Environment Minister didn't know extent of Tufts Cove oil spill until this week

Nova Scotia’s Environment Minister Margaret Miller offered only a mild rebuke to Nova Scotia Power for not letting her or her department know sooner the full extent of an oil spill at the utility’s generating plant in Dartmouth.

A company executive briefed reporters Tuesday afternoon at the Tufts Cove plant, not long after the company issued a news release detailing the full extent of the spill.

Until then, the focus had been on a 5,000 litre spill in and around Halifax harbour.

Mark Sidebottom, Nova Scotia Power’s chief operating officer, told reporters about two larger spills from the same source — 9,900 litres captured in a containment trench and another 9,400 litres nearby.

Miller doesn’t believe NSP tried to hide anything

“We found out at the same time it was made public,” Miller said Wednesday. “I can’t say that I feel good about that.”

But Miller made it clear she didn’t think the company had been trying to hide anything.

“I think as soon as the numbers were known that they made it clear to us,” she said.

She also offered a possible explanation.

“I’m making the assumption that it would have taken a while to get at that information and to make sure it was accurate cause they had to do a lot of retrieval.”

Company took 12 days to report extent of spill

Pressed about the fact it took the company 12 days to talk about the almost 20,000 litres spilled on its property, Miller said she wasn’t overly concerned.

“It would have been better if they could have made their predictions of how much had been spilled more accurately but you know I’m glad that, first of all, things are being contained,” she said.

“My concern … is in the cleanup. I imagine in days afterwards the assessment of what’s going on, the questions will be asked about why those numbers didn’t come forward, but at this point my concern is about the cleanup.”

Read more articles at CBC Nova Scotia

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Former school board members eager to join replacement body

Former Halifax Regional School Board members Gin Yee and Archy Beals believe the McNeil government was wrong to dissolve seven of Nova Scotia’s eight school boards last spring.

But both have applied to sit on the advisory body set up to guide education policy and advise the minister of education on spending.

“It was something I thought long and hard about and I wasn’t going to apply,” said Beals.

But, according to him, community support convinced him to change his mind.

“I think I have a lot to offer,” he said.

Decision to apply an easy one for Yee

Yee and Beals were both part of a 22-member team put together to smooth the transition between the dissolution of the boards and the creation of the new Provincial Advisory Council on Education.

For Yee, first elected to the Halifax board in 2004 and re-elected three times, the decision to apply for this new role was an easy one.

“I’ve enjoyed representing and serving and this is an opportunity to serve,” he said.

“I think school boards did excellent work but [I] also understand that they have the ultimate say on it so I personally have moved on.”

Twelve spots available to the public

The two men are among the 133 people who have applied for the 12 spots available to the public.

Three other seats will go to the Conseil scolaire acadien provincial — the last remaining school board — the Council on Mi’kmaq Education and the Council on African Canadian Education.  

Education Minister Zach Churchill is happy to see so many people are interested in helping shape the school system.

“I think people really care about the education system in the province,” he said. “I think it’s really exciting.”

Churchill is also encouraged that former board members want to be on the council.

Archy Beals is one of 22 members of a transitional team. (CBC)

“These folks bring valuable lived experience in their school systems in their regions and we’re looking for a wide variety of experiences and outlook so we can have different viewpoints to help us make decisions.”

‘It’s a good time to be involved’

“It’s a good time to be involved in the education system in Nova Scotia,” said Churchill. “We’re making a lot of critical changes.

“We’re making major investments and putting supports in place that are brand new to the system and folks involved in this group will actually help us in terms of moving forward and making these critical investments and policy decisions.”

Unlike school board members who could serve indefinitely, council members can only serve two terms, each two years long.

Churchill is hoping to have the council members chosen and the advisory body up and running by the end of September.

Read more articles at CBC Nova Scotia

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Tufts Cove oil leak 5 times bigger than previously disclosed

An oil leak at the Tufts Cove power plant in Dartmouth, N.S., that spilled thousands of litres into Halifax harbour was much bigger than previously disclosed.

Nova Scotia Power has said the leak on Aug. 2 spilled about 5,000 litres into the harbour. But on Tuesday, the company said an additional 9,900 litres leaked into a containment trench and another 9,400 litres entered the cooling water system of one of its generators.

