Editor’s Note: Further to coverage on Northern Pulp elsewhere in this edition of The Notebook, here is an encore column from January on why the business community has to step up to the plate on the future of the Pictou pulp mill.
By Chad Bowie
“You guys really need to go harder on fracking. If you did, I’m sure I could rustle up some votes—and some dollars—from my friends. I’m sick and tired of this province saying no to jobs and development.”
I heard that statement—or a variation—countless times in the lead-up to Nova Scotia’s 2017 provincial election campaign.
Along with the very capable Janet Fryday Dorey and former/future MP Scott Armstrong, I headed up the 2017 Tory campaign effort.
On occasion, that resulted in my being crammed into a corner at some gathering while a random member of the province’s business community lectured me on the importance of getting the economy going.
In most of those conversations, fracking became a metaphor for unconventional, bold resource development and trying new things to grow the economy. More than once, I was pressed to use my influence to ensure the Progressive Conservatives campaigned on the issue—aggressively.
Once counseled, I went through the routine of thanking my self-made friend for their insights and assured them I would do my best to make fracking a centerpiece of the Tory platform. Then I would politely remind them that the best way to make an impact on the province’s future was to make a generous contribution to support our upcoming campaign.
But here’s what I wanted to say…
“DUH! But where were you two and a half years ago when the Progressive Conservative Party led the fight and raised all kinds of hell opposing the McNeil Liberals’ fracking ban? Where were your influence, your voice, and your money then?”
I often imagine the sound of crickets when I think of what response that question would have garnered.
That’s because during the legislature’s raucous fracking debate in 2014, only the Progressive Conservative Party stood on principle and urged the province to say yes to jobs, growth, and development.
The business community members who challenged me to make fracking the centerpiece of our campaign were nowhere to be found during the real fight, when it mattered.
Maybe they’re too dignified to engage in petty politics.
The result? In spite of spirited opposition from Tory leader Jamie Baillie, the McNeil Liberals successfully passed a law to ban fracking in Nova Scotia.
What the business community missed was that by 2017 when I was being dragged into corners at cocktail parties and educated on the benefits of a robust resource industry, the battle had already been lost.
But this column isn’t about fracking.
Rather, this column should be considered a warning to the province’s business community who today are making the same mistakes on the important issue of the future of the Northern Pulp mill near Pictou. Their silence is putting our economy at risk and must come to an end.
At high-end restaurants and in boardrooms across the province, members of the business community are whispering and lamenting about the devastating impact Northern Pulp’s closure will have on our economy.
Better than anyone, they understand that in a weak economy, traditional resource industries like forestry are the only thing keeping many communities alive.
They know full well that should Northern Pulp fail to receive an extension to install its new treatment facility (which is desperately needed), the mill will close, and upwards of 2,000 direct and indirect jobs will vanish.
They also understand that service businesses in Pictou and surrounding areas depend greatly on their customers being gainfully employed. They would know Northern Pulp’s operations directly affect and benefit over 1,300 companies across several industries with a total annual value output exceeding $535 million.
And they’re well aware that the mill’s closure will be felt far outside of Pictou. Woodlots and sawmills across the province, especially in the South Shore region, will suffer dire consequences.
Finally, the province’s business community is fully hip to the fact that even macro-economic drivers like the Port of Halifax stand to lose if the mill fails. After all, by now it’s been well documented that Northern Pulp is the largest shipper at the Port of Halifax (with nearly $200 million exported to China in 2018), and that the mill puts hundreds of millions into the province’s economy each year.
Given the numbers, the province’s business community is right to be deeply concerned about what the mill’s closure will mean. But they’re wrong to whisper on the sidelines, expecting the politicians to provide a path forward. Remember, that didn’t work out so well in the fracking debate.
The business community must come to the realization that the province’s top politicians have sadly relinquished their leadership on the Northern Pulp file. Instead of finding a solution, our top politicians are content to play an ugly, divisive, dangerous game of putting the burden of approving a much-needed extension on the local First Nation community—a horrible failure of leadership.
So long as the politicians carry on with idle platitudes and avoid taking a strong stand, they aren’t worth listening to. So, let’s bypass them.
To save the mill and prevent an economic disaster, Nova Scotia’s business community must enter the fray united. Our economy simply can’t afford for us to allow radical left-wing activists and anti-job protestors to control the dialogue unopposed.
That’s not to say it will be easy.
There are complicated environmental issues that must be addressed. However, they should be addressed based on science, not knee-jerk agendas of social justice warriors.
Meanwhile, the economic issues also have to be addressed in a sound, factual way. And, considering the absence of political leadership, the business community is best suited to fill this role.
So let’s get to work.
It’s time for a major public relations campaign, a well-funded lobby effort, and an honest dialogue with the public on the real impacts Northern Pulp’s demise will have on the province.
The politicians have skipped town. It’s time for the business community to demonstrate they’ve learned from their inaction on the fracking debate – they can do that by acting to protect our economy.
If they do, the politicians will inevitably follow, trust me.
But if they don’t, they will have forfeited their moral authority to lecture in the corners of cocktail receptions and fundraisers.
Chad Bowie is a long-time conservative political strategist. He is also a direct marketing and political consultant. He owns Chad Bowie Consulting. He can be reached at email@example.com.