CBRM Council: Mine? What Mine?

The most controversial item on CBRM council’s agenda last night was dropped like a hot potato just hours before the meeting.

The initial version of the agenda included a staff recommendation that the municipality sell 1,002 acres of land (in the form of five adjacent lots in the Coxheath area) to Nova Copper Inc, a privately held junior exploration company founded by Halifax-based Harold (Harry) Cabrita in 2018.

Back row (l-r): Regional solicitor Demetri Kachafanas, Mayor Amanda McDougall-Merrill, CAO Marie Walsh. Front row (l-r): Planning director Michael Ruus, Public Works & Engineering Director Wayne MacDonald, CFO Jennifer Campbell. (Still from CBRM council livestream 22 August 2023)

By the time the meeting began, though, “Item 6.4, the Beechmont properties” had been removed from the agenda and a cheery Mayor Amanda McDougall-Merrill was thanking a group of protesters who had attended the meeting for “reaching out” with their concerns about the sale and assuring them the CBRM was “fully supportive” of a fuller and more inclusive discussion of the issue and would bring it back to council at a later date.

Personally, I think the CBRM (or possibly just CBRM staff) got busted trying to sneak a land sale through a meeting in August when fewer people are paying attention to council agendas. (Two councilors didn’t even make last night’s session.)

I think—in fact, I know, because Erin Thompson of the Keep Coxheath Clean advocacy group told me so—that concerned residents have been asking the CBRM for the opportunity to contribute to this “discussion” since word of the potential mining project broke in July. That’s when residents discovered an investor presentation on the project that had been published in May on the Nova Copper website:

Nova Copper Corp Pres July

It’s also when Nova Copper approached the Coxheath Hills Wilderness Recreation Association with a request to explore its property (site of the Coxheath Hills Trail) for minerals. As former association chair Laurie Murchison told the Cape Breton Post:

Our organization was founded on the basis of successfully preventing a quarry from being installed on Coxheath Mountain. That sort of thing is not something we would support in our area. So we said no.

Thompson said her group had sent an email to Mayor McDougall-Merrill on July 27, requesting an opportunity to speak to council about their concerns. She said they’d received confirmation their message had been received but had no further response from the Mayor.

Thompson said they started a petition (which, as I write, has gathered 793 signatures) and contacted their councilors but heard nothing from the CBRM until the agenda for last night’s meeting was posted and they saw that staff was recommending the sale.

Thompson said they “mobilized like crazy” after that, sending “so many emails” to “so many councilors” and applying pressure through social media. They received word on Tuesday that the item had been removed from the agenda but chose to protest outside the meeting anyway because while they feel they’ve been given a “reprieve,” they know discussions surrounding the Nova Copper proposal are continuing and they “don’t want this mine.”



MacDonald’s Issue Paper suggests residents are right to remain concerned—municipal staff seem to be entirely on board with this project. MacDonald writes:

Currently the Cape Breton Partnership has been working on CBRM’s behalf with Nova Copper Mines Limited [sic], and options for land acquisition have been discussed.

The business-led Partnership is, famously, the CBRM’s “economic development arm,” so if it’s working with Nova Copper, the CBRM is working with Nova Copper.

And yet, MacDonald’s Issue Paper is light on detail about Nova Copper’s plans, stating only that it aims to commence a “mineral extraction” operation on land that, “historically” has:

…been used for mining numerous times from the late 1800s until the 1930s, Nova Copper Mines Limited [sic] currently holds the mineral rights for the properties,and for the last 60 years or so, periodic mineral exploration has taken place at the site.

Here’s another way to phrase that: no one has operated a mine here in 60 years and residents stymied the most recent attempt to open a mine by buying the land and establishing a system of walking trails.


But MacDonald says the land has been retained by the CBRM (as in, not declared surplus to the municipality’s needs and offered for sale) because it is deemed “essential for mineral resource development.”

The picture MacDonald attaches of the properties in question is not very informative if you (like me) are not as familiar as you should be with CBRM geography:


The maps contained in Nova Copper’s presentation give a better sense of the location and sheer size of the proposed operation (although I have a few bones to pick with this one about the distance from Coxheath to the airport and Sydport’s status as a functioning deep-water port):

Source: Nova Copper

Elsewhere, Nova Copper describes the site as a “contiguous 30 square-kilometre property near mining-friendly Sydney” holding “four strategic developments” over which it claims to hold “100% control and ownership.”