The utility estimates it will need at least another month to complete the cleanup.

“We expect mid-September this will all be cleaned up,” said Mark Sidebottom, chief operating officer at Nova Scotia Power. 

One of the booms being used to contain an oil spill from the Tufts Cove power generating station. (Robert Short/CBC)

He said about 95 per cent of the oil that entered the harbour and containment pit has been recovered.

“And that happened quick, in the first several hours after the leak,” Sidebottom said.

About 50 per cent of the oil in the cooling water system has been recovered. That work has been slower, according to the executive, because the focus of efforts has been on cleaning up what spilled into Tufts Cove.

Unknown why pipe failed

Sidebottom said about a dozen crabs and possibly one seagull have died as a result of the spill.

The oil came from a hole in a steel pipe, but the company still doesn’t know why the pipe failed.

Sidebottom said it might take a couple of months before Nova Scotia Power knows for sure.

The company overseeing the cleanup, Eastern Canada Response Corporation, said there are about 70 people taking part in the operation.

The company’s manager for the Atlantic region, Robert Starkes, said, “Nova Scotia Power has been extremely supportive in terms of the plans that we developed and presented.”

He also said people will keep an eye on the area beyond the cleanup to ensure the oil is recovered.

“There will be a period of monitoring to ensure that there are no surprises,” Starkes said. “So there will be folks doing surveys along the shore, perhaps aerial survey and that can be accomplished from the top of the building here. It’s a great asset.”

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N.S. film tax credit gone but not forgotten

When Stephen McNeil’s government closed the books on the 2017-2018 fiscal year last month, it marked the official end of Nova Scotia’s film tax credit. 

The final $5.3-million payout shows up as a single line item on page 297 of a 349-page document issued by the Finance Department, called Volume 3, Supplementary Information.

It’s not the Hollywood ending envisioned by Finance Minister Bernie Boudreau when the Liberal government of John Savage introduced the credit in its 1995 budget.

“Film production has become a fast-growing industry offering great opportunities for a province such as Nova Scotia,” he said at the time. “To assist in the development of this industry and in realizing the substantial economic gain it has to offer Nova Scotia, funding of $3 million will be provided through the Nova Scotia Economic Renewal Agency to assist local film production firms.”

“The Film Industry Incentive Program will provide a refundable credit for local firms equal to 30 per cent of their eligible Nova Scotia salaries, to a maximum of 15 per cent of their total production budget.”

Australian actor Melissa Bergland is seen on the set of the 2014 film Relative Happiness in Hubbards, N.S. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

Over the years, the credit survived at least two tax reviews and successive governments made it more generous, culminating in the 2007 decision by the Progressive Conservative government of Rodney MacDonald to bump the credit up to a maximum of 60 per cent of allowable costs, if a production was shot in a rural community. That made it the most generous in Canada.

Massive protests

The current provincial Liberal government is banking on a film incentive fund to continue to fuel Nova Scotia’s film industry, albeit less generously.

The creation of the fund three years ago in the 2015 provincial budget blindsided the industry, which had no idea the change was in the works. The government reasoned a fund would be more transparent than a tax credit, and would allow the province to control the amount of taxpayers’ money doled out.

At the time, finance officials worried that left unchecked, the credit would grow well beyond the $20 million set aside that year to pay for the production incentive.

Killing the credit sparked one of the largest, loudest protests ever staged outside Province House.

Members of Nova Scotia’s film and television industry protest outside the legislature in Halifax on Wednesday, April 15, 2015. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

Although close to 100 filmmakers and television producers have since tapped into the incentive fund, Screen Nova Scotia executive director Laura Mackenzie said the fund has not been as enticing as the old tax credit, especially to major production companies.

“We’re not seeing as many big, Hollywood films coming, that’s for certain,” said Mackenzie. “And that is really just because our tax credit or our incentive, either one is just not as competitive across Canada.

“We’ve got to be the leader in Canada if we want to see the large foreign productions coming here.”

