Why Nova Scotians are concerned about the park, the process, and the precedent.

What does “delisted” actually mean?

The government removed Owls Head Provincial Park from Our Parks and Protected Areas Plan.

Owls Head Provincial Park was site #694 in Our Parks and Protected Areas Plan, a comprehensive provincial protection plan released in 2013. Our Parks and Protected Areas Plan built on years of consultations with citizens, environmental organizations, industry representatives, and the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq Chiefs.

But the government of Nova Scotia secretly delisted Owls Head Provincial Park on March 13, 2019, without scientific review, public notice, or public consultation.

“The first step that must be taken before the transaction can proceed is DNR obtaining authorization from Cabinet to remove the Crown lands from the Parks and Protected Areas Plan (PAPA). The PAPA was issued by the Minister of Environment and the Minister of Natural Resources in 2013 and lays out the commitment by the Province to work towards protecting lands identified in the Plan. All other processes are subject to this step being successfully completed.”

The Honourable Margaret Miller (then Minister of Natural Resources) to Mr. Beckwith Gilbert in 2017
Page from Our Parks and Protected Areas Plan, showing Owls Head Provincial Park as site #694

Timeline of promised protections

Why did the government not inform its citizens?

The government intentionally didn’t apprise Nova Scotians, who are all stakeholders of the Parks and Protected Areas Plan. Instead, the government orchestrated more than three years of secrecy at the behest of the prospective developer. The applicants’ brief emphasizes that this was “fundamentally unjust because the relationship, negotiations, and outcomes were cloaked in secrecy.”

“[N]ot only did the Minister and the T&PB [Treasury and Policy Board] fail to seek and consider public input concerning their decisions, but they purposely kept the decisions and the decision-making process hidden from public view.”

Applicants’ Brief (Paragraph 185)

  • The request to remove Owls Head Provincial Park from the PAPA Plan: Public not informed
  • The Treasury and Policy Board’s decision to approve Minister Rankin’s request: Public not informed
  • The proposal to sell Owls Head Provincial Park to a private developer: Public not informed
  • Minister Rankin entering into the Letter of Offer with the developer: Public not informed

Thankfully, investigative journalist Michael Gorman of the CBC broke the story on December 18, 2019. His article, “N.S. won’t protect land with ‘globally rare’ ecosystem that company eyes for golf resort” started a movement of citizens who are concerned about the park, the process, and the precedent.

Lack of transparency

In an unprecedented move, the NS government sanitized their own websites of references to Owls Head Provincial Park after Michael Gorman broke the story of the secret delisting and proposed sale. The government surreptitiously removed the Owls Head Provincial Park Protection Values Sheet. The government also removed Owls Head Provincial Park from the online Parks and Protected Areas map.

“The provincial government claims that Owls Head was labelled a provincial park as the result of a clerical error. If so, the error went uncorrected for about 45 years. Until a couple of weeks ago, Owls Head Provincial Park had a page on the provincial government’s website, but that’s been scrubbed.” 

Jim Vibert: Owls Head becomes ground zero of land protection battle with province

In the government’s online map, Owls Head Provincial Park is still surrounded by a dark line, indicating that it is part of the “Lands in the final Parks and Protected Areas Plan (2013).” Reporter Tim Bousquet reported, “Owls Head Provincial Park Reserve has existed since the 1970s; that’s why it’s on the basemap.”

Public consultation about the delisting

In February of 2020, Stefan Sinclair-Fortin reported, “Minister of Lands and Forestry Iain Rankin said he is aware of the public’s interest, but has no plans to protect the area.”

Unfortunately, this attitude wasn’t new:

At the December 5, 2018 meeting requested by [lobbyist] Michel Samson, notes taken during the meeting indicate that those at the meeting determined that there would be “No Public Consultation until after decision re PAPA,” and that “Aboriginal Consultation,” likewise, would not be initiated until “after the withdrawal from PAPA.”

Applicants’ Brief (Paragraph 186)

It’s unfair to Nova Scotians that strengthening a site’s protected status involves public consultations and scientific assessment, but removing a property slated for protection does not. As we’ve learned, the Liberal government did so without even notifying the public.

The fact that the Liberal government only consulted with the prospective developer – not the public – seems to contradict the very spirit of Our Parks and Protected Areas Plan.

