The McCleave Uranium Inquiry In Nova Scotia

                                                                                                                                    David Orton

(Published in the Atlantic Socialist, December 1982, Vol. 1, No. 2, a publication of the Atlantic Socialist Conference.)

    Premier Buchanan announced, in January 1982, the appointment of Judge Robert McCleave as a one-man inquiry commission. Buchanan stated that the judge would retain his position of Chairman of the Nova Scotia Labour Relations Board and his duties as provincial court magistrate in Shubenacadie. (Previous inquiries into uranium mining in B.C., Saskatchewan and Newfoundland each had three commissioners.) Prior to the appointment of McCleave, the provincial government had set up an all-party select committee on April 2, 1981, to look into the “uranium mining cycle.” This committee’s credibility was somewhat eroded when it became public knowledge that in a period from April to early September it had only met once for about 10-30 minutes. The select committee officially died when the provincial election was called in September 1981.


    McCleave, now 60 years old, graduated with a law degree in 1946. He was admitted to the Bar in 1950. McCleave held various positions in the Halifax area in the news media and was Dean of the Maritime School of Journalism 1955-54. This background in news management was to be useful in the uranium inquiry.

    McCleave entered the federal parliament as a conservative in 1957 and served as the member for Halifax-East Hants. The Trudeau government elevated McCleave to judicial office in 1977. It is commonly put about that this was done in order to get access to his parliamentary seat.

    McCleave was a “law and order” M.P. His breadth of vision is perhaps captured in the following parliamentary comment:

“Would the acting minister ask CBC television whether its reporter now visiting in Trinidad could seek interviews with people other than terrorists, troublemakers and other forms of trash?” (March 16, 1970)

    Looking through the last ten years of McCleave’s speeches in parliament, one is struck by the absence of any environmental or occupational health interest that would provide a suitable veneer as background for a uranium inquiry commissioner.

    As Chairman of the Labour Relations Board, a key institution promoting the view that there is justice-for-all in capitalist society, McCleave handed down some class justice, in favour of Michelin Tire, with the infamous “interdependency” ruling on February 12, 1980, against the unionization drive at the Granton, Pictou County, Michelin Tire plant. The Federation of Labour brief to the McCleave uranium inquiry (July 9, 1982) had, however, kind words for the judge:

    “We believe, your Honour, that the intent of the final resolve of the resolution (passed by the Fed. Convention in 1981 for a moratorium and judicial inquiry into uranium mining) is being met responsibly through the exercise of this inquiry which you have been undertaking.”


    On February 12, the Order-in-Council outlining the mandate of Judge McCleave under the Public Inquiries Act, became publicly available in Halifax. The Act gives McCleave sweeping powers to compel people to give evidence before him under oath and to produce stipulated documents. McCleave used his powers to assert that “public” meetings were in reality court hearings. That is, McCleave’s “rights” overrode everyone else’s. It was evident that this assertion was designed to create an atmosphere of intimidation that would minimize disruptions to his version of an uranium inquiry.

    Complicating the above situation for critics, is that McCleave presents publicly an up-front face as a populist. This image has been skillfully used in the now completed first stage of the uranium inquiry to gain support for himself from those who are easily taken in by appearances.

    On February 26, an advertisement appeared in Nova Scotia newspapers, “Uranium Inquiry - Nova Scotia”, and signed by Robert McCleave, Commissioner under the Public Inquiries Act. A theory of “stages” was presented in this advertisement:

“My wish is that the first stage be used to get views and concerns before me. The second stage will be used for confrontation on any opposing views. The third stage will be used for representation by argument.

    Everyone who wanted to appear in the “first stage” had to write to McCleave before March 15, stipulating what was going to be talked about and how long it would take. Having everything go through McCleave of course enabled the provincial government to gather comprehensive intelligence on the anti-uranium mining movement.


    Seeing that the Buchanan government was using McCleave to expedite matters - McCleave in the January 27 Truro Mid Week Extra was already saying he was hoping to set up community meetings “in a couple of weeks time” and stating he would file an interim report, if the investigation was “serious enough”, before the legislature rose - SEPOHG (Socialist Environmental Protection and Occupational Health Group) suggested to progressives in the environmental movement the necessity of calling a provincial meeting to try and plan a joint response to the McCleave inquiry. CARE (Communities Against a Radioactive Environment) took the initiative and called a provincial meeting to be held in Truro on February 14. The focus of that meeting was to be 1) “What should be our response to the establishment of the McCleave Inquiry?” and 2) “What kind of inquiry do we want?” (The more conservative organizations in the environmental movement organized a boycott of the Truro Anti-Uranium Strategy Session.)

