A boisterous crowd of nearly 200 people gathered in downtown Halifax to call on the province of Nova Scotia to halt the sale of more than 705 acres of crown land known as Owls Head to a U.S. developer who wants to build several golf courses along the Atlantic shoreline.
With the provincial election drawing closer on August 17, the contentious sale of Owls Head is quickly becoming a major issue on the campaign trail.
“This is a significant chunk of our coastline being offered up for $216,000,” said Theresa Pelley, a retired teacher and concerned citizen who lives in West Chezzetcook. “But the bigger issue than the fire sale on this globally rare and sensitive land is that it could happen in other areas of our province.”
Environmental lawyer Jamie Simpson and a group of concerned citizens called the Eastern Shore Forest Watch Association filed a judicial review in Nova Scotia Supreme Court, arguing the conditional sale of Owls Head, approved by then lands and forestry minister Iain Rankin to the Lighthouse Links Development Group, was done without public consultation and that failed to meet standards laid out by the province to protect public lands and goes against the public’s interest.
“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 counsel and would therefore would have been public knowledge,” said Simpson.
- Younger and older Canadians crunched by housing, retirement, debt: experts
- Defence minister says plan in talks for ‘significant’ military investments
- Moncton Jewish community ‘hurt profoundly’ as Menorah won’t be displayed at city hall
- Canada begins consultations on alert system for missing Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people
For decades, the province managed and treated Owls Head as a provincial park, said Simpson, with documents, published articles and maps listing it as a provincial park. But as it turns out, Owls Head was not legally designated as such but was a list to be protected.
“Ultimately, the government’s own misrepresentation of the status of the lands shielded its actions from scrutiny and allowed purportedly public lands to be sold out of the public’s eye,” said Simpson. “And those are damning facts, for sure.”
Court citations show in March 2019, the government’s Treasury and Policy Board delisted Owls Head in a confidential minute letter, removed Owls Heads from the provinces Parks and Protected Areas Plan, after Lighthouse Links approached the province to inquire about purchasing the land.
Still, Justice Christa Brothers dismissed the application for judicial review, saying the government may have left constituents feeling betrayed and incensed by the deal, but they still acted in the lawful authority they held.
Brothers concluded and wrote this was not an issue for the court to intervene on but for the public to take up at the “ballot box,” thus making it a major election issue for those involved.
NDP leader Gary Burrill spoke at the rally and called the government’s handling of the sale undemocratic,
“As I understand the judges’ decision, it is possible for things to be done by governments which are in fact wrong but still may be technically legal,” said Burrill. “And that in that kind of situation the remedy to the wrongness is in fact to vote the government out and proceed with a new government. That’s our democratic system.”
The Nova Scotia Green Party also spoke at the rally and, like the NDP, if elected they would quash the sale of Owls Head.
“We strongly believe that Crown Land should not be delisted and should not be sold, particularly without the consultation with the Mi’kmaq nation and what we call Crown Land should be under the stewardship of the Mi’kmaq.”
Liberal leader Iain Rankin addressed the sale of Owls Head at the CBC leaders debate on July 28 and said it’s early in the process and there will be public consultation, but he will always err on the side of protecting the environment.
“I will not be in favour of any project that has any long-term adverse impacts to any sensitive ecosystem,” said Rankin. “What I will do is listen to communities when they want to have their voice heard.”
Progressive Conservative leader Tim Houston said the lack of transparency around the proposed sale of Owls Heads isn’t right and only adds to the public perception that elected officials can’t be trusted.
“Any property on a protected list should stay on a protected list unless a Court directs otherwise,” said Houston. “The PC Party will not allow this type of situation to happen. That said, first, we need to understand what he actually signed behind those closed doors. Everything pauses until we figure that out.”