Judging by the lawn signs during this election, the most popular cause in some neighbourhoods around the province isn’t a political party, but “Save Owls Head.” That’s the slogan on those bright-red signs protesting the Liberal government’s willingness to sell off Owls Head Provincial Park for golf-course development. Between the strong public support and the fact premier Iain Rankin bears major responsibility for it, the land has become a major issue in this sleepy summer campaign. Here’s a quick breakdown of the situation and where each major party stands.
What happened with Owls Head?
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.
Beyond feeling upset at the secrecy surrounding the planned sale, people are angry 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, which still hasn’t passed, was vocally backed and supported by the lands and forestry minister at the time, none other than Iain Rankin. It was under his 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.
The NDP promise
New Democratic Party leader Gary Burrill and many NDP candidates have shown their support for Owls Head, with Burrill publicly calling Rankin’s decision to delist the park into question since before the election was called. At a February 2020 protest, Burrill announced the NDP’s plan to pass legislation called the Owls Head Act, which would strengthen protection for parks and protected areas.
In a section about investing in rural and regional economic development, the NDP’s 2021 provincial platform says the following: “The NDP would protect the remaining areas of the Parks and Protected Areas Plan, including Owls Head, and consult with the public and Mi’kmaw communities about new areas.”
Gary Burrill was also present at an Owl’s Head rally this past Saturday.
Progressive Conservative pause
Tim Houston’s Progressive Conservatives have also been outspoken about Owls Head, with Houston condemning Rankin for acting “behind closed doors” at the February 2020 rally. Though the PCs have no definitive promises to stop the sale altogether if elected, a press release from the party says: “a PC government would put an immediate pause on the sale of Owls Head pending public consultations and environmental reviews.”
Green Party support
Nova Scotia Green Party leader Jessica Alexander has taken a strong stance in favour of saving Owls Head park, as have Green candidates from across the province. Like other parties, the Greens showed their support at the February 2020 rally, where former leader Thomas Trappenberg spoke, and they have continued being vocal supporters since then.
“We urge the Members of the Legislative Assembly to pay close and serious attention to the hundreds of letters addressed to them, the thousands of petitioners and the multitude of red signs across the province, calling for the cancellation of the proposed sale of Owls Head,” leader Alexander said in a statement.
Alexander also attended the rally on Saturday, where she emphasized the importance of eco-tourism opportunities like Owls Head.
The Liberal position now
The Liberal Party has mostly stayed quiet on its Owls Head stance. Asked for comment about the premier’s current position, Rankin’s press secretary did not reply to The Coast.
When pressed on Owls Head by Burrill at a CBC debate on July 28, Rankin responded that he was “looking out for all Nova Scotians,” and had acted for the benefit of people from Little Harbour. He also said a public engagement plan and Mi’kmaq consultation are in the works.
In an announcement on August 3, Rankin revealed the Liberal environmental platform, which does not mention the park. The platform includes a goal to protect 17 percent of the province’s land from development (up from a current 14 percent), though with no there’s no indication Owls Head will be part of this newly protected land.