Future of Lahey report rests in the hands of Nova Scotia's next premier
All 3 candidates pledge support for sustainable forestry practices
What happens with an independent review on forestry practices in Nova Scotia will fall to the next premier to decide.
University of King's College president Bill Lahey delivered his report more than two years ago. Among other things, it called for a reduction in clear cutting and a more ecological approach to forestry.
On Thursday, Lands and Forestry Minister Derek Mombourquette said he continues to work with department officials and an advisory group to advance work on the report's recommendations.
The minister said his goal is to "ensure that the foundation is in place for the next [Liberal] leader and premier to come in to make some decisions."
New leader to be chosen in February
Premier Stephen McNeil announced in August that he plans to retire. Nova Scotia Liberal Party members will elect a new leader and premier on Feb. 6.
"So my target is to get as much done as I can ... before then so the next leader can come in and determine how they want to proceed," Mombourquette told reporters after a cabinet meeting.
"This is important work and I want to do whatever I can to get it over the finish line."
Of the three leadership candidates, no one is more familiar with the file than Timberlea-Prospect MLA Iain Rankin.
Rankin was forestry minister at the time Lahey delivered his report, and worked on the file until resigning last month to seek his party's leadership.
If he becomes premier, Rankin said he'd apply more aggressive timelines to the work and begin implementing major aspects of the report as soon as possible in 2021, including passing the Biodiversity Act and passing the amendment to the Crown Lands Act.
Rankin calls for more conservation
He said he would also move quickly on increasing conservation efforts and identifying more land for protection.
While the stated government target has been protecting 13 per cent of the province's land, Rankin said he wants to go beyond that by completing the Parks and Protected Areas plan. About 100 properties remain on the books as having been identified for protection, but have yet to receive the designation.
Rankin said he's proud of the work he accomplished as forestry minister, including hiring more biologists and launching the first Mi'kmaw forestry initiative, but he said it's time to get on with implementing the Lahey report.
Many of the changes called for in the report hinge on a new forestry management guide, but Rankin said that should be complete by now and ready for public consumption.
"The new management guide effectively eliminates clear cutting in the majority of the forest," he said.
Sustainability is key, says Delorey
Antigonish MLA Randy Delorey, one of Rankin's two challengers for the Liberal leadership, said he understands the important role forestry plays in the province, but the purpose of the Lahey report was to recognize that the industry must function in a sustainable way.
Delorey said he would review the work prepared and determine at that point how best to act if elected leader.
"It's tough to say without seeing the details that come in from minister Mombourquette and the department," he said.
"We need to make sure that the cutting that's done is done sustainably and that's to ensure that the sector is still there; it's to ensure that the biodiversity and the environmental impacts within our province are sustainable. It's in the best interest, both environmentally and economically, to hit that right balance."
Too much clear cutting: Kousoulis
Labi Kousoulis, who is also running for the leadership, said he didn't have any kind of background in forestry when he entered politics. So when knowledgeable constituents started talking to him about the issue, the MLA for Halifax Citadel-Sable Island said he listened.
Kousoulis said it was from those conversations that prompted him to propose the idea of an independent forestry review to McNeil.
"This is how the Lahey report came to be," he said.
If he becomes premier, Kousoulis said he sees no reason why the report and its recommendations should not be implemented.
Kousoulis said he'd like to see the forests given more consideration for tourism value, as well as the possibility of providing carbon credits to people in certain cases as opposed to having land cut.
While he believes there is too much clear cutting happening, Kousoulis said sometimes that's the appropriate practice to use on a piece of land.
"How much is too much? I don't know the answer to that, but every indication I have is there is too much happening, and that is why the Lahey report was so important," he said.