By Richard Bell
The controversy over Owls Head has enmeshed several politicians, including Central Nova MP Sean Fraser. Opposition has been growing rapidly against the province’s proposed sale of land—long designated as Owls Head Provincial Park—in order to sell it to a wealthy American investor who wants to build three golf courses on the land.
Fraser published an explanation of his thoughts on the matter on the Save Little Harbour/Owls Head Facebook site on January 26. The Cooperator was able to get a short phone interview with Fraser on January 30 about the proposed land sale.
I asked Fraser about one of the more recent surprises in the story, the federal government’s decision to end negotiations with the province for the sale of a small, 17-hectare piece of federal Crown land adjacent to the proposed golf course, the site of a former lighthouse. The province had been seeking to buy the parcel, and include it in a package with the Owls Head Provincial Park land. If the province had intended the federal land to be used for some public purpose, the federal government would have sold the land for $1. (One dollar). But because the province planned to turn the land over to a private developer, the province was going to pay $167,000.
First, Fraser was emphatic that he was not trying to overturn this federal decision: “No, I am not working to reverse this federal government decision, behind the scenes or otherwise.”
Fraser provided some history on the Coast Guard land. “The Coast Guard has been conducting an analysis of 176 properties it owns around the country to assess whether it still needs those properties,” Fraser said.
“The question at Owls Head, as elsewhere, was not about the environmental sensitivity of the land, but whether the Coast Guard needed the land to carry out its mission. If the Coast Guard found the land surplus, they were supposed to give other federal agencies a first shot at claiming the land. At the time the Coast Guard declared Owls Head as surplus, the Canadian Wildlife Service (a part of the Department of the Environment and Climate Change) didn’t express any interest. But when they looked at this property in due course, CWS decided the land had enough environmental value that CWS wanted to take over managing it.”
Fraser said that like elected officials everywhere, he was always looking for opportunities to create jobs for his constituents, provided that such projects were environmentally acceptable. “I always have an open door to talk to people who want to create businesses,” he said. “I hear lots of proposals, but very few of them ever come to fruition. In the case of Owls Head, I’m very interested in the ecology of the land. And I’ve said to the Minister, if the scientists tell us that it’s an ecologically sensitive area that should be protected, then we should follow that scientific advice.”
In trying to put the environment first in policy-making, Fraser is facing the same challenge that politicians around the world are wrestling with in this age of global warming and the 6th great extinction of species. Until recently, when the choice was between the environment and economic development, development always won. But in light of the growing global environmental challenges, Fraser has a different perspective: “If there are acute environmental concerns, no matter what the economic opportunity might be, we can’t be OK anymore with destroying our natural environment.”
Fraser noted that he had heard from constituents who felt people were too quick to react negatively to new proposals like the Marine Protected Area or the Beluga whale sanctuary. “How do we actually have an honest-to-god conversation putting the environment first,” Fraser said, “without completely shutting down all consideration of opportunities for economic development.” He suggested that at some time in the future, he might hold a public meeting to hear from his constituents about how to share information and ideas about how to promote economic development that did not involve damaging or destroying the natural heritage of Nova Scotians.