The presentation is also much more forthcoming about the “minerals” the company hopes to extract—they include cooper, gold, molybdenum, silver, cobalt and pyrophillite:

Source: Nova Copper

The Keep Coxheath Clean group has made its own map, based on the Nova Copper map, which includes some important elements the junior miner left out, like, wells that would be at risk from the development and the operations’ proximity to the Bras d’Or Lake Biosphere:

Seen in this context, MacDonald’s Issue Paper is deeply disingenuous, if not downright misleading. He ends with a recommendation that council sell the CBRM’s 1,002 acres—with an assessed value of $140,300—to Nova Copper for “market value” for the “development of a mining operation within 20 years of the conveyance.”

Should the company fail to establish such an operation between now and 2043, the land is to be sold back to the CBRM “at the same price as sold to the applicant.”

Mineral extraction is “regulated by the Province,” reasons MacDonald, “and for a company to move through the Provincial processes, it would make sense for the lands to be obtained.”

Would it, though?

I mean, would it make sense for the CBRM? I can see how it works for Nova Copper, but even if you think the project is a good idea (which, in case you haven’t picked up on it, I don’t), does it make sense to tie the municipality into a 20-year land deal for a project that could collapse at the first hurdle?



Cabrita’s is the only name associated with the Nova Copper in the NS Joint Stocks Registry—he’s listed as president and secretary—but the July corporate presentation identifies Jesse Halle as VP of exploration, Emily Halle as VP of operations, Dr Tony Barresi as technical advisor and recent-Dalhousie-graduate Savanna Cabrita as the person heading “sustainability & ESG.”

Source: Nova Copper

I’m going to guess it was Savanna Cabrita who chose “Copper can save lives” as the welcoming statement for the company website, the implication being that if you oppose this copper mine, you’re pro bacterial infection:

Source: Nova Copper

The company actually begins its corporate presentation with assurances about its commitment to “continuously exceed ESG [environmental, social and governance] targets and initiatives set for the mining industry,” for example, that its mine will be within 15 km of “rail and three deepsea cargo ports with commodity terminals.”

This presentation is intended for “sophisticated and qualified readers only,” but would a truly sophisticated and qualified reader believe that this proposed mining site is within 15 km of functioning rail? (I mean, I guess you could truck your copper and pyrophillite to the Sydney coal pier then put it on a train and send it to the Lingan Power Plant but why would you do that?)

The presentation also touts Nova Copper’s “ongoing engagement with local first nations, communities and suppliers.”

But the members of Keep Coxheath Clean have had no communication with the company and if there have been consultations with the Mi’kmaq, MacDonald made no reference to them in his Issue Paper.

Elizabeth Marshall, an Eskasoni elder, told me on Monday that the first she had heard about the project was when it appeared on Tuesday’s meeting agenda.

Marshall says the Mi’kmaq claim title to all lands in Nova Scotia and such a sale should not proceed without their “free, prior and informed consent.”

But provincial government spokesperson Patricia Jreige told me in an email that it is too early to discuss Aboriginal consultation:

Right now, the proposed project is still in the exploration phase and no decisions have been made. The requirement for consultation would depend on land ownership – whether it’s private land or Crown land. There could potentially be an option of a purchase sales agreement or a usage agreement, but it would depend entirely on the land owner. In most cases, a project of this type would require an environmental impact assessment, but we don’t yet know the scope of this potential project to say definitively at this point. All quarries require an approval from Environment and Climate Change, and those over 4 hectares also require an environmental assessment.

Four hectares is roughly 10 acres and as the 1,000 acres Nova Copper hopes to purchase from CBRM represents just a portion of its overall site, I don’t see how this project could not trigger an environmental assessment.

But I have to say, the CBRM selling the land and leaving the consultations to the province may respect the letter of Nova Scotia’s laws on Aboriginal consultation but surely not their spirit. This community pays a lot of lip service to reconciliation but doesn’t seem to recognize an opportunity to live it when it drops into its lap.

The Nova Scotia government has published a guide for project proponents like Nova Copper, detailing their “role in Crown consultation with the Mi’kmaq,” which notes that:

Some proponents may be required to complete an Environmental Assessment (EA) prior to advancing their projects. The EA Regulations made pursuant to the Environment Act, make specific reference to proponent engagement with the Mi’kmaq of Nova Scotia:

9(1A)(xiii to xv) “As part of an undertaking, proponent must identify: All
steps taken to identify, list and address concerns of the public and aboriginal
people about the adverse effects or the environmental effects of the proposed

The government advises proponents to “Notify Mi’kmaq early in the development process,” meaning, “well in advance of submitting applications for permits, licences, leases, etc.” and to provide “as much information as possible”:

In clear language—details of the scope and location of the project, what type of work will be carried out, any potential short and long-term adverse impacts, project and regulatory timelines, and any anticipated benefits to the Mi’kmaq, etc.

It seems to me that’s the kind of information—expanded from the Mi’kmaq to include the community at large—that Wayne MacDonald should have included in his Issue Paper.