Canada: ‘Nova Scotia. Open For Business’ = Family Business Expropriated For Gold Mine

Nova Scotia — open for what kind of business? (June 21, 2012):

In 1993, the Progressive Conservative government of Donald Cameron introduced new commercial licence plates to the province that state, in red letters, “Nova Scotia. Open For Business.” It may be time for the NDP government to revisit that message.

Last week, Natural Resources Minister Charlie Parker made a clear choice about the kind of business Nova Scotia really supports. Rather than defend the rights and interests of a Nova Scotian family business, he sided instead with DDV Gold, a subsidiary of Australian company Atlantic Gold, granting the mining company vesting orders and thus ownership of 14 parcels of land in Moose River Gold Mines.

Some of that belongs — or rather belonged — to the Higgins family that had refused to sell any land, pointing out that they run a successful and sustainable business (providing five full-time jobs and 25 seasonal ones) producing Christmas trees on land that has been in the family for generations.

So perhaps the government of Darrell Dexter might consider a more accurate message for the commercial licence plates. Maybe something like “Nova Scotia. Open for Foreign Destructive Extractive Business.” While they’re at it, perhaps they could update our provincial slogan. Instead of “Come to Life,” how about “Come to Help Yourselves to Our Land and Resources”?

The decision to expropriate the Higgins land, Minister Parker said, was “difficult” but he was “confident it best serves the public interest.” He said the Touquoy gold mine in Moose River will create about 150 jobs during operations, 300 during construction. Yet DDV Gold’s own Focus Report speaks of just 200 jobs during construction.

The minister also said Nova Scotians will see benefits through taxes and royalties. But the company will enjoy a tax holiday on profits until it recovers 110 per cent of its initial investment. And the company’s Focus Report says the total royalties the province will receive on the estimated $700 million of gold output over the mine’s life will amount to perhaps $6 million — which, to put things in perspective, is a paltry sum that could barely pave eight kilometres of road in Nova Scotia.

But Nova Scotians are used to big promises about the proposed benefits of this or that big industrial project, which are almost never legally binding and can be forgotten the minute a company faces financial problems. As we’ve learned the hard way, big promises are rarely worth the hot air used to make them. Nova Scotian taxpayers have a long record of paying the bills for companies in the so-called “private” sector and cleaning up the toxic messes they leave behind them.

None of the project’s cheerleaders — not the government, not the company and not the Mining Association — is being up front with the people of this province about the immense risks of open pit gold mines like the one planned for Moose River.

A few years ago, I spent a day touring an open pit gold mine in Mali in West Africa and came away with a horror of such hell holes. They are immense craters, created by blasting vast quantities of rock out of the earth with explosives. The waste rock is piled in small mountains; and in Nova Scotia, it is likely to be laced with and leaking arsenic. Open pit mines use vast quantities of fresh water, and toxic waste has to be stored and treated in massive tailings ponds.

And to extract the gold — 1.6 grams from one ton of rock — the company will use large quantities of cyanide. Once a week, about 12 tons of this poison will be transported by truck from the train station in Truro, over highways 102 and 224, and then down the Moose River Road.

A local group opposed to the mine, Eastern Shore Forest Watch, worries that any accident that caused the mine to close — and accidents and spills are not uncommon in open pit gold mines — would “vapourize the company’s line of credit.” Nova Scotians would once again find themselves stuck paying for a catastrophic clean-up.

DDV Gold is already looking at another gold mining project on Cochrane Hill, about 80 kilometres from its newly acquired land holdings in Moose River; and the CEO of the parent company, Atlantic Gold, says his company is exploring the length and breadth of the province for more gold deposits that he is sure are there for the taking.

And that, of course, will mean seeking the title to the land to get at them. Woodlot owners, farmers and other landowners in Nova Scotia, brace yourselves. Nova Scotia, it seems, is open for gold digging.

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