HALIFAX — The Nova Scotia government, facing massive job losses in the province's forestry sector, has set up a confidential, toll-free line to offer emotional support to those affected by the pending closure of the Northern Pulp mill near Pictou.
Premier Stephen McNeil said Tuesday the government will offer the round-the-clock service with the help of the human resources firm Morneau Shepell.
"The impact of this situation reaches beyond those directly employed in the forestry sector, and it's vitally important that support is available to all those who need it," McNeil said in a written statement.
However, the province's latest bid to deal with the fallout from the closure was partly overshadowed by news that a member of an industry-government transition team, Robin Wilber, had been removed for talking about saving the Northern Pulp mill rather than the fate of forestry workers.
The team is also tasked with advising the government on how to spend a $50-million job transition fund, which was announced on Dec. 20.
That's when McNeil confirmed Northern Pulp would no longer be allowed to dump effluent near the Pictou Landing First Nation as of Jan. 31, a pledge he included in a 2015 law called the Boat Harbour Act.
The company had submitted two plans that would involve dumping the mill's wastewater directly into the Northumberland Strait, but the province rejected both options, saying the plans did not contain enough information about the potential impact on the environment and human health.
Without a place to dump its effluent, the mill can't operate. More than 300 people at the mill are expected to lose their jobs, as are more than 2,000 workers in the province's forestry sector.
The union that represents workers at the mill, Unifor, has calculated that another 9,000 workers across the province will be affected.
Meanwhile, the province has also scheduled a series of open houses in nine communities later this month to offer affected workers access to employment programs, training and funding.
The province announced Wilber's removal from the committee after he made statements suggesting the mill could survive beyond the legislated deadline by switching to a so-called hot idle state rather than a complete shutdown.
In such a state, the facility would stop producing kraft pulp, but water would continue to flow through its pipes to maintain equipment until a new wastewater option is found.
Wilber, the president of Elmsdale Lumber, told CTV News the hot idle option, if approved, would amount to "an attempt to save the asset."
Under this scenario, the mill would continue to dump wastewater into the lagoons at Boat Harbour, but the level of contamination from the pulping process would be drastically reduced.
The company did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
When McNeil announced his decision to reject the company's request for a deadline extension, company officials said they were not considering a hot idle strategy.
Pictou Landing First Nation Chief Andrea Paul issued a statement saying the company would be required to apply for government approval if it wanted to continue dumping into the lagoons.
"Pictou Landing First Nation is not in a situation to approve or not approve anything," Paul's statement said.
"PLFN considers that ... any discharge of wastewater, even from an idling pulp mill, into Boat Harbour after Jan. 31, 2020 would violate the (Boat Harbour) Act."
Paul said if the company applied for a permit, the province's Environment Department would be required under the Constitution to consult with her people. She said no such consultation had been initiated, leading her to conclude the government is not considering the hot idle option.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 7, 2020.
Michael MacDonald, The Canadian Press