It appeared in the Chronicle Herald on Saturday 16 August 2014. Reproduced here without permission.
Organize now against industry land grabs
An open-pit gold mine in Moose River; a gravel quarry in Fogartys' Cove. The common thread is that they involve government expropriations on behalf of industrial extraction companies. This poses a serious threat to landowner rights in Nova Scotia and to the health of the land and water.
There are only three laws in Nova Scotia that allow a private company to request a government-issued expropriation: the Mineral Resources Act, the Petroleum Resource Act and the Pipelines Act. In other words, these extractive industries have a special status in the Nova Scotia legal system, with privileges that are granted to no one else.
This is what makes expropriations of the Fogarty family, or the Higgins family, legally possible. A real respect for the land and landowners’ rights demands an end to these expropriations. Of course, advocates for the extractive industry (including those employed by the Department of Natural Resources) will argue, as they have recently done in this paper, that these expropriations of private land are extremely rare.
This hides the ugly truth on the ground, which is that companies use the threat of expropriation to pressure landowners into selling. If they’re going to take it anyway — why not sell?
These laws get used when principled landowners are completely unwilling to sell land to an extractive company that is going to leave it irreparably scarred.
Furthermore, advocates for industry will argue that their projects are for the “public good," that it will mean jobs closer to home, so we won’t need to travel out west for work.
We can’t help but wonder what “public good" they are talking about. Nova Scotians whom we know appreciate things growing on the land, clean water, and the sustainable industries and tourism that depend on them. Some of us might go out west for work when we have to, but when we see the legacy of extractive industry — the black pits of tar sand extending to the horizon or the vast fracking zones — then we’re glad to come back to Nova Scotia, to the beautiful pieces of land we grew up on.
When advocates for extractive industry talk about the “public good," they’re referring to one thing only: money. And most of that ends up in their own pockets. For the rest of us, their expropriations of the land never have been for the public good and it never will be.
We need to think ahead to what expropriation for extractive industry is going to mean in the years to come. If shale-gas fracking is ever permitted in this province, then the Petroleum Resource Act will allow fracking companies to request expropriation of private land for their numerous drill pads and other facilities.
In Moose River, we made the mistake of waiting until the expropriation request came before we started fighting it. For all of you who are concerned about fracking, and who don’t want to see your land expropriated for a fracking drill pad or other extractive project, you need to start organizing now. Find out what projects might become active in your area, and talk to your neighbours about how you’re going to collectively refuse to allow your land to be taken.
Finally, we should all look to the inspiring example of the Mi’kmaq people, who have been respecting and defending this land for a very long time. Barbara Low is a Mi’kmaq woman who spoke at one of the public meetings on fracking in Port Hawkesbury, and she got right to the point: “I want to make it clear that we want the land to be safe and secure for future generations, and we will not allow fracking to happen on Mi’kmaq territory."
Together, we can all protect the land from the extractive industries and their expropriations. Cleve Higgins is a member of the Higgins family who had land expropriated in Moose River Gold Mines.