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

The administrative decision-maker

Courtesy of the
Nova Scotia Legislature

The Crown Lands Act states that “The Minister [of Lands and Forestry] has supervision, direction and control of […] the acquisition, registration, survey and sale or disposition of Crown lands.” 

The applicants’ brief points out that the Minister of Lands and Forestry is ultimately the “Administrative Decision Maker,” based on the Crown Lands Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the Provincial Parks Act.

The Treasury and Policy Board (T&PB – a committee of the Executive Council) issued the minute letter that removed Owls Head Provincial Park from the Parks and Protected Areas Plan. Nonetheless, the role of the T&PB was perfunctory in that the minute letter was not issued ‘out of thin air’ but rather at the request of the Minister [the Honourable Iain Rankin] who is responsible for the management and control of Crown lands and provincial parks. But for the Memorandum to Executive Council (MEC) requesting the removal of Owls Head Provincial Park, such a minute letter would not be issued by the T&PB.

Applicants’ Brief (Paragraph 112)

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 government has done so without even notifying the public.

The fact that the 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)

Public consultation about the proposed development

The government has been conflating a public consultation about the delisting of Owls Head Provincial Park with a public consultation about the proposed development. While they are connected, these are still separate issues and the public deserves the opportunity to provide feedback on the delisting as well as the proposed development.

The Letter of Offer, which sets out the terms between the government of Nova Scotia and Lighthouse Links Development Co., includes a requirement for public consultation. But that consultation (on the proposed development) will be conducted by the developer – not our government.

The Honourable Iain Rankin, then Minister of Lands and Forestry, said of the public consultation, “There’s no veto.”

“Rankin said people will get to have their say in the matter, but exactly how will be left up to the developer […] The engagement plan will not give anyone the ability to block the development.”

Province firm on Owls Head despite objections (Stefan Sinclair-Fortin)

Judicial review

Department of Lands and Forestry’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. While the court decision did not grant the applicants the relief they were seeking, the Honourable Justice Brothers did recognize significant points in the applicants’ case, including her characterization of the government’s misrepresentation of Owls Head as “troubling.”

If Owls Head had been formally designated as a provincial park, as was represented to the public, any change to its status as protected land would have required an order-in-council, and would therefore have been public knowledge. Ultimately, the government’s own misrepresentation of the status of the lands shielded its actions from scrutiny and allowed purportedly protected lands to be considered for sale, out of the public eye.

Judicial Review Application Decision, Paragraph 2

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

Of the 206 Provincial Parks in Nova Scotia, approximately half of these are not designated as provincial parks by regulation, yet are presented to the public and are managed by the Department as Provincial Parks […] 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.


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).

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