Donna McKay and Lindsay Lee
The Shoreline Journal
Take a moment and think of your favourite park. Maybe it’s a hiking trail, a coastal area, part of a snowmobile network, or a great spot for a family picnic.
Now imagine how you would feel if that park suddenly disappeared. What if your elected officials decided that your recreational spaces, the environment, and public fairness were all less important than catering to a rich developer?
That’s precisely what happened with Owls Head Provincial Park on the Eastern Shore. Our government officials orchestrated 3 years of secrecy at the behest of a billionaire in order for him to buy 5 miles of publicly owned shorefront (for a mere $216,000).
Thankfully, that deal is not yet final, because Owls Head Provincial Park is an important component of our protected areas network. Due to its unique ecology, it has a history of promised protections dating back to the 1970s. In fact, many citizens – and even some government officials – believed that it was already legally protected.
Lighthouse Links Development Co. wants to build golf courses on Owls Head Provincial Park, instead of on suitable private land. Rather than dismissing this request (as it should have done), our government secretly removed Owls Head Provincial Park (site 694) from Our Parks and Protected Areas Plan.
The Plan was a result of years of public consultations. And yet, the government deliberately didn’t consult with – or notify – the public or the Mi’kmaq when it removed Owls Head Provincial Park from the Plan.
As the Minister of Lands and Forestry, Iain Rankin secretly entered into a Letter of Offer to sell this Tier 1 (top-priority) conservation property. The public found out about the secret delisting and offers to sell the park as a result of a whistleblower, freedom of information requests, and investigative journalist Michael Gorman of the CBC. “It’s hard to imagine a golf development without the land being basically carpet-bombed,” Gorman later said.
If it can happen to Owls Head Provincial Park, it can happen anywhere in Nova Scotia. That’s why there are thousands of red “Stop the Sale, Save Owls Head” signs and stickers popping up on yards and bumpers across the province.
Whether they provide coastal access, camping opportunities, or an array of important environmental benefits, parks and protected areas enhance the lives of Nova Scotians each and every day.
These sites help purify our water, clean our air, provide habitat for species at risk, mitigate climate change, and more. The introduction to Our Parks and Protected Areas even says, “The plan’s success has been authored by you: Nova Scotians committed to protecting and conserving our beautiful province for future generations.”
The group Save Owls Head Provincial Park/Little Harbour has been trying to do just that. We’ve been advocating for Owls HeadProvincial Park as well as nearly 200 nature reserves, wilderness areas, and provincial parks awaiting designation (formal protection). As of January 2021, approximately half of what Nova Scotiansconsidered provincial parks were not formally protected. Nova Scotia Supreme Court Justice Kevin Coady wrote, “The public had every reason” to believe that Owls Head Provincial Park was formally protected.
You should be able to tell if the “provincial park” up the road is indeed a protected park.
The government is taking steps to legally protect some of these areas. While it’s not official yet, the government recently announced its intention to protect a number of sites, including MacElmon’s Pond Provincial Park, and expansions to Economy River Wilderness Area, Portapique River Wilderness Area, and Wentworth Valley Wilderness Area. But there is still a lot of work to do.
Many areas, such as Shubenacadie Provincial Park, Balmoral Mills Provincial Park, and Caddell Rapids Look-off Provincial Parkare still without legal protection and there’s no word as to when (or if) the government will preserve them.
Most worrisome, Premier Rankin has been asked to reassure Nova Scotians that the government would not secretly delist and offer to sell any other park properties. He refused to give that assurance, which means that all the parks awaiting designation are still in jeopardy.
To become a true environmental leader, and restore the public’s broken trust, the government must stop the sale and save Owls Head Provincial Park.
To get a yard sign or get involved, please visit https://saveowlshead.org/action-center/
Important Action Opportunity:
The government has just launched a public consultation about formally protecting certain areas that have been awaiting designation. This is a great step forward but there’s more work to be done. We hope that everyone will take the time to participate and ask the government to formally protect all eight sites, and increase the size of the Ingram River Wilderness Area to 15,000 hectares.