More than 40 years has passed since New Brunswick civil servants discovered our potash deposits. In contrast to Saskatchewan, the New Brunswick potash deposits were immediately privatized and delivered via bidding mechanisms to out of province potash mining corporations. They were subsequently sold to other out of province developers. In all cases the sole view of the mining corporations was to generate potash and salt commodities for the purposes of their profit.
The Cassidy Lake potash deposit in the small community of Clover Hill eventually flooded. The Penobsquis mine, originally leased from our government by PotashCorp of America, was finally passed to Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan (PCS) then a crown corporation. PCS was privatized by Saskatchewan’s Conservative Premier, Grant Devine, and sold to Chicago-based PotashCorp but for many years retained the guise, Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan.
New Brunswickers, outside the halls of government, the owners of the Penobsquis potash and salt resource, were barely considered during these manoeuvres. What counted to the corporations was that the resources were located within a collaborative governmental jurisdiction, close to tidewater and nearby markets.
Citizens living close to the mines and their government, bewildered or entranced with the development, remained docile, compliant and rarely questioned the process. The province’s low royalty agreements, the corporation’s gross earnings and profits were beyond most people’s reckoning. New Brunswick’s folk culture’s inherent sense of good will left locals with their guard down. They didn’t count on the fact that corporate responsibility to shareholders could mean irresponsibility toward our citizens.
The establishment of the potash mines was an act of profitable intervention into our province’s affairs by out-of-province interests encouraged by our own government who saw income tax revenue and spin off businesses as our main benefit. The legitimacy of either mine’s ownership by foreign transnationals was never discussed in the provincial media.
Some New Brunswickers, nonetheless, understood that the potash mines were a corporate resource grab, a clever acquisition or a theft depending on one’s perspective, replete with risks for the companies but worth their gamble. The precedent had already been set by the example of the giant Brunswick No. 6 and No.12 zinc mines owned by Xstrata near Bathurst that recently generated over $400 million gross per annum. The zinc mines have operated in the province for over 50 years with negligible royalties accruing to the province.
The stakes were high for the potash corporations but the mines were technically feasible and would, barring insurmountable mining problems, generate large profits when operational. Profits that would, for the most part, facilitate out of province interests rather than the cash strapped people of New Brunswick.
Potash mining has alienated the citizens of New Brunswick and specifically those of Penobsquis living near the mine. These people when put under the duress of losing their water while living on an incrementally sinking landscape above or near the mine had nowhere to turn.
The lowering of an impenetrable barrier of complexity, technical and commercial secrecy and sheer geographical distance by the controlling interests of PotashCorp of Chicago over the ordinary citizens of Penobsquis precipitated emotional and in at least one case physical disruption.
The citizens of Penobsquis brought their complaints to the gates of the great corporate foreign power and got no redress. Frustrated by the immovable and opaque obstinance of the aloof company, the offended citizens as a last recourse turned to the provincial government’s mining commissioner for a fair hearing only to drown in more debt and suffer further humiliation.
After months and months of a drawn out process of hearings, worn out and at their wits end, the citizens felt forced to accept a back room deal to which the foreign corporation added an insulting no disclosure clause.
The profound alienation caused by the inaction of government and persistent corporate disregard of our local citizens complaints can only serve to deepen theirs and our distrust of either of those institutions. These events point to a failing system and portend a dark future. They assert that government and economic organizations have become too big to be manageable and suggest that social and political units be made smaller, justice accessible and fairer, technology simpler and our mode of living more organic directed towards the fulfillment of human values and the entire community rather than materialist objectives at the service of a few.