By Belle Hatfield
Yarmouth MLA Zach Churchill has become embroiled in a controversy involving the province’s plans for crown land in western Nova Scotia that used to belong to Irving interests.
In a June letter to environment minister Sterling Belliveau he joined petitioners from the Kemptville area in advocating for a moratorium on any changes in use for the former Irving forest lands that surround Kemptville. He asked the minister for answers to four questions on behalf of his constituents. The NDP’s response was to issue a press release questioning the Yarmouth MLA’s commitment to the environment. His responses in the media have led to further media releases from the NDP attacking Churchill’s, and by extension, the Liberals’ position on protected places.
“The NDP has responded very politically with it. It’s the first time this has ever happened to me with a letter I sent directly to a minister related to a constituency concern,” said Churchill in an interview with the Vanguard.
Churchill says he supports the legislation that will see 13 per cent of the province’s landmass under conservation protection, but he has concerns about whether the lands around Kemptville should be included, and says plans to protect those parcels of land shouldn’t move forward without addressing his Kemptville constituents’ concerns.
“I was presented [in 2010] with a petition with over 2200 names on it over the Irving lands that are slated for protection,” he said, adding, “Their concerns are around accessibility and safety.”
There have been extensive provincial consultations already and that process closed on May 31.
Churchill says he is advocating for his constituents who don’t trust the consultative process, because of how the Tobeatic reserve conservation plan evolved. That area was designated in 1998. Churchill says his constituents felt betrayed by that process, which saw motorized access to traditional hunting camps and grounds restricted. The Tobeatic reserve is 105,000 hectares of wilderness located at the southern end of the Kejimkujik National Park.
The former Irving-owned forest land in western Nova Scotia became the focus of one of the broadest-based, citizen-led coalitions in recent memory when Irving put up for sale around 69,000 hectares of land in 2009. Buy Back Nova Scotia lobbied hard in advance of the last provincial election to secure this vast woodland resource – which includes an extensive trail network, 69 lakes and four or five river system – for Nova Scotians. The newly-elected NDP government cut a deal to secure Irving land in 2010.
“There are some places where it is as appropriate to have an ATV, as it is to have a moose in my living room.” -- Rick Jacques, Buy Back Nova Scotia
Some parcels within that huge swath of land have been identified as worthy of protection, including the Silver River wilderness area, in North Kemptville where the Birchdale lodge, formerly Nova Nada, is located. These parcels were identified through consultation and are included in the province’s Parks and Protected Places plan. The government released the final Parks and Protected Area plan, which aims to conserve 13% of lands by 2015, on Aug. 1. Under the plan, Nova Scotia moves from ninth in Canada in percentage of land protected to second, behind only British Columbia.
Rick Jacques was the founding president of Buy Bank Nova Scotia and has extensive experience in trails management.
He believes that, in years to come, the recent parks and public places consultations will serve as a model for community consultations with Nova Scotians about what they want their government to do with things that belong to Nova Scotians.
“There’s probably been no other process in Nova Scotia’s history that has so involved the public in such a hands-on way. Everybody had 20 different ways to have input. It was so thorough,” he said, adding, “Ninety per cent of the people got 90 per cent of what they wanted.”
Jacques says, he believes there has to be some curtailment of activity in some of those areas.
Jacques sums it up this way.
“There are some places where it is as appropriate to have an ATV, as it is to have a moose in my living room.”
To see the parcels of land deemed protected in the final plan go to: