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Will we ever move from have-not to have?

Community editorial panel with Morris Haugg


Towards the end of my last article, in which I advocated a “balanced approach” to resource extraction, resource management and environmental protection, I suggested that so many environment positions (and related protests) were a case of extremism and selfishness. I need to elaborate on that and give some examples.

Take the case about the controversy about tire burning by the LaFarge cement factory near Truro. It requires extreme heat to produce a product we all need.  It uses a variety of fossil fuels in that process. The company showed some interest in converting used tires into a fuel source. It hoped to reduce the negative effluent associated with the fossil fuel burning and also save money.

To achieve these goals, the company not only worked with the Nova Scotia Department of Environment, it also engaged scientists at Dalhousie University. Various experiments and studies were conducted. The end result: burning tires was more environmentally friendly (less negative effluent) as well as cheaper. 

The company was given permission to do a test run for a year. 

Did the vocal minority, which has been protesting this company for years, accept any of these results? Of course not. More testing was requested. More experts were consulted. One was found. The court was asked to open up the process to have him heard. The court refused.

I followed all of this and asked myself this question: why protest a test? What are they afraid of?  Can the provincial and university experts possibly be so wrong that an irreversible calamity befalls the area or the whole region if a one-year test goes ahead? Or, are the protestors so afraid to find out that they have been wrong all along? Are they afraid of the truth?

We all need and use cement. We need a cement factory in our province. It is working with government regulation and university experts. Only a selfish, extreme-oriented attitude explains that particular controversy.

A few years ago, an American company wanted to create a quarry in Digby County. I have been there. I have seen the great quantities of basalt rock in that part of Nova Scotia. Environment protests nixed the project.

I remember reading about one protest leader, who quite plainly based his objection on the fear that an increase in truck traffic would create noise and dust for him. You have to understand that he was a well-to-do retired professor from Ontario, who built a fancy house in what he hoped would forever be a pristine Nova Scotia countryside.

Recently, a NAFTA tribunal has decided that the environmental reasons for the refusal of that quarry were not valid and has levied a fine of $500,000 against Canada. That happened because a careful and contested examination of the issue decided that the decision was an unwarranted interference with the principles of free trade. It took an international tribunal to point out that our political leaders reacted to the dictates of a vocal minority, the position of which was not science or fact-based.

Closer to home, I will forever consider it a shame that the Amherst town council refused to allow treated water from a fracking operation to be disposed in the town’s water treatment system.  More than one test showed that the water was not harmful to anyone. These tests were accepted by the very town staff who had supervised the construction of the treatment system. They understood and believed the facts and made their recommendation accordingly. The town stood to benefit $500,000. You know what happened. A few people, generally opposed to obtaining fossil fuel by fracturing rock, made their protest known, including by means of some placard waving in front of town hall. The council capitulated.

There is no doubt in my mind that the protestors couldn’t allow this harmless water to be responsibly disposed of because it would remove one of the concerns generally exploited as part of the fracking debate. I spoke to one councillor afterwards who just shook his head and said:  we really could have used this money to put toward sport and recreational projects. We could have done a lot of good.

A couple of years ago, Don Mills, the president of Corporate Research, was in town and gave us an overview of where we are and where we are going in this province. He is the head and main brain behind the largest polling and research company in Atlantic Canada. He spoke with a lot of insight and authority. He spoke on a lot of topics, including our reluctance to depend on resource extraction. He drove home the point most clearly when he pointed out the irony that we support a ban to leave our gas and oil in the ground but accept transfer payments from provinces like Alberta and Saskatchewan, which derive much of their wealth from such extraction.

A long time ago, I came across a very basic principle of economics: all wealth comes from natural resources, the ground and the water. All other wealth creation comes after that.

Our society is moving further away from understanding and relating to that principle. That is the reason it is so easy to under appreciate farming, forestry, mining, fishing and all resource extraction activities as well as the closely related processing and manufacturing industries.

So-called environmentalists tell us that we can’t trust government or researchers or scientists, unless they agree with them. That means that we have to be more vigilant, more informed and more involved. It means that we have to expect a “balanced approach” from our political leaders.  If we don’t do that, we will continue to be a have-not province in which politicians listen to vocal minorities and count on an uninformed, unorganized silent majority to accept their decisions. That is not leadership.

Morris Haugg is a member of the Amherst News Community Editorial Panel

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