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No attempt to hide $6M payment to Northern Pulp, says McNeil

While the provincial government frequently issues press releases about investments big and small, none was released detailing a $6-million payment to Northern Pulp last year. (CBC/Craig Paisley)

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil insisted Thursday there was no attempt to hide a $6-million payment last year to Northern Pulp, despite the fact his government only disclosed the information as a single-line item in a 351-page document on July 26.\

The payment is contained in volume three of the supplementary estimates filed to officially close the books on the 2017-18 fiscal year.

It lists Northern Pulp Nova Scotia Corp. as having received $6,001,238.13 from the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal. There is no information about what the money was used for.

Speaking to reporters Thursday, McNeil suggested the payment should not have come a surprise to journalists or anyone else.

"As I've told all of you many times, there is a liability for the taxpayer when it comes to that mill," he said.

This week alone the government issued news releases for projects worth considerably less than the Northern Pulp payment: one for $37,500 in the Annapolis Valley and another $36,500 in the Cape Breton region.

McNeil was at a loss to explain why a $6-million expenditure did not warrant similar treatment.

"I don't know why it wouldn't have been put out in a press release," he said.

The premier also could not say how much more money would be spent on a replacement plant for the current Boat Harbour wastewater treatment facility, which is due to close by Jan. 31, 2020.

The government has said taxpayers will need to help pay for the new facility because the province is in a lease agreement with Northern Pulp. Under the Boat Harbour Act, the existing treatment plant must be closed 10 years before the lease ends.

"I didn't sign that deal," he said. "It was signed by a former government."

The current treatment facility, which handles effluent discharged from Northern Pulp, is located next to the Pictou Landing First Nation.

McNeil said he "made the decision that we would not continue to pollute Boat Harbour and force Pictou Landing to be next to that facility."

"And by doing so, it meant that there's legal obligations that we as a province will be part of and we'll meet those obligations," he added.

The premier said taxpayers would not be saddled with the entire cost of the new facility, adding the government is in negotiations.

"We do have a responsibility but I also think we have a responsibility to the First Nation's community as well, and that's the one we're meeting," he said.

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