Premier Stephen McNeil replaced a key cabinet colleague on Wednesday, naming former forestry technician Gordon Wilson as minister of environment, a job held by Margaret Miller for much of the last three years.
McNeil told reporters after a brief swearing-in ceremony at Government House that Miller has just gone through a second operation in a little over a year related to an arm injury.
“She came to me looking to lighten her load around her ministerial responsibilities,” McNeil said. “She wanted to focus on her constituency and her health.”
Miller was first named environment minister in 2016. She was shuffled the next year to Natural Resources, and was then returned to Environment last year.
McNeil praised Wilson as a person capable of taking on the challenging portfolio, which includes the Northern Pulp file. He said the MLA for Clare Digby has done a “tremendous job” as caucus chair and in his work on legislative committees.
“He shows a tremendous grasp of a broad number of issues, and I’m thrilled that I have the good fortune of being able to put a cabinet together with such capable people and I’m looking forward to Gordon joining that group.”
Wilson doesn’t consider himself an environmentalist, but rather someone who “understands the environment quite well.”
“I’m a forest technician by trade, but certainly my life has been one where I’ve grown up not only on the water, but in the woods,” he told reporters after his swearing-in. He said he’s previously worked closely with the Department of Environment and environmental agencies.
Wilson takes over from Miller just hours after she made public details of the work the province wants done by Northern Pulp regarding the company’s proposal for a new effluent treatment plant.
The fate of the Pictou County mill rests, in large part, on a deadline to close the current treatment facility at Boat Harbour by Jan. 31, 2020. Both Miller and McNeil have steadfastly refused to extend that deadline, even though the company has threatened a permanent shutdown without more time.
Carrying that file forward is now part of Wilson’s job.
“I think obviously Northern Pulp is one of the biggest files we have right now, so certainly I’m going to put a lot of attention towards that,” said Wilson.