Gary Burrill Questions Premier Stephen McNeil about Owls Head Provincial Park

February 26, 2020
The Nova Scotia House of Assembly
Question Period
Gary Burrill, Leader of the NDP

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Gary Burrill: I would like to ask the Premier about the Crown lands in Owls Head and Little Harbour. In March of last year, the government passed a confidential minute letter by means of which Owls Head Provincial Park was removed from the list of pending protected areas. Then in December, a couple of months ago, thanks only to the investigative work of a diligent journalist this fact came to public light. Last month, in January, the government quietly removed the park from the online map of protected areas. I want to ask the Premier if he would share his reasoning as to why his government did not consult, did not engage, did not even inform the public at any point along this process?

The Speaker: Order, please. I would like to remind the honourable Leader of the New Democratic Party that the topic at hand appears on the Order Paper now twice, once in the form of the bill that your Party introduced just a short while ago on this day, as well as it being the topic for late debate. That eliminates it as fodder for Question Period.

The honourable Leader of the New Democratic Party.

Gary Burrill: Might I call for a reconsideration of that judgment? Is it, in fact, the case that the entire subject that is pointed to in such a bill is not a legitimate subject for discussion on such a day in the House? That has not been my previous understanding.

The Speaker: We would have been okay if the short title of the bill, printed right on the second page, wasn’t the Owls Head Act. You’re speaking specifically about a scenario that is the topic of a bill and is the topic of late debate, both of which are on the Order Paper. If you have a general question about a general process, that’s fine. To me, your question is specific about a specific situation.

The honourable Leader of the New Democratic Party.

Gary Burrill: I would like to ask, without mentioning the name of any particular communities on the Eastern Shore, if in general, when the government attends to the disposition and the potential future of Crown lands, if it does not find it overall a wiser course of action to consult and engage and inform than to not do so?

The Speaker: Thank you very much for your patience.

The honourable Premier.

The Premier: I want to thank the honourable member for his question and for his ability to think quick on his feet. I do want to talk to him seriously about this issue. In his earlier preamble, he actually alluded to the fact that this was not a protected area. It was on a list of potential protected areas. Like all pieces of Crown land, when someone -whether it’s being used -is looking to buy that piece of Crown land, there’s a process that you would go through. There was an offer made on that piece of property. As part of that process, Mr. Speaker, there would have to be public consultation and public input to go forward. That would have been part of the ongoing process if that property had been sold.

Gary Burrill: The Premier raises the point, which has been raised much in the government’s discourse about this, about the technical or juridical status of this piece of Crown land -pending, not pending, park, not park and so on.What I want to point to, though, is that there has been a broad understanding, as there might be among the public, when maps, government reports, things like the Colin Stewart Forest Forum, other things, when these things have all indicated a certain understanding, when the public comes to understand that in some unjudicial way, just in general, that the protection of something has been provided, would it not be better when that is the case to proceed by some means that would at least allow an elementary level of information to be shared with the public when a different course of action is to be followed?

The Premier: Mr. Speaker, I am not sure what the question was -really, I am not. The reality of it is that I said in the process that was in place, there would be public input and consultation on it. This was not a piece of protected land, Mr. Speaker, and let’s be clear about that. It’s not that someone is making this up. It wasn’t protected and now it has been delisted. It was never protected. It was one of a number of pieces of land across the province that the former government had looked at as potential candidates to be added to our protected lands.In the meantime, Mr. Speaker, there was interest in that piece of property to be able to develop economic opportunities in the region of the province that requires economic opportunities. The responsible thing for the government to do is to look at those options. I would tell the member that there would be public consultation.

Gary Burrill: Mr. Speaker, I do want to say something about public consultation. The means by which any piece of land ended up being listed on the NDP’s Our Parks and Protected Areas Plan, was a means of extensive consultation. At that time there were community meetings held across the province, around 20 of them -a multitude of interviews, way over 1,000 of them, many written submissions. I think in the order of around 3,000. So, we’re talking here about consultation on Crown lands and land preservation, with a capital C. The difficulty is that it seems to me that level of regard for consultation has not been honoured here. I want to ask the Premier: Does his government hold such low regard for community voices and public participation that when the public has an issue that is of such concern to them that all this level of consultation is simply taken and apparently disregarded?

The Premier: Mr. Speaker, if the New Democratic Party, when they were in power, did all of this consultation and it was deemed it was supposed to be protected, why didn’t they protect it? Why did they put it as a potential piece of protected area? Why didn’t they just simply protect it? I think that’s a better question. If they have done all of the public consultation that he is describing, why stop there? If they believe it should have been protected, why didn’t they protect it?

Source: https://nslegislature.ca/sites/default/files/pdfs/proceedings/hansard/63-2/h70feb26.pdf#page=80&zoom=auto,-13,773

Video Here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NbhafcTH_pc&t=6s

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