‘The industry has adapted’

The year after the provincial government announced the end of the tax credit was its biggest payout year — $38.1 million in 2016-17. That’s roughly how much the film incentive fund has paid out during the two full years it has existed.

Despite the difference, McNeil saw the fund as a success.

“I believe we’ve seen lots of activity here in the province,” McNeil said. “The industry has adapted to the new formula.”

He added that the fund is more open and transparent.

‘We’ve lost many, many, many jobs’

But some in the industry see things differently. At Screen Nova Scotia’s annual awards gala last May, host Jonathan Torrens​ and others used the occasion to publicly deride McNeil and his government for having replaced the credit with a incentive fund.

Crews work on the set of Pure. The film is set in Southern Ontario, Mexico and Texas, but it was filmed in Nova Scotia. (CBC)

Screen Nova Scotia, as the industry representative, is eager to put the tax credit controversy behind it. But there’s no denying that the effects of that decision continue to be felt.

“We’ve lost many, many, many jobs. We’ve lost many young people here in Nova Scotia that are now out working in Toronto and Vancouver,” Mackenzie said.

“For Screen Nova Scotia, that’s our biggest loss. That should be the government’s greatest concern as well.”

‘A workable system’

Filmmaker, writer and director Paul Kimball’s film Exit Thread, was the last feature film to receive the tax credit. The $258,678 he received last spring helped offset the cost of production. The film was shot in Halifax, West Chezzetcook, Wolfville and near Hubbards.

“The new funding system works in a different way, and like the old system is not without its flaws, but I believe it works well in general,” Kimball wrote in an email to CBC News.

Although not happy with the unilateral way the McNeil government brought in the change, Kimball is ready to endorse the new incentive fund.

“I feel the eventual course correction in consultation with industry restored stability and a workable system that reflects the complex fiscal realities of both film financing, and that the province faces in general,” he wrote.

“I also understand that many of my colleagues disagree with that assessment.”

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N.S. film tax credit gone but not forgotten

When Stephen McNeil’s government closed the books on the 2017-2018 fiscal year last month, it marked the official end of Nova Scotia’s film tax credit. 

The final $5.3-million payout shows up as a single line item on page 297 of a 349-page document issued by the Finance Department, called Volume 3, Supplementary Information.

It’s not the Hollywood ending envisioned by Finance Minister Bernie Boudreau when the Liberal government of John Savage introduced the credit in its 1995 budget.

“Film production has become a fast-growing industry offering great opportunities for a province such as Nova Scotia,” he said at the time. “To assist in the development of this industry and in realizing the substantial economic gain it has to offer Nova Scotia, funding of $3 million will be provided through the Nova Scotia Economic Renewal Agency to assist local film production firms.”

“The Film Industry Incentive Program will provide a refundable credit for local firms equal to 30 per cent of their eligible Nova Scotia salaries, to a maximum of 15 per cent of their total production budget.”

Australian actor Melissa Bergland is seen on the set of the 2014 film Relative Happiness in Hubbards, N.S. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

Over the years, the credit survived at least two tax reviews and successive governments made it more generous, culminating in the 2007 decision by the Progressive Conservative government of Rodney MacDonald to bump the credit up to a maximum of 60 per cent of allowable costs, if a production was shot in a rural community. That made it the most generous in Canada.

Massive protests

The current provincial Liberal government is banking on a film incentive fund to continue to fuel Nova Scotia’s film industry, albeit less generously.

The creation of the fund three years ago in the 2015 provincial budget blindsided the industry, which had no idea the change was in the works. The government reasoned a fund would be more transparent than a tax credit, and would allow the province to control the amount of taxpayers’ money doled out.

At the time, finance officials worried that left unchecked, the credit would grow well beyond the $20 million set aside that year to pay for the production incentive.

Killing the credit sparked one of the largest, loudest protests ever staged outside Province House.

Members of Nova Scotia’s film and television industry protest outside the legislature in Halifax on Wednesday, April 15, 2015. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

Although close to 100 filmmakers and television producers have since tapped into the incentive fund, Screen Nova Scotia executive director Laura Mackenzie said the fund has not been as enticing as the old tax credit, especially to major production companies.

