Candidates differ on Atlantic Gold

Ferry boat captain, fisherman vie for St. Mary’s seat

By Alec Bruce, Local Journalism Initiative reporter    
December 30 2020

ST. MARY’S – The race to fill a vacant council seat in the Municipality of the District of St. Mary’s officially launched last week, as two lifelong Port Bickerton and Harpellville-area residents hit the campaign trail with heads full of steam and straight talk.

“I’m in it for the long haul,” ferry boat captain and former St. Mary’s councillor James Harpell of Harpellville told The Journal.

Said his sole rival for office, lobster fisherman James Bingley of Fisherman’s Harbour: “It’s time for some new blood.”

In fact, following the Dec. 22 nomination filing deadline for District 8 – which has been unoccupied since former councillor Peggy Kaiser-Kirk’s resignation in October, neither candidate was in the mood for mincing words. Topping their agendas for the municipality are mining and the environment.

“There are a couple of issues I’ve read about,” said Harpell, 63, captain in charge of the Country Harbour ferry operation, who was councillor for District 8 between 2000 and 2012. “One is the [St. Mary’s] River Association, and the other is the [Atlantic Gold] situation. I definitely don’t want to see any poison going into that river and hurt it any more than it is.

“I haven’t got all the information to make an informed decision on it yet. I am just going by what I’ve heard, word of mouth and stuff like that. I like to have the facts in front of me before I make an informed decision. I am sure we’re going to hear and have lots of discussions about that at the council table.”

Said Bingley, 45, a northern shrimp-turned-lobster fisherman who runs his operation with his sons, and who has never held elected office in the municipality: “This is a beautiful little spot to live [but] we need more industry to keep the younger generation here … more job opportunities, like the gold mine.

“There are a lot of seasonal workers here. I am actually one of the very few of my graduating class who has stuck around here. My wife used to work at the fish plant in Bickerton when I was away, until that collapsed. [We] just need jobs around here…. I think [Atlantic Gold] is a great possibility, myself.”

The increasingly hot war of words between Atlantic Gold – which wants an open pit mine on a plot of land northeast of Sherbrooke – and the St. Mary’s River Association (SMRA), which doesn’t, has framed the most contentious issue facing the municipality over the past two years, aligning several residents into separate camps.

The Australian-owned mining company says it can excavate the land profitably, providing much-needed jobs for citizens, without spoiling the river or otherwise harming the local environment. The SMRA says the company’s plans – which still require federal environmental approval – pose an existential threat to the area’s wildlife and long-term economic sustainability.

“What people here are really looking for is something that’s not going to harm the environment,” Harpell said. “We have a pristine environment here on the Eastern Shore, and the citizens want to be very careful about what they put in here.”

Asked if he intends to keep an open mind about Atlantic Gold’s proposal, he added: “I am for the time being, yes. This is 2020. There must be other ways to lessen the impact on the environment. [That goes for] any business that is even looking at coming over here.”

For his part, Bingley said, “Everybody has an opinion and, unfortunately, that makes bad friends, but we need more industry for sure to keep the younger families here.

As for the possibility of a beluga whale sanctuary for Port Hilford in the near future, he said, “I don’t really know a whole lot about it. I’m not interested in that at the moment.”

The special election for District 8 will run Jan. 9-16 through electronic voting.