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Talking Radical Radio

Christo­pher Trid­er is a land­scape archi­tect in Nova Sco­tia and a for­mer provin­cial civ­il ser­vant with expe­ri­enc­ing in plan­ning provin­cial parks. He is also a mem­ber of a grass­roots group called Save Owls Head Provin­cial Park, which is doing its best to inter­vene in the fate of a small piece of land on Nova Scotia’s east­ern shore, next to the town of Lit­tle Har­bour. Scott Neigh inter­views Trid­er about the land, the secre­tive moves by the provin­cial gov­ern­ment and a prop­er­ty devel­op­er that have put it at risk, and the cam­paign to pre­serve it. 

Though not yet a ful­ly-fledged provin­cial park, this par­tic­u­lar piece of land – which is among the rel­a­tive­ly small pro­por­tion of Nova Sco­tia coast left in pub­lic hands – has been part of var­i­ous pro­pos­als, plans, and des­ig­na­tions for con­ser­va­tion for at least the last 45 years. Most recent­ly, it was iden­ti­fied in the province’s 2013 Our Parks and Pro­tect­ed Areas Plan, which was devel­oped through exten­sive con­sul­ta­tion with res­i­dents, envi­ron­men­tal groups, the pri­vate sec­tor, and the Assem­bly of Nova Sco­tia Mi’kmaq Chiefs. 

Owls Head is a rugged and large­ly undis­turbed coastal head­land, char­ac­ter­ized by rock ridges, bogs, and bar­rens. While some­what spar­tan in appear­ance, the land is home to con­sid­er­able bio­di­ver­si­ty. This includes a glob­al­ly rare plant com­mu­ni­ty (fea­tur­ing coastal broom crow­ber­ry), bird habi­tat for at least 90 species (includ­ing for the endan­gered pip­ing plover), and rich eel­grass and rock­weed beds offshore. 

In Decem­ber 2019, the CBC report­ed that in the wake of years of lob­by­ing by a US-based prop­er­ty devel­op­er, the provin­cial gov­ern­ment – qui­et­ly, with no pub­lic con­sul­ta­tion or noti­fi­ca­tion – removed the des­ig­na­tion from Owls Head and signed a let­ter-of-offer to sell it. The devel­op­er wants to build up to three lux­u­ry golf cours­es on the property. 

Save Owls Head Provin­cial Park start­ed off as a Face­book group cre­at­ed by Sid­ney McK­ay in response to that CBC sto­ry. She grew up in Lit­tle Har­bour and still lives near­by, and for years she had watched with con­cern as that very same devel­op­er bought up local properties. 

As for Trid­er, he got involved because his past employ­ment meant he was well aware of what the process around pro­tect­ed land was sup­posed to look like, and he was infu­ri­at­ed by how the gov­ern­ment had crossed the line” in this case. He said, It just, you know, smelled so bad.” 

The group’s ear­ly activ­i­ties involved a lot of learn­ing, and a lot of shar­ing of infor­ma­tion. Pro­po­nents of the devel­op­ment cir­cu­lat­ed what Trid­er describes as mis­in­for­ma­tion” that con­tributed to sharp divi­sions among local res­i­dents, and the group worked hard to counter that. 

They built a web­site and a strong social media pres­ence. Indi­vid­u­als and small groups of mem­bers engaged in all man­ner of cre­ative action to lob­by, advo­cate, and spread the word. They devel­oped rela­tion­ships with local, provin­cial, and nation­al envi­ron­men­tal orga­ni­za­tions, which spoke out in sup­port. They ran email cam­paigns and oth­er online efforts to pres­sure politi­cians, and dis­trib­uted signs and stick­ers for peo­ple to show their sup­port. They also did their best to build rela­tion­ships with both Mi’kmaq gov­ern­ments and grass­roots people. 

In 2020, biol­o­gist Bob Ban­croft and the East­ern Shore For­est Watch Asso­ci­a­tion launched a court chal­lenge to the de-list­ing. A judi­cial deci­sion released this sum­mer indi­cat­ed that while aspects of the government’s con­duct were trou­bling,” it would not block the deal because the deci­sion to de-list and sell the prop­er­ty was fun­da­men­tal­ly with­in the government’s pow­er. It encour­aged Nova Sco­tians opposed to the sale to seek a polit­i­cal solution. 

And, indeed, many mem­bers of Save Owls Head Provin­cial Park were very active in rais­ing the issue dur­ing this summer’s provin­cial elec­tion cam­paign. The push to save Owls Head was, of course, just one issue among many dur­ing the elec­tion so it is hard to assess what role it played. But both the Lib­er­al gov­ern­ment and the local Lib­er­al MLA who had so strong­ly sup­port­ed the devel­op­ment went down to defeat. 

The new Con­ser­v­a­tive gov­ern­ment of Pre­mier Tim Hous­ton has not yet said what action it will take on the issue. Trid­er said the group is giv­ing the new gov­ern­ment some breath­ing room to review the facts. But, he said, If they side with the devel­op­er and with this deal, and they do not at the very least have some kind of inde­pen­dent, trans­par­ent review of this pro­pos­al, then we will be back in the streets.”