“We’re not seeing as many big, Hollywood films coming, that’s for certain,” said Mackenzie. “And that is really just because our tax credit or our incentive, either one is just not as competitive across Canada.

“We’ve got to be the leader in Canada if we want to see the large foreign productions coming here.”

‘The industry has adapted’

The year after the provincial government announced the end of the tax credit was its biggest payout year — $38.1 million in 2016-17. That’s roughly how much the film incentive fund has paid out during the two full years it has existed.

Despite the difference, McNeil saw the fund as a success.

“I believe we’ve seen lots of activity here in the province,” McNeil said. “The industry has adapted to the new formula.”

He added that the fund is more open and transparent.

‘We’ve lost many, many, many jobs’

But some in the industry see things differently. At Screen Nova Scotia’s annual awards gala last May, host Jonathan Torrens​ and others used the occasion to publicly deride McNeil and his government for having replaced the credit with a incentive fund.

Crews work on the set of Pure. The film is set in Southern Ontario, Mexico and Texas, but it was filmed in Nova Scotia. (CBC)

Screen Nova Scotia, as the industry representative, is eager to put the tax credit controversy behind it. But there’s no denying that the effects of that decision continue to be felt.

“We’ve lost many, many, many jobs. We’ve lost many young people here in Nova Scotia that are now out working in Toronto and Vancouver,” Mackenzie said.

“For Screen Nova Scotia, that’s our biggest loss. That should be the government’s greatest concern as well.”

‘A workable system’

Filmmaker, writer and director Paul Kimball’s film Exit Thread, was the last feature film to receive the tax credit. The $258,678 he received last spring helped offset the cost of production. The film was shot in Halifax, West Chezzetcook, Wolfville and near Hubbards.

“The new funding system works in a different way, and like the old system is not without its flaws, but I believe it works well in general,” Kimball wrote in an email to CBC News.

Although not happy with the unilateral way the McNeil government brought in the change, Kimball is ready to endorse the new incentive fund.

“I feel the eventual course correction in consultation with industry restored stability and a workable system that reflects the complex fiscal realities of both film financing, and that the province faces in general,” he wrote.

“I also understand that many of my colleagues disagree with that assessment.”

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Environment minister happy 'so far' with Nova Scotia Power spill cleanup

Nova Scotia Environment Minister Margaret Miller says she is satisfied with steps Nova Scotia Power has taken following the oil spill at its Tufts Cove generating plant, summing up cleanup efforts in Halifax harbour as “so far, so good.”

A Nova Scotia Power employee discovered the spill a week ago during a routine inspection. The company estimates about 5,000 litres of oil spilled into the harbour from a hole in a pipe.

The cleanup could take months, but Miller made it clear Thursday what she expected from cleanup crews.

“Right now our concern is about cleaning up the site, making sure that there are no long-lasting impacts, that the site remains pristine,” she told reporters.

Environment Minister Margaret Miller. (CBC)

Miller repeatedly deflected questions about how the spill might have occurred, whether the company properly maintained the pipe and if it could have detected the spill sooner.

“My main concern is the environment of Nova Scotia, making sure the environment is protected,” she said. “Ideally, of course, you would have caught something like that right away.

“I can’t speak for what happened during their process. I just know where we are now is that we’re cleaning up the site.

“We’re making sure that it becomes a pristine site again.”

Nova Scotia Power has hired a company to clean up the mess and an engineer to oversee the work on its behalf. Miller said her department would inspect the site once the cleanup is complete.

“Our inspectors will be on site to make sure that we’re happy with what’s happened.”

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Province sitting on millions set aside to help problem gamblers, fund addiction research

Bernie Walsh hasn’t led the life he wanted to lead.

He blames that on an addiction to video lottery terminals that not only took his money, and eventually his home, but also exacted a heavy personal toll.

“It cost me my family, it cost me my health,” said the 68-year-old Walsh.

The anti-VLT activist cannot understand why money collected to help him, and others like him, is sitting idle rather than going to programs and services for addicts or to research aimed at better understanding addiction.

$6 million collected

But that’s exactly what is happening to $6 million collected from gambling profits.

