February 26, 2020
The Nova Scotia House of Assembly
Late Debate (Adjournment Debate)
Brad Johns, MLA and Progressive Conservative Environment Critic
Resolution for Late Debate, as submitted by Gary Burrill:
Therefore be it resolved that the government could have done a much-improved job in its handling of the question of the Owls Head Provincial Park.
The Speaker: The honourable member for Sackville-Beaver Bank.
BRAD JOHNS: I come back to the wording of the resolution that’s here before us as submitted by the Leader of the NDP: “Therefore be it resolved that the government could have done a much-improved job in its handling of the question of the Owls Head Provincial Park.” I do support exactly what’s written there. I do feel that the government had opportunities where they could have dealt with this file in a way that would have better served the government, better served the people of Nova Scotia, better served the developer that was coming forward with a proposal, and better served the residents that were there.
The reason I say that is because although sometimes we don’t necessarily have a legal right to do things, we do have a moral right to do things. The Leader of the NDP went into the history of Owls Head and how it has been perceived by residents in that area -that it was going to be a protected area, that it was on a list. I think that the government had a moral obligation to go out and consult with the residents of that area prior to furthering discussions with the developer, prior to removing that property off of a list via minute letter.
I could talk for ages about how I feel about how that property was removed. I recognize it was not on a protected list but it was on as a potential. The residents of Owls Head and the Eastern Shore held the perception -sometimes perception is reality -for a long time, that that land was going to be protected. Whether it’s because of the current government, past governments, or whatever, it didn’t get protected. However, it was still on the potential list, and residents felt it was going to be. Government had a responsibility to go back and consult with those residents.
In this case, I listened today when the Premier suggested that, after it was removed, if there was a proposal or an option to buy come forward, then they were going to have consultation. The problem with that is there’s a lot of uncertainty that occurs. I did attend a public meeting that was held. Unfortunately, it was held by a community group which obviously had a slant. They were an environmental group. I certainly support the stand they took. However, if the government had held that public consultation and public meeting versus an independent community group, then I think the feedback the government would have received was something very similar to what I had received: that there were people who are in favour of this as well as people that wanted to see it remain as an environmental area.
Where I have a problem with this is, the government could have done this better. The government could have gone out, hosted a public meeting, took residents’ questions and answers, and put their minds at ease. Instead what ended up happening at the meeting I attended -for the record, the Leader of the NDP was there as well as two other members of our caucus. What Isaw was neighbour against neighbour, volunteer community group pitted against volunteer community group, and nothing that was officially given to give any direction to anybody who was in power to make a decision. Therefore, we are now where we are. A developer that was willing to look at investing in this province has now walked away from this issue. Residents from the environmental group are now in the process of taking this issue to court, I believe.
We go back to what the topic of late debate is: thegovernment could have dealt with this and done a better job of managing Owls Head. I think they could have. They could have gone out and done better consultation. We’re not even getting into the discussions around that area being identified as an environmentally sensitive area with a unique ecosystem. I’m not even getting into all that. I’m just talking about going out and holding public consultation.
Even from that, the optics in regard to this -and I recognize that there are some things that are not in the control of this government -but the optics to have a previous member of this government, a previous minister who is now advocating and working for the developer here, all that did was add additional fuel to the fire and the concerns residents had. They feel that not only is this land taken off the list and it’s done via a minute letter, which nobody knows anything about or what it is, it’s really not a transparent and open way to remove the property.
That created concerns, concerns from the fact that the gentleman pushing it forward is a former Cabinet Minister of this government fuelled anxiety in the community. If this government, instead of putting the cart before the horse, had actually gone out and held public meetings, I think it would have put everybody’s mind at ease. I think the government would have seen the same thing that I saw. Although there are concerns with regard to the ecosystem there, I don’t think there was anything there that couldn’t have been resolved with some compromise if the government had gone out and consulted.
I will say there were people there -and I was quite surprised at the number of people who actually stood up, whose opinions were counter to what the hosts of the meeting had -who actually stood up and expressed that they would like to see a golf course there, and they were in favour of this development. There are two sides to the coin. Unfortunately, because the government didn’t go out and hold these meetings, because of all this anxiety, ultimately, what ended up happening was that the developer, who was looking at investing in this province, who was looking at creating jobs, who I sincerely feel was concerned and environmentally conscious and was taking that into consideration, has now walked away. We’ve lost the opportunity for that development.
As the Environment Critic, I always put environment at the forefront of my mind, but at the same time, I recognize the need for economic opportunities in this province. This could have been one. I know that if the government had taken a better lead on this, a compromise would have been achieved that would have been good for everybody all around this province. I’m very disappointed in that. With that, I conclude.