    From a left-wing perspective, there can be no truly democratic inquiry into uranium exploration/mining in a capitalist society like Canada, where the State, in the form of powerful federal and provincial corporations, is objectively promoting uranium mining and nuclear power. Therefore the aim is to fight for maximum public involvement and mobilization, keeping in mind that the inquiry is not to educate McCleave but to educate the public. It is thus important to struggle over the rules of procedure and terms of reference, in order to make it possible, to some extent, to use the inquiry as a propaganda forum against uranium mining and exploration, the mining companies and the government agencies. The bourgeois authorities are of course quite conscious of this, and try to minimize real public involvement. But they are caught in a dilemma. As the B.C. Royal Commission of Inquiry into Uranium Mining was indiscreet enough to point out, public participation can serve as a “safety valve” and “increase confidence in the performance of government institutions.”

    The groups present at the Truro Anti-Uranium Strategy Session decided to widely publicize proposals which would make for a “truly public” inquiry. The core of the proposals was to hold initial organizational meetings around the province, open to all, in order to publicly determine the precise terms of reference, range of issues, rules of procedure for the N.S. uranium inquiry. A two-page press release and series of recommendations were widely circulated and published in some newspapers. The circulation of these recommendations was immediately seen as a “threat” by McCleave and he responded swiftly!


    McCleave struck his true colors by his response to the circulation of the Truro position. Through newspaper stories he accused the environmental groups in the coalition of “anonymously spreading false information”, “making unprincipled attacks on the inquiry”, “writing unsigned letters”, and then threatened to use the power of the state against his critics by noting, “The inquiry has broad powers which I shall use to protect it against an unprincipled attack.”

    A later newspaper story quoted him as issuing “at least” three subpoenas to those “who have issued reports that hold the inquiry up to ridicule.” McCleave stated that he was holding “special hearings in Truro and possibly Amherst to deal with attacks upon the uranium inquiry.”

    In an article in the Chronicle Herald, March 5, 1982, McCleave was quoted as saying, “It is important to lance this boil before it festers”; “it is like being pecked to death by ducks” and “I know there are people throughout Nova Scotia who are concerned by the actions of a few. They are tired of them and want some positive action taken.”

    In response to these attacks, an open letter was written to premier Buchanan and widely circulated throughout Nova Scotia, calling for the removal of McCleave from the uranium inquiry. While the Liberals in the Legislature also called for McCleave’s removal, the “mainstream” environmental groups like Ecology Action Centre, CAPE (Citizen Action to Protect the Environment), etc. publicly ignored McCleave’s attacks. But McCleave, it seems, had overplayed his hand, and was forced to back off and drop the subpoena threats. However, the intimidation was to continue in other forms against individuals or organizations which challenged the way the inquiry was being conducted. The first stage of the inquiry has now ended after 44 public hearings.


    SEPOHG publicly boycotted the inquiry after McCleave’s fascist response to the Truro Anti-Uranium Strategy Session recommendations, but continued to provide research assistance to individuals and organizations who chose to appear before McCleave. The inquiry has provided the stimulus for many individuals and organizations to look into the uranium issue. The number and quality of the presentations given in Stage 1 of the inquiry was impressive. The opposition to uranium exploration and proposed mining was overwhelming. Yet the inquiry process, by channeling everything through McCleave, has halted most independent organizing activity outside the inquiry.

    Only two environmental organizations - CCCC (Concerned Citizens of Cumberland County, Amherst Branch) and CARE - have openly challenged McCleave’s conduct at uranium inquiry public meetings in any systematic way. Also, a number of individuals have shown opposition at some level at various public meetings. However, realistically, the oppositional trend to McCleave has been a minor one. Most environmental organizations have looked the other way, and have been only too willing to leave all power in the hands of McCleave.

    It is interesting that a number of people who consider themselves socialists appeared in the first stage of the inquiry at various public meetings, but had nothing to say about McCleave’s repressive behaviour. The role of the Fed. of Labour has already been noted. The Halifax and District Labour Council made a five-minute appearance before McCleave on July 14, to declare that they “were not opposed to uranium mining if it can be done safely”, while preserving silence on McCleave’s conduct in the inquiry and “thanking” him for the opportunity to appear.

    Environmental struggles can clearly show the role of the State, particularly at the provincial level. In N.S. the provincial departments of Mines, Health and Environment have been open allies of the mining companies. Lots of people can see this with their own eyes. The internal struggle within the environmental movement over the McCleave inquiry has been against social democracy, i.e. the non class viewpoint that if you lobby effectively, present your case well and work through the established institutions in society, then the governments and corporations will be responsive. The social democratic approach is to ignore McCleave’s repressive acts and humour him, in the erroneous belief that the judge has some independent say in the matter of whether or not uranium mining will take place in Nova Scotia.

    David Orton for SEPOHG, October 27, 1982

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