Every year for the past 20 years, one per cent of revenue from VLTs in Nova Scotia, and a matching amount from lottery sales and casino profits, have flowed into a fund.

Although that money now goes to the Gambling Awareness Foundation of Nova Scotia, the funds are controlled by three Department of Health officials, including Associate Deputy Minister Jeannine Lagassé​ and the province’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang.

The foundation was created in 1998 — replacing the Nova Scotia Gaming Foundation — as a not-for-profit, arms-length organization “for the purpose of receiving and distributing funds that would support communities to reduce the harmful effects of gambling.”

Money trickles out

But the money flowing in has only trickled out during the past eight years.

According to foundation’s annual reports, a total of $1.5 million has been disbursed to community groups or for research projects since 2010. During that time, successive surpluses have doubled the amount of money in the fund from $3 million to $6 million.

The provincial government is sitting on millions of dollars collected to fund programs for addicts and for research into addiction. (CBC)

Those who control the fund have been tasked by Health Minister Randy Delorey to come up with a plan to spend the money.

“They’ve been working to identify how we can be flowing that money towards projects more efficiently,” Delorey said Wednesday.

No timeline for completion

While his department said in a written statement “significant work [had] been done over the last year” by the group, Delorey refused to give a timeline for its completion.

“It’s not just about putting money out the door,” he said. “It’s very easy for governments to do.

“We want to do it in a way that ensures we get value for the research that’s being conducted.”

Walsh thinks the problem is the government is addicted to the revenue generated by gambling in Nova Scotia and it is reluctant to do anything that would reduce that supply of easy money.

“I think they’re more addicted [than VLT addicts],” said Walsh. “I think they have to have that money coming in everyday.”

Walsh proposes drop-in centre

Delorey rejects the suggestion the province is profiting from gambling addicts.

Walsh knows how he would use the money.

“I would spend it on having a special building where gamblers could come in everyday, sort of like a drop-in centre,” he said.

“Where they come in, where there’s no atmosphere of gambling. They sit down, they talk to each other. They find out what kind of problems they’re having, what their day was like yesterday. Are their families still together? There’s a lot of things you could do that would make that money make sense,” said Walsh.

Ironically, that’s exactly the kind of project that received funding the first time funds were withdrawn.

An outreach centre run by the Compulsive and Problem Gamblers Society received $275,000 to “offer problem gamers a place to drop in and talk through their problems,” according to a news release issued by the provincial government on April 15, 1998.

Read more articles at CBC Nova Scotia

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Province adds $1M to budget for co-op placements

Dalhousie University student Ben Parmiter is heading back to class this fall without much of a tan, and no break from his field of study — mechanical engineering.

That’s because the 20-year-old from Lawrencetown, N.S., near Halifax, has spent most of the past three months in a Dartmouth research facility, and in the dark, as part of a research team working at Metamaterial Technologies Inc., trying to find new ways to deflect laser light.

Parmiter’s salary is subsidized by taxpayers as part of a co-op program aimed at giving university and college students real-world experience to accompany what they’re studying.

This is his second co-op placement at the company. He’s one of five students working there this summer.

500 students placed in Nova Scotia

They are among the 500 students in a co-op program the provincial government is expanding this year. A $1-million budget increase should create space for another 200 students.

The aim of Parmiter’s research is to find the best way to protect aircraft pilots from suffering damage to their eyes when someone aims a laser pointer at a cockpit.

Researchers are trying to find ways to protect pilots from laser light directed at cockpits. (Jean LaRoche/CBC)

“It’s a very specific research that we’re doing here,” said Parmiter. “And I get to work with such amazing people, such brilliant scientists.

“It’s lots of fun.” he said about being part of the research team.

​Oshrit Harel, MTI’s manager of research and development, said having students as part of the team brings a fresh perspective to the work.

“They have a different way of looking [at] it,” she said.

According to Harel, the students are treated no differently that other team members and are responsible for their own work.

“They are an integral part of our team,” she said.

Practical application

For Parmiter, the biggest advantage of a co-op education is the ability to apply classroom work with practical application.

