Interview with MLA Kevin Murphy: Transcript

January 3, 2020

Thank you to group Facebook group founder Sydnee Lynn for scheduling the interview with Kevin Murphy, MLA for the Eastern Shore. Sydnee Lynn and Paula Jane Milsom conducted the interview and also provided us with these notes. You can listen to an audio recording of their interview with Kevin Murphy, here. The transcript of their meeting is below.

Sydnee Lynn: Kevin, this is how we would like this meeting to go. We don’t want you to tell us that this is a normal process, because we are well aware that it is not. Buying of property is more normal than the selling of Crown Land. This is the first time in this century that this has happened, so it is in no way usual.

It is in fact, extremely rare, weird, and unusual. Your own website states that this land is still a park.

The last time this happened was in 1997 when Natural Resources Minister Eleanor Norrie and the provincial cabinet removed the Jim Campbells Barren, Cape Breton, from the list of protected sites. Following protests from Nova Scotians, this decision was reversed and the Jim Campbells Barren was reinstated as a protected area the following year. We want to ask you our questions and for you to give us straight answers. We will take the time to write down your answers.

Kevin: Unusual, but possible. This land was added to a list many years ago as a potential protected property. It was not de-designated. It was taken off the list to be designated as protected property. It has never been a Provincial Park.

Q: According to your email to Karen Lia Schlick on December 31/2019, the transfer of Owls Head Provincial Park had not been finalized and the province still retains its rights to it as Crown land. At the moment, what is the exact current status of Owls Head Provincial Park Property?

A: To the best of my knowledge, this property is still in the care and control of the provincial cabinet. It is its own entity.

Q: Regarding the status of the sale, we have a source who tells us that Minister Rankin said earlier this month ‘they were only now reaching the point where the land could be appraised.’ Is this true? Has the land been appraised yet, and if so, where can we see the appraisal report?

A: I don’t know if it has been appraised yet, but it is a part of the process. I will ask Iain Rankin that question.

Q: When did these negotiations begin? Who specifically in government has been involved and which MLAs?

A: I don’t know. I first learned about it two years ago when Senator Tom MacInnis brought it to the government through NSBI [Nova Scotia Business Inc.] Lloyd Hines and I were at this meeting.

Q: What is your involvement in these negotiations?

A: I am not involved at all.

Q: Is there a written letter of agreement or contract in place between the government and the Proponent for the disposal of public lands at Owls Head? If so, what is the content of that agreement? Who signed it? When is it dated? Can we have a copy of it?

A: I don’t know. I will defer to Minister Rankin.

Q: Did the staff at the Department of Lands and Forestry recommend that the park be de-designated, or was that a decision that the Minister made against the advice of staff?

A: I don’t know. I will defer to Minister Rankin.

Q: Did staff at the Department of Lands and Forestry recommend Owls Head Provincial Park be de-designated without any public consultation?

A: I don’t know. I will defer to Minister Rankin.

Q: Does the Nova Scotia Department of Environment support de-designating Owls Head as a park that contributes toward protected area targets within the “Nova Scotia Our Parks and Protected Areas Plan”? Did staff within that department recommend that the park be de-designated without any public consultation?

A: I don’t know. I will defer to Minister Rankin. That piece of land has no status.

Q: The Minister of Lands and Forestry has stated that the public lands at Owls Head are not important enough for conservation. What evidence supports this decision?

A: I don’t know. I will defer to Minister Rankin.

Q: Did the Minister make this decision on his own, or was it supported by advice and recommendations received from department staff? We are aware that the 13% goal of legally protected land is not ground in science and that the national target is 17%. There is no written agreement or proof that we should stop at 13%. As a matter of fact, for biodiversity, the suggested amount of protected land has been suggested to be 30%. The 13% is not written in stone.

A: I don’t know. I will defer to Minister Rankin.

Q: Who decided that this property was not ecologically significant?

A: It was not me. I don’t know. I will defer to Minister Rankin.

Q: Does the Department of Environment consider the public lands at Owls Head to be unimportant for conservation?

A: I don’t know. I will defer to the Nova Scotia Department of Environment.

Q: Will you publicly state that the public lands at Owls Head shall remain in public ownership and that the protected area designation for these
lands will be reinstated? 

A: No. This land was removed from a list to be designated protected property. It was never designated protected property. It was never a Provincial Park.

Q: Are you willing to state publicly that you really care for the protected areas, biodiversity, rare plants and endangered species?

A: Yes, I do.

Q: As clearly demonstrated by the Owl’s Head Provincial Park secret sale, are you willing to say publicly that you think the resident’s opinions don’t really matter and that environmentalists are a joke standing in the way of developers?

A: No

Q: Given the history behind the status of this property, why was a Minute letter used for de-designation of protective status and sale, thus keeping it a secret and behind closed doors without any public notice or consultation?

