The Rick Howe Show
April 13, 2021
To listen to Dr. Kristina Boerder’s interview about the marine ecosystem surrounding Owls Head Provincial Park, please click here.
Todd Veinotte: Peter, you’re going to kick things off, hello. What’s going on, what’s on your mind?
Peter: Well, I’d like to comment on the Owls Head issue. I just think that the issue there is that two wealthy Americans want to buy a large area of Crown Land and grind this landscape (which has been virtually untouched since the Glaciers ground across it), grind it up, and turn it into a base for three golf courses. And it’s just emblematic to me of how we’re abusing and consuming our natural environment. Nothing in nature seems to have any value unless you can turn a fast buck. And the provincial government was – until the story was broken – in secret negotiations with this couple to sell off this land. This kind of thing is happening all across the province. Our land is getting privatized, land that harbours rare plants and endangered animals is getting chewed up for malls, golf courses, whatever. I think it’s a deal that, once it was proposed to the provincial government many years ago, should have been dismissed out of hand. It’s just outrageous.
Todd: Peter, look. This, like you said, has been going on for centuries, ever since colonization (whatever term you want to use), it’s been spread out, chopped down, and hacked. Look, we’re sitting in the North end of Halifax right now. Everywhere I look out, yeah, you see a smattering of trees, but it’s [mostly] development. This was all habitat, this was all forest, that’s the nature of human beings. We take and (unfortunately) pillage the land. That’s what’s happened here. And I think… I agree with you… at some point, we need to have this paradigm shift as to how we view habitat loss and nature and be stewards of this land. I don’t know when that lightbulb moment happens, but all of the warning signs are there in nature. The canary in the coal mine. They’re there.
Now, I tend to agree with you, right. How many more golf courses do we need? Now listen, I get that there’s economic development at play here and that Cape Breton needs a lot of that, rural Nova Scotia needs a lot of that, and that’s tempting. I understand that. That’s jobs, that’s tax base, there are a lot of good things that spin off from that. But in the end, do we continue to use this model of “use the land for economic development at the peril of the ecosystem” and I get what you’re saying, right.
Peter: I want to make one correction. Owls Head is on the Eastern Shore, not in Cape Breton.
Todd: Okay, my apologies.
Peter: Yes, of course, we need some development. We need places for people to live and shop but none of it seems to be planned… It’s just full-speed ahead with no consideration for saving natural environments for our grandchildren. I have grandchildren. And I want them to be able to experience a natural wilderness, for example. But if that wilderness is a good place for a mall, down it comes.
Todd: Okay, Peter, thanks for the call. I appreciate it.
Peter: Okay, you’re quite welcome.
Todd: Look, I get that some of you don’t agree with that. I know that some of you feel this should be developed. There’s tax base, there’s jobs, I get that. However, at some point, we have to start considering more than just that. There’s just one Earth, that’s all we’ve got here. And the habitat that requires that, and the ecosystems that are connected with this, and we’ll be talking later in the show to that point… Doesn’t that deserve some consideration, at some point?
Karen: I’m calling in – specifically about Owls Head – but more generally about the unfortunate labelling (or lack of information) about the status of provincial parks by the government.
The problem is, with Owls Head, a lot of division has been created here in the community. A lot of discussion is based around “Should there be a golf course?” or “No, there shouldn’t be a golf course.” Local people who want the golf course getting up in arms because people who don’t live around here have an opinion about this. In this whole debate about golf course and no golf course, the big picture is being lost.
And the big picture is that Owls Head was [portrayed] as a park for years and no one knew it wasn’t a provincial park. There are a number of parks in Nova Scotia with exactly that same problem. They’ve got the label “provincial park,” but are they really provincial parks? It’s very hard to find out. So, there you go.
Owls Head could set a precedent. It’s being sold to a private developer at “wasteland prices.” In other words, it’s being sold very cheaply because it’s been designated as “undevelopable.” So you know, there’s a little sleight of hand going on there.
What’s unfortunate is that this could happen anywhere in the province.
So then there’s all this debate locally (protect it, don’t protect it, is it worth protecting?). People have all these opinions. But what’s really significant is the bigger picture, which is that (for whatever reason) things that are [called] provincial parks, aren’t really provincial parks and don’t have protection. And the question is, why is this going on?
Todd: Why is it going on? Because in the end, government’s can change what’s a provincial park or not… If they feel as though there’s no blowback from the public. Or they can have something that’s supposed to be protected land under the provincial regulations and can change them, which is the case with Owls Head. When all is said and done, government has the power and the authority to change these things and these boundaries and they’ve done so in the past. That’s the best answer I can give you, Karen. Thanks for the call.
* Katie’s trying to educate me and that’s a difficult thing to do. She’s the producer of the show. And from what we’ve pulled together, Owls Head was not a [designated] provincial park […] It was on a list to become protected land and potentially a provincial park but was delisted when this deal started to come together, to be brokered, or negotiated.
Todd: Matt, good morning.
Matt: I’d like to talk about (again) the Owls Head issue. Number one, with respect to transparency – government transparency. I’m wondering why it took a whistleblower for any of us to even know about this. The McNeil government came to power promising to be one of the most transparent governments in the country. However, none of us would even be discussing this right now, had someone not leaked the information to Michael Gorman at CBC. That’s one of the issues.
With respect to natural environments, and just our state of the environment, generally, we need to change our mindset fast. We have to get away from this trickle-down economic effect, thinking it’s going to help more economically-depressed areas, when environmental scientists tell us we’ve got 10 years left before this is irreversible – and that means forest fires, flooding, and the loss of the polar ice. Also, if you look at this issue, with respect to Owls Head, the people in that community understood this as being parkland for decades.
