New minister of renewable and natural resources Tory Rushton says he “needs to understand” how the sale of Owls Head Provincial Park happened before taking next steps.
“You’ve heard us speak at different times about Owls Head. We need to understand what was signed in the contract by the previous government,” said Rushton, the MLA for Cumberland South and newly sworn-in minister, following Thursday’s first meeting of the Nova Scotia’s new cabinet. He added he “hasn’t been fully briefed” on the file, and will need further meetings before saying more.
During the summer campaign the Progressive Conservatives pledged to pause the sale. NDP leader Gary Burrill says the new government should immediately cancel it.
“The government needs to send a signal in this moment of twin emergencies: biodiversity and climate change… conservation is not some peripheral matter or a sidebar,” Burrill said to reporters Thursday, following Rushton’s post-cabinet remarks.
To Burrill, brand-new premier Tim Houston’s government “could signal a concern and interest for transparency and openness going forward by simply reversing the mistaken decision that the previous government made. I think that’s what the government ought to do.”
In 2019, a CBC investigation revealed that Owls Head—a nature preserve on the Eastern Shore—had been quietly removed from Nova Scotia’s Parks and Protected Areas Plan without scientific review or public consultation. This was part of a plan to sell the park to American developers in the name of creating up to three golf courses.
There’s anger regarding the secrecy surrounding the planned sale, and frustration because the land is environmentally significant: it’s home to a rare ecosystem and several endangered species, and was in the pipeline to receive legal protection.
The sale was vocally backed and supported by the lands and forestry minister at the time—Iain Rankin, who became premier before Houston and the PCs won the August election. It was under Rankin’s recommendation that the park be delisted from the Parks and Protected Areas Plan. Even after public scrutiny he stood his ground, arguing the land wasn’t as ecologically valuable as other areas the government planned to protect. Since then, a grassroots movement has increased public awareness and concern for Owls Head.