Question Period Highlight – Salt Brine in the Shubenacadie River

October 16, 2014

Your NDP MLAs are hard at work in the legislature this fall, holding the government to account during Question Period on a number of key issues, including job loses since Stephen McNeil became Premier, and how the Liberals’ health board amalgamation distraction is causing their government to take their eye off what really matters – front line care. Here is a question NDP Environment Critic Lenore Zann asked the government about salt brine going into the Shubenacadie River.

LENORE ZANN: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Natural Resources. The Mineral Resources Act states that the Crown owns all minerals in or upon land in the province and the right to explore for, work and remove those minerals. Currently, there is a plan in Colchester County to empty salt caverns in Alton and flush the salt into the Shubenacadie River, but that proposal now faces a potential treaty rights conflict, according to Chief Rufus Copage and his Shubenacadie First Nation Band Council.

My question is, will the Minister of Natural Resources meet with Chief Copage and Alton Gas to consider alternative options for using the salt in the caverns rather than dumping it into the Shubenacadie River?

ZACH CHURCHILL: Mr. Speaker, one thing that I think we can take great pride in in the Province of Nova Scotia is we have a model of First Nations consultation that is a leader in the country. We take our legal and treaty obligations very seriously with our First Nations Mi’kmaq communities, and of course, whenever there are any concerns on any sort of resource extraction or use of Crown land, we engage in very substantial and meaningful consultation with them, as we are obliged to by law.

LENORE ZANN « » : I thank the minister for his answer, and I would agree with him that this is an extremely important issue for First Nations and for the province and the people of our province. However, Chief Rufus Copage was quoted as saying that consultation does not mean consent, and he would like to have further consultations with both Alton Gas and the province.

So my second question is for the Minister of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism. The annual production of salt in Cumberland and Colchester Counties provides more than enough to meet Nova Scotia’s industrial needs, but we could be exporting significant quantities of salt to other markets. In a Chronicle Herald article which I will table, the vice-president of the Nova Scotia division of the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters said that exports are increasingly important to economies with small domestic markets such as ours.

Will the Minister of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism agree to meet with Alton Gas and the Shubenacadie Band to consider export opportunities for the salt brine now that the Shubenacadie First Nation says their eel traps make the salt brine disposal site an active treaty fishing area for their people?

MICHEL SAMSON: I’m more than happy to meet with any interested groups looking at exploring export opportunities for our province and helping grow our economy, and would be more than happy to meet with the parties that the member has identified.

LENORE ZANN: Thank you to the minister for that response. I will definitely follow up with that with his office and with the other interested people.

My final supplementary is for the Minister of Agriculture. The Minister of Environment told us last week that a permit is required from the Department of Agriculture to approve any impacts to the dike lands of the Alton Gas project. Can the minister please tell us if Agriculture staff have confirmed that work conducted near the dike by the Alton Gas contractor last week has weakened the dike and what their plans are to protect that dike from high tides?

KEITH COLWELL: Indeed, there was some work done on the site by Alton Gas that was not authorized by our department. There is not an agreement in place yet to do that work, and we are investigating the condition of the dike.