I think it was Tim Bousquet [of the Halifax Examiner] that pointed out it did appear on the list. The government produced the Parks and Protected Areas Plan in 2013. They consulted widely with citizens, with environmental groups, the Assembly of Mi’kmaq Chiefs. And Owls Head was identified as site 694 in that plan. At that time, after that quite extensive consultation, it was to be treated as parkland. Nobody understood it as anything different.
When I get back to transparency, Premier Rankin and Cabinet made the decision to delist this from that plan. We wouldn’t be discussing this had an insider not leaked that. So, again, it goes back the transparency.
Todd: Matt, I will say this: I get it with transparency and the government, but almost every government, if not every goverment, in every jurisdiction, does the same stuff. It’s not like this is unique to McNeil and the Liberals and this Cabinet. They’ll all sneak stuff under the table if they can. They will always do that.
Governments can suggest that they’re going to be transparent and accountable – I’ve heard all of that crap now for going on two and a half decades in this business. Nothing changes. Trudeau, on and on it goes, Stephen Harper, you could name them all, they’ve said “We’re going to do things differently,” they get in power, and they do this type of thing. That is just ubiquitous throughout government, in my opinion.
Matt: That’s true, but I think it’s our job not to be complicit in this and to call it out every time it happens.
A problem with Nova Scotia – we’ve got 5% of public coastline that’s protected, that the public can access. We don’t need to go down the road of further industrial development. When you look at Owls Head, how many good-paying jobs in the final analysis, are actually going to come out of this? When you consider all of the ecological damage… There are many species on the endangered species list.
Todd: Matt, listen, I tend to agree with you but I think you make a good point, just going to move on.
Bev: I am a resident of Little Harbour and I wanted to speak on behalf of Owls Head Provincial Park. Owls Head Provincial Park cannot be compared to other golf course sites, such as Cabot Links. Cabot Links has been built on an old mine, whereas Owls Head Provincial Park is a rare ecosystem. There’s been 15 years of research on Owls Head by geologists and biologists. There’s science-based facts on the biodiversity of Owls Head Provincial Park… Professionals who are educated in that field.
If Premier Rankin denies those facts, he’s basically labelling himself as a hypocrite. Our government has used science-based facts to get us through Covid and make Nova Scotia number one in Canada.
Todd: Yeah, that’s a good point, good point.
Bev: Premier Rankin always brings up (when we talk about Owls Head) the subject of signs – a lot of signs in favour of the golf course. Well, you may see a lot of signs in favour of the golf course. But there are more signs without signs than there are with signs in favour. So if Premier Rankin is going to deny the science-based facts that have been researched for the past 15 years on Owls Head and take the opinion of 700 signatures on a petition over science… To me, that’s an insult. An insult to the education that our universities provide, to the professionals that have been doing research on Owls Head.
So, that’s the big thing. It’s science. They’ve got to use those facts. It’s not about opinions, it’s not about a golf course. They have to use the facts that are there – what Owls Head will provide for us and for mankind for the next generation. It’s an ecosystem that’s contributing to biodiversity.
Todd: Thanks for the call Bev; I think you made some great points. Thank you so much, good points. And they’ll tell us here in 15 minutes. Science! Science says we have to do this. We have to do this. Public health officials tell us this. The doctors tell us this, “gotta listen to science.” Yet when it comes to this issue, are you listening to what scientists are telling you? What environmentalists and biologists and all those involved… I think that’s a valid point.
Eleanor: I’ve been listening carefully so I don’t want to repeat anything your other callers have said. There have been some really good points regarding Owls Head.
One thing that you might find interesting, that folks might find interesting, is that the land was negotiated before it was taken off the Parks and Protected Areas Plan. So it was negotiated as “undevelopable.” But the price [at which it was offered for sale] because it was supposed to be undevelopable was $306/acre. I would own so much land if I could buy it at $306acre. I would protect it and enjoy it and allow nature to thrive.
But one of the points I wanted to make – I’m a sea kayak instructor and along the Eastern Shore, there’s actually quite a lot of potential, especially because of the Nature Trust having protected the 100 Wild Islands.
It’s worthwhile for folks to know that the Nature Trust is not a government organization. It’s funded completely by donations and people giving land up because they want it to be protected. That, I find quite interesting. In this province, in order for us to protect enough land for people to enjoy and nature to thrive, we have to have this organization (like the Nature Trust) in order to protect the environment. Because we don’t seem to be able to count on our government to do a very good job of it.
There’s a lot of sea kayaking opportunities there on the Eastern Shore, with the 100 Wild Islands, and we could really develop a beautiful eco-tourism economy, similar to British Columbia, and have this place be a destination. Owls Head Provincial Park really could be a beautiful part of that, but not if it’s a golf course. Because there’s no way that a golf course can be called eco-tourism. I believe the folks that want to buy the land have said that it could be eco-tourism, but the fact is, pesticides to keep a golf turf green just run right into the ocean. And they would kill the eelgrass and kill the ability for nature to actually have a biodiversity in that area, if all those beautiful ridges are just ground up into sand.
So I would just caution… That is not what eco-tourism is. But we definitely have the ability to have a really great economy based around that. The park could have footpaths and it could really have a lot of economic growth because of that.
Todd: I think you make some great points, Eleanor, great points. Thank you for the call. Valid points.
This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity and length.