“The biggest thing is definitely the hands-on experience, so getting to actually use the skills that I’m learning in school,” he said.  “My problem-solving, my analysis skills, so actually applying real-world examples instead of just textbook examples is really important.”

After his studies, Parmiter would like to return as a full-fledged employee. “I would love to work for this company,” he said.

Read more articles at CBC Nova Scotia

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Founded by former slaves, Beechville becomes provincial heritage site

Beechville, N.S., a Halifax-area community founded by black families in the early 1800s, is now a provincial heritage site.

The community was settled by black families who came to what was then British soil to escape slavery in the United States.

One of the reasons for the designation is the existence of records attesting to the founding of the settlement, Communities, Culture and Heritage Minister Tony Ince said Tuesday at the Beechville Baptist Church.

“It’s one of the few places in the province that has actual plots, land that has evidence of folks coming here around 1812, between 1812 and 1816 as refugees coming up from the U.S.,” he said.

The Baptist church, a baptismal path to Lovett Lake, a graveyard and former school are all considered historically important. It hasn’t yet been decided where the plaque to indicate the heritage designation will be placed.

Residents were at the Beechville Baptist Church to hear about the province’s decision to designate Beechville as a provincial heritage site. (CBC)

The recognition is not expected to affect plans for a development on the land adjacent to the church.

Armco Capital wants to build close to 1,300 homes as well as offices and stores between the Bayers Lake Business Park and Lovett Lake, located just north of St. Margarets Bay Road.

The company has said it plans to transfer ownership of part of that land to the church, to create space between the development and the heart of Beechville.

Danielle Wright-Jackson of the Beechville Community Development Association has lived in the community since she was seven-years-old and said the community has shrunk over the years.

A choir of young people perform at Tuesday’s announcement in Beechville, N.S. (CBC)

Residents don’t want to see the significance of their community eroded any further, she said.

“Historically, Beechville used to run from the Armdale Rotary out to Five Islands Lake. Currently now, if you blink, you drive through Beechville. So we are actively staying involved with the developers as well as HRM planners to ensure the community has a relevant voice and is well informed of any movement that is taking place.”

She said the heritage designation “is a step in the right direction of righting some of the wrongs.”

Wright-Jackson hopes there will be a halt to any development plans that would see current and future residents, especially descendants of the founders, pushed out and being unable to afford to live in the area.

Danielle Wright-Jackson, a member of the Beechville Community Development Association, says it is important that any development in the area allows for long-time residents and others to be able to continue to live there. (CBC)

“Basically what we want … is if the development does go forward, to make it attainable. We have many residents and descendants who would like to actually reside in Beechville and currently, there’s not adequate housing for that,” she said.

“And most importantly, there’s the pricing, the pricing of it is so steep. So we feel our lands were given to us initially because they were unsettled, they were rocky, they were watery, not well sought-after lands.”

Now that Beechville is a desirable site to developers, “we are being cut out … we’re very concerned that people who want to retire, that our seniors have a place to stay in their own community,” she said.

Read more articles at CBC Nova Scotia 

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Regulator halts Tusket dam review until utility consults Mi'kmaq

The Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board has adjourned its review of a project to refurbish a dam in southwest Nova Scotia until Nova Scotia Power can fully consult Mi’kmaq groups concerned with the proposed work.

The ruling is a first for the provincial regulator which has never before been called on to rule in a case concerning duty to consult.

Nova Scotia Power needs the approval of the UARB before it can move ahead with plans to replace the gates in the Tusket dam. The utility has deemed the gates to “have reached the end of of their expected useful life.”

But before the $18-million project can go ahead, the UARB has ruled NSP will have to “complete negotiations” with First Nations as part of its obligation to consult with Indigenous peoples.

Two Supreme Court rulings handed down a year ago set out in law the requirement to consult with First Nations in cases where Indigenous rights or titles may be affected.

In this case, the work will proceed in an area rich with Aboriginal archeological sites, including sites which are currently submerged.

Both the provincial government and Nova Scotia Power had exchanged correspondence with some Mi’kmaq representatives during the past year. As a result, the utility did include accommodations in the plan it submitted to the regulator, but the UARB ruled those talks did not fully meet the obligation to consult with the Mi’kmaq.

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