I meant to do this post last week, but circumstances. 🙂 There have been frequent promises in this blog to do some stories on the Irving family and its ownership/control/impact on this Province. It’s hard to believe if you don’t live here but they are everywhere.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve fallen in love with the Province, the Island I live on, and the people who spend their lives fighting the ocean and elements. It is, however, much like living in the old-school company towns. Almost every policy decision has to meet favour with one family. The current Premier (who, bless his heart, has done all the right things regarding the current pandemic) was formerly a senior executive with Irving Oil. If you search the history and family relationships of most Conservative candidates in every election you trip over the Irvings.
This isn’t too surprising – 5 years ago they employed 1 out of every 12 citizens. They keep buying things so I’m sure that number has gone up.
This is a satellite image of Saint John, population approx. 71,000. When you consider the total number of people in the Province is about 781,000 this City is our Big Smoke. Ideally situated on the Bay of Fundy, it has a long and storied history and is one of the main tourist draws for the area. Its harbour is deep enough for big cruise ships and they visit all summer.
One of the things the tourists find when they arrive is that industry isn’t isolated away from the beautiful old downtown (seen in the center of that image) or the waterfront. I’ve highlighted in pink an installation I first saw in the dark. Imagine that the world is without any light except for that emitted by tall, ghostly towers and the smoke/steam coming out of them. It was very post apocalyptic and went on for a great distance. This is the largest oil refinery in Canada and, although this image was taken at low tide, it’s right on the waterfront, in the middle of your everyday neighbourhoods and just a spitting distance from the heart of the City.
You can get a sense of the size of the place in this and the next photo by looking at the tiny cars in the parking lots. 🙂 This isn’t the only one of Irving’s big installations in the City but it is the largest. In any other major metropolitan area in this Country, the Government would be doing really well out of the taxes paid for such premium locations. Not here though. Remember this is a cash-strapped City in a poor Province.
In 2005 the Irvings wanted to lease land to Repsol, a Spanish energy company to build a liquefied natural gas terminal in the City. Irving Oil told Saint John that the deal wouldn’t happen without a tax break. As a result, the expected $8 million/year in property tax was reduced to $500,000. For 25 years.
They built a huge rail terminal, with many tracks, and made another sweet deal. That installation pays less property tax than a Tim Hortons does across the street.
Now, industry is good. In a have-not Province these jobs are absolutely a gift. The work they provide in forestry, shipping, retail gas, fish farms, etc., are important. In exchange they demand absolute loyalty – a good deal right?
The trade offs are not all beneficial. This Province, has one of the highest cancer rates in the Country. The City of Saint John has a lung cancer rate in women 98% higher than anywhere else in Canada. I’m sure it’s just a coincidence.
Someday I’ll do some maps of cancer clusters in the Province and overlay various industrial installations. Some of the latter will be ocean-related and include the Island I’m living on.
In the meantime, I’ll point those who are interested in the Irvings to a 6 part series done by the National Observer in 2016. I’ll also share one more satellite image of Saint John.
One of the things this area is known for world-wide is the famous reversing falls. You can see where they are by the white water around them. Fortunately, none of the photos the tourism industry share include the Irving Pulp Mill sitting on the cliff. 🙂