Nova Scotia

Cabot golf plans should avoid protected parkland, say opposition leaders

Opposition leaders in Nova Scotia say that 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.

Liberal, NDP leaders say putting a golf course in a provincial park is a bad idea

People who fought to get provincial park designation for West Mabou Beach and surrounding land are upset that officials with the Cabot golf courses are again trying to get access to the park for a new development. (Communications Nova Scotia)

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.

Liberal Leader Zach Churchill says Cabot officials should be looking elsewhere for a proposed golf course in the Mabou area. (CBC)

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."

NDP Leader Claudia Chender said it's a bad idea to build a golf course in a protected park. (CBC)

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.

A drawing shows where a proposed golf course could be built on the coast in a provincial park.
Developers circulated this map of the park in their proposal outlining where the 18-hole golf course could go, but environmentalists and others say the lands are home to rare plants, lichens and birds. (Cabot Cape Breton)

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."

Premier Tim Houston is seen speaking in a reporter scrum.
Premier Tim Houston says if his government receives a proposal from Cabot officials, it will be evaluated under a rigorous process that includes extensive public consultation. (Robert Short/CBC)

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."

Community divided over Cabot golf course proposal

11 months ago
Duration 2:24
Some people in Cape Breton want the golf course while others say it shouldn't be at West Mabou Beach Provincial Park. Matthew Moore has the story.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael Gorman is a reporter in Nova Scotia whose coverage areas include Province House, rural communities, and health care. Contact him with story ideas at michael.gorman@cbc.ca

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