government for the benefit of the capitalist class and at the expense of the rest of us.
Part of how companies like Northern Pulp hold power over the government and our communities is by threatening to dis-invest from the local economy. According to the Northern Pulp website, the company employs over 300 people, and generates “over $200 million annually into the Nova Scotia economy.”
Northern Pulp has used its financial power to take just about everything it wants, as all three major provincial political parties have obliged the company during their times in office. They have all given the company millions of dollars in forgivable loans, have sold and leased hundreds of thousands of acres of land to the company, and have altered government policies and mandates to better suit the company’s interests.
There has been resistance to Northern Pulp since before the mill was built in 1967, and it has taken many different forms. Some of the most effective forms of resistance have been through organized groups of people directly affected by the company.
In 1982, workers at the mill – then members of the Canadian Paperworkers Union – went on strike for eight months, immobilizing the forest industry in Nova Scotia. In 2014, members of Pictou Landing First Nation mounted a blockade on the road leading to the site of a toxic spill, prompting the Government of Nova Scotia to agree to have the treatment plant closed by 2020 and restore the Boat Harbour lagoon. As of February 2018, the Northumberland Fishermen’s Association has affirmed that they will not accept a proposed effluent pipe going into the Northumberland Strait.
Strengthening Our Resistance
We can successfully resist and organize against both companies like Northern Pulp and governments that prop up polluting industries.
One of the most effective ways to resist is through people’s organizations – like unions, associations, and traditional Mi’kmaq governance, for example – through our collective and democratic exercise of power.
Successful organizing requires allied work and relationships. Indigenous activists, the labour movement, and environmental activists have not always viewed our struggles as interconnected. However, there are many inspiring examples of these groups uniting in common struggle. By working in solidarity with one another we can strengthen our resistance against companies like Northern Pulp.