Cabot golf plans should avoid protected parkland, say opposition leaders
Liberal, NDP leaders say putting a golf course in a provincial park is a bad idea
Opposition leaders and an environmentalist in Nova Scotia say if officials with the Cabot golf courses want land to build a new course in the Mabou area, they should find it somewhere other than an ecologically-sensitive provincial park.
Cabot officials have resurrected a proposal to lease part of West Mabou Beach Provincial Park for the development of a new golf course. However, concerned community members say the part of the park Cabot wants is the most ecologically sensitive.
Liberal Leader Zach Churchill said his caucus does not support Cabot's proposal.
"Nova Scotians really value our beautiful provincial parks and certainly there's got to be a better development idea to expand Cabot than infringing on the park that's there," he told reporters at Province House Tuesday.
NDP Leader Claudia Chender said her caucus also opposes the proposal.
"On the face of it, it's suggesting building a golf course on top of sand dunes in a provincial park, so it seems like a bad idea," she told reporters.
Cabot, which has former premier Rodney MacDonald serving as a community liaison, has pledged financial support for community groups in the Mabou area should the plan proceed. MacDonald is not a registered lobbyist with the province.
Chender questioned the ability for the company to call such an approach genuine community consultation.
"I think it's specious to say that organizations to whom you have offered to write a cheque support your project. Of course they support your project — you're giving them money."
Government officials have had less to say about the proposal so far.
Finance Minister Allan MacMaster, who represents the area, said he would not comment on the proposal because it could eventually come before cabinet.
Premier Tim Houston told reporters that MacDonald mentioned the plan to him in passing during an event they both attended, but he said the government has received no formal proposal.
If the company does submit a proposal, Houston said it would be evaluated through a rigorous evaluation process by the Department of Natural Resources that would include extensive community consultation.
"What happens to parks, what happens to land that is public land in this province, that will be driven by Nova Scotians," Houston told reporters.
The previous Liberal government faced public backlash across the province after CBC reported the Liberals secretly removed the pending-protection designation for land in Little Harbour so they could discuss selling the land to a private developer who wanted to build golf courses.
That land, known as Owls Head provincial park, became an election issue and the developer eventually abandoned the proposal in the face of strong public opposition. The Tory government recently extended legal protection to Owls Head, making it a provincial park.
Unlike the process the Liberals followed with Owls Head, Houston promised that no discussions related to West Mabou Beach Provincial Park would play out behind closed doors.
"I can assure you that that's not the case here."
But Ray Plourde with the Ecology Action Centre said there should be nothing for Houston's government to consider.
The land is legally protected, ecologically sensitive and unique, said Plourde. That should be enough for the Tories to stop the process before a proposal is even formally submitted, he said.
"Permanently protected should mean permanently protected, not notionally protected until somebody comes along with some scheme or another saying, 'Gee, I want to use that land, so just give it over to me and my company.'"
If Cabot's owners want land for a new golf course, Plourde said they have the resources to buy it themselves from private landowners, rather than turning to the province for what little Crown land is on the books.
"The vast majority of our coast is privately owned," said Plourde.
"Only five per cent is protected by our provincial parks and protected areas [plan] and our two national parks."