MLA Lisa Roberts of the NDP speaks out about the delisting of Owls Head Provincial Park. Originally published on her site on January 16. republished with permission.

I am reluctantly re-emerging from a prolonged holiday break from social media. I know I’m not alone… January is now hitting with force and fury and a full calendar. 

I’m past due to comment on the Owl’s Head story that began emerging on Dec. 18.  That afternoon, I was on my way to a true pre-Christmas break – in a small off-grid cabin at Windhorse Farm – when I heard on CBC radio that the Nova Scotia Liberal cabinet had quietly removed Owl’s Head Provincial Park – as it’s been known since the 1980s – from a list of crown land parcels waiting permanent designation and protection as protected areas.

It’s worth reading all the coverage by Michael Gorman (here and ongoing) and also Jim Vibert’s Chronicle Herald column of January 6. 

I don’t know how Gorman became aware of the story but perhaps he regularly scans the lobbyist registry, where former MLA and Cabinet minister Michel Samson appeared in August 2018 with the stated goal of “Acquisition of & access to Crown land” for Lighthouse Links. 

That was about six weeks before I asked the Premier in Question Period why it was taking so long to fully protect all the special places identified after long consultation in 2013. 

Here’s part of the Hansard record from Sept. 20, 2018

LISA ROBERTS: Mr. Speaker, 90 per cent of the plan’s designated areas are just waiting for official protection, which could be done by an Order in Council. The land, as in the Wentworth Valley Wilderness Area, has already been purchased specifically for the purpose of protection. Why isn’t the Premier taking that last step and living up to the commitments on land protection?

THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, as I said earlier, parcels identified go through a process in the department. They’re putting it through that process. There are a number of parcels of land that are going through that process right now. I expect to see some of them before the Executive Council in the not-too-distant future. They will then be reviewed and determined, but we are committed to making sure that we get to 13 per cent, and we will do so.

It took me a bit of googling to find this exchange. I rarely get to ask the Premier a question and I remember the feeling I had of being dismissed; of being told “there’s nothing to see here.”

Due to the shortcomings of our lobbyist registry, we don’t know if Samson had met with the Premier about Owl’s Head already. In the registration for another client – Big Moon Tidal – it’s explicit that the Premier’s Office is a target for the lobbying effort.  

Until the Owl’s Head decision, I had no cause to look at the restrictions on former MLAs serving as lobbyists.  I know now that, should I not be reelected, I would have to wait six months before I could lobby the provincial government; a former cabinet minister has to wait one year. Michel Samson, who served as a key cabinet minister in the McNeil Liberal government until 2017, I dare say wields more influence on this government than I do as an opposition MLA. 

That said, citizen voices – when there are many of them – are also influential. 

In 2012, the province held public meetings in 20 communities and conducted nearly 1,500 interviews with park users and non-users to examine their perceptions and preferences. This plan reflects the extensive input received through that process

That’s a quote from Our Parks and Protected Areas, published in 2013 and still on the provincial government website. In that plan, Owl’s Head Provincial Park, as it’s been known since the 1980s, is #694 – a rare, publicly owned headland on the Eastern shore, with unparalleled access to the 100 Wild Islands. In fact, you can see it to the left in the map. 

In response to a more recent question in the House about slow progress on completing the Protected areas plan, the Minister of Natural Resources replied  

So, the Minister of Environment and I got together and put together a list that had the highest biodiversity values; 7,400 hectares of land was just protected – 17 sites – with another 7,000 hectares on the way. We continue to work hard on those sites. It is important to our government. We are going to continue along the list and make sure that we’re looking at the areas that have those species at risk and the important habitat that needs to be protected.

Was he suggesting that the list he crafted with the Minister of Environment supplants the work on the Protected Areas plan, shaped by some 2000 Nova Scotians?

I am hearing from citizens and from informed advocates like Chris Miller at the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, especially on Twitter, in defence of the plan and of Owl’s Head Provincial Park. Let’s see what happens when Premier McNeil hears you, too. 


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