The plan’s success has been authored by you: Nova Scotians committed to protecting and conserving our beautiful province for future generations. It builds on extensive consultations over the last several years involving members of the public and Nova Scotia’s Mi’kmaq community, which helped identify potential lands for protection, and the legislative and policy initiatives necessary to ensure that future generations will also enjoy them.

Our Parks and Protected Areas: A Plan for Nova Scotia (page 5)

That is why it’s so important that Owls Head Provincial Park and the other properties awaiting legal protection (approximately 125 proposed provincial parks, nature reserves, and wilderness areas) are designated as soon as possible.

Judicial review & Appeal

The provincial government’s decision to secretly delist the park prompted applicants Bob Bancroft and Eastern Shore Forest Watch Association to take the case to court on behalf of concerned Nova Scotians.

Learn more

“The underlying question in this appeal is whether Nova Scotians ought to be informed before the government makes decisions affecting the fate of ecologically important lands, especially those lands that have been identified as protected,” said Jamie Simpson of Juniper Law, who will be representing the applicants. “We believe the answer is yes and that the courts play an inherent role in promoting fair government decision-making.”

Jamie Simpson, Juniper Law

Dangerous precedent

At the time that the applicants’ submitted their brief, nearly half of what Nova Scotians consider provincial parks weren’t legally protected parks at all. Last summer, the Chronicle Herald reported, “Of 206 provincial parks in Nova Scotia, 102 are awaiting official designation.” In many cases, citizens have no idea that these “provincial parks” aren’t formally protected.

Nova Scotia Supreme Court Justice Kevin Coady agreed that the public “had every reason” to believe that Owls Head Provincial Park was a designated provincial park.

“The evidence on this Motion clearly establishes that Owl’s Head was portrayed to the public as a Provincial Park. Government documentation and maps, going back as far as 1978, refer to the area as “Owl’s Head Provincial Park”. Further, it was managed by Lands and Forestry to maintain its reserve status. The public had every reason to assume Owl’s Head was a Provincial Park and, therefore, attracted protections not available on Crown lands.”

Bancroft v. Nova Scotia (Land and Forestry) 2020 NSSC 214: Interlocutory Decision, Page 3

There is no practical difference discernible to the public between the Department’s representation and management of Provincial Parks designated by regulation and Provincial Parks that are parks in name, management, and use only.

Applicants’ Brief (Paragraph 129)

When it comes to our undesignated provincial parks & park reserves, “the exact same state that befell Owls Head could potentially happen,” explains lawyer Jamie Simpson, who is representing the applicants. Furthermore, “we have no assurance that the department would let the public know that a sale was pending.”

“Most folks living near protected lands will likely be surprised to learn that they aren’t already protected, just as folks on the Eastern Shore were shocked to learn that Owl’s Head provincial park wasn’t a park at all, but prime real estate for a golf resort,” wrote Jim Vibert in the Chronicle Herald.

What Happened When?

September 23, 2016

Sean Glover (Cox & Palmer) submits an “Application for the Use of Crown Land on behalf of his client, Beckwith Gilbert / Lighthouse Links Development Co.

2017

The Honourable Margaret Miller (then Minister of Lands and Forestry) writes to Mr. Beckwith Gilbert:

“The first step that must be taken before the transaction can proceed is DNR obtaining authorization from Cabinet to remove the Crown lands from the Parks and Protected Areas Plan (PAPA).”

July 22, 2018

Lighthouse Links Proposal: Proposal for Exchange or Purchase of Lands in Little Harbour, HRM, Nova Scotia.

December 5, 2018

At a meeting requested by [lobbyist] Michel Samson, the attendees determine there will be “No Public Consultation until after decision re PAPA,” (Parks and Protected Areas Plan) and that “Aboriginal Consultation,” likewise, would not be initiated until “after the withdrawal from PAPA.”

February 26, 2019

The Honourable Iain Rankin (Minister of Lands and Forestry) and the Honourable Margaret Miller (Minister of Environment) submit a Memorandum to Executive Council: “Decision on whether to withdraw Crown lands at Owls Head identified for protection in the Parks and Protected Areas Plan.”

March 13, 2019

The government of Nova Scotia secretly delists Owls Head Provincial Park (removes it from Our Parks and Protected Areas Plan).

November 23, 2021

After nearly two years of unwavering public resistance, Lighthouse Links Development Co. withdraws from the Letter of Offer, citing a lack of government support.

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