A: The property has no status. A consultation was not required.

Q: Do you know that 87% of Nova Scotia’s coastline is already owned by private owners?

A: Yes, I knew it was something like that. 

Q: Did you think people would not care or get involved over the sale of this property?

A: I absolutely thought they would.

Q: Why did it take a whistleblower for the public to find out about this?

A: It was made public. Go to Nova Scotia Executive Council homepage, then go to Orders in Council and search Owls Head. You should be able to find it.

NOTE: Despite Kevin’s claim, Owls Head does not show up under Orders in Council.

Q: Was the Minister [The Honourable Iain Rankin] aware of the Eastern Shore Seaside Park System and the public commitments that were made after an extensive public process?

A: I will refer this to Minister Rankin.

Q: Is the Minister aware that landowners were expropriated to form portions of Owls Head Provincial Park system plan?

A: I will refer this to Minister Rankin.

Q: Will he also be offering to transfer any of the expropriated lands to the American developer?

A: I will refer this to Minister Rankin.

Q: Have all endangered species been surveyed for protection according to the NS Endangered Species Act?

A: I will refer this to Minister Rankin.

Q: The province is in negotiations with the federal government on behalf of the same company [Lighthouse Links Development Company] to buy about 17 hectares of ‘surplus’ federal land next to Owls Head. It’s home to an automated light beacon and helipad. Ottawa would keep 0.09 hectares, including the helipad and light, and sell the rest to the province for $167,500. Is the plan for this Crown land to then be sold to the same developer ?

A: This is going back two years. It is adjacent to the developer’s property. It is Federal Crown land declared as surplus. They would have to ask other departments if thy have and interest in this property.

Q: Why is the province negotiating with the Federal government on behalf of Lighthouse Links Development Company?

A: This is false. You will have to talk to Sean Fraser about this.

Q: For all the questions you could not answer today, do you promise to get the answers for us and forward them to the group?

A: Yes

Q: Has the minister [The Honourable Iain Rankin] consulted with the First Nations regarding the sale of this property?

A: Minister Rankin needs to ensure that. If you want information on this, the best place to find this out is the Counsel of First Nations.

Q: “Unlike other provinces and territories in Canada, where the government owns from 50% to more than 90% of the landmass, only 35% of the Nova Scotia landmass is owned and administered by the province. The Department of Natural Resources looks after Crown land (about 29% of the land in Nova Scotia). Because of the limited amount of Crown land in Nova Scotia, and existing commitments on Crown land (e.g. forestry licenses, parks, trails, leases etc.), as a general practice the department does not offer Crown land for sale. Requests by individuals to buy Crown land may be authorized by the Minister or Cabinet under the Crown Lands Act and under other Acts such as the Beaches and Foreshores Act. The Sale of Crown Land Policy provides direction to the department regarding circumstances in which Crown land may be sold.

The policy states that Crown land may be sold in the following circumstances:

  • By direct sale, at market value
  • To a municipality, agency, non-profit group or community organization when a public benefit can be demonstrated;
  • To support or promote economic activity when all other reasonable alternatives have been canvassed by the applicant; or
  • By direct sale, at market value or at a negotiated price which may be more or less than market value, to alleviate undue hardship or in extenuating circumstances, and where it is demonstrated as being in the best interests of the Province.

We can’t see where any of the above applies or gives Minister Rankin the authority to sell our land.

Nova Scotia has very little crown lands that are already protected properly. Secret deals don’t satisfy “when all other reasonable alternatives have been canvassed by the applicant.”

Did the Minister fail to follow his own legislation to legally sell OUR crown land?

A: I will defer to Minister Rankin.

Q: How can we fix what has been done?

A: There is a due process and requirement to be met.

Q: How do we stop this sale?

A: I will defer to Minister Rankin. The developer is not asking for any government money.

Q: We want to be clear that we want the land returned to its protected status and the sale stopped. We do not agree with this. We are approaching 500 members in our group in less than a week. We are actively engaging with conservation groups and the First Nations on the secret removal of the designation and sale of Owls Head Provincial Park. We are not against development, tourism, or investment; we are against backroom deals, deceit, and the lack of proper respect for the public interest. We want to protect this land from being destroyed, sold, and developed in the way Lighthouse Links Development Company plans to do it. The anger over the secrets and lies surrounding this property are not going away.

Are you, Kevin Murphy with us or against us? Will you support us? This can be an inspiring leadership moment for Nova Scotia.

A: I am somewhere in between yes and no. I need further details.

Q: Has this developer invested heavily in OPA [Oyster Pond Academy Elementary School] and in Ralph Bayers in order to open Ralph’s Diner and Webbers Store?

A: You should talk to Ralph Bayers about this. The best way for you to get a hold of the developer is through Cox and Palmer or Michel Samson, his lobbyist.

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