Frequently Asked Questions
Photo credit: Gabe Mac
Is West Mabou Beach Provincial Park really a provincial park?
Yes, West Mabou Beach Provincial Park in Cape Breton is a designated provincial park, which means that it is legally protected under the Provincial Parks Act. A Progressive Conservative government designated West Mabou Beach Provincial Park in 2001.
Aren't Provincial Parks off-limits to development?
The Provincial Parks Act states,"All provincial parks are dedicated in perpetuity for the benefit of present and future generations of Nova Scotians."
Sounds great! So what's the problem?
Many people don't realize that the Provincial Parks Act gives the Minister of Natural Resources and Renewables and the Cabinet a high degree of discretion when it comes to the fate of provincial parks in Nova Scotia. CBC's Victoria Welland explained the situation in an article titled "Nova Scotia's provincial parks aren't as protected as you may think."
The Provincial Parks Act gives the minister of natural resources and renewables a number of powers, including to "dispose of flora or fauna in a provincial park" and "grant a license, privilege or concession with respect to a provincial park" for up to five years.
Cabinet has even more sweeping powers, including to decrease the size of a park, terminate the status of a park, grant leases for park land and to regulate the use of lands in a provincial park.
Environmental lawyer Jamie Simpson, who worked on the Owls Head file, pointed out that the language of the Act allows the government to interpret "dedicated in perpetuity for the benefit of present and future generations of Nova Scotians," as it sees fit. "Government could make an argument that that would include golf," explained Simpson.
Could a golf course and the provincial park co-exist?
No, it would be impossible to develop a golf course at West Mabou Beach Provincial Park without destroying the park's essential values. Building a golf course in this Natural Environment Park would have dire impacts on the sensitive dune ecosystems, jeopardize the rare and endangered species that depend on this habitat, and set a dangerous precedent for the province.
Cabot Cape Breton's CEO, Ben Cowan-Dewar has said, "The province, who owns the park, would continue to own it, we would operate on top of it.”
Reporter Lorna MacNeil pointed out many reasons why this thinking is nonsensical, including:
A provincial park is, by definition, for the people of the province – and tourists, too. You cannot chop off one-third of it and turn it into a space for only those who can pay a hefty entry fee.
Our government, in its plan titled Parks and Protected Areas , describes West Mabou Beach Provincial Park, in part, like so: Contributes to Province’s goal of protecting 12% of its land base by 2015; unique dune field; one species of bird found at the park is listed as critically imperilled and another two species vulnerable to extirpation or extinction. In addition, two species of vascular plants were listed as imperilled and one species as vulnerable to extirpation or extinction.
The plan noted above was developed by consultation with the people of Nova Scotia. At no time did anyone in government state that we will protect the habitat of threatened species of birds and plants as planned except if someone wants to build a golf course there or operate on top of part of it.
The very reasons that this park was designated in the first place should preclude Cabot's proposal.
When the PC government legally protected West Mabou Beach Provincial Park in 2001, Ernie Fage (who was the Minister of Natural Resources at the time) emphasized the importance of the site:
"This property contains one of Nova Scotia's finest coastal beach and dune systems in a spectacular scenic setting and is a prime example of the type of Crown Land that needs to be protected for future generations. We recognize the need to protect this area in order to preserve its ecological integrity and values."
If the Cabot Group wishes to build another golf course, it must do so on suitable private land, not in a designated provincial park.
How does this issue affect the rest of Nova Scotia?
The messaging from the Cabot group focused on 'consulting' the local community and downplaying the provincial nature of this issue. But this is a provincial park, which was protected by the provincial government, after consultations with the people of Nova Scotia.
In short, it's pretty hard to take the "provincial" out of "Provincial Park."
Destroying any part of West Mabou Beach Provincial Park to build a golf course would directly contradict the ideals of the Provincial Parks Act and set a dangerous province-wide precedent that parks are only "protected" until the right developer comes along.
What rare and endangered species are present?
West Mabou Beach Provincial Park is home to at least 18 rare and endangered species, including the critically endangered piping plover. This is one of the very few provincial parks in the province where piping plovers breed. West Mabou Beach Provincial Park has been identified as "Critical Habitat" necessary for the survival and recovery of the species.
West Mabou Beach Provincial Park is the only known location in the Maritime Provinces where the upswept moonwort grows, making this fern species even rarer than a species at risk.
Rare and endangered species identified at West Mabou Beach Provincial Park:
Piping plover (endangered)
Bank swallow (endangered)
Canada warbler (endangered)
Olive-sided flycatcher (threatened)
Plants and Lichens:
Scaly pelt lichen
Veinless pelt lichen
Haven't we been here before?
This isn't the first time developers have tried to take this public land for private profit—in fact, it's the fourth. In 1989, the Department of Environment prevented a proposed development. In 2000, the Conservative government of the day not only rejected the proposed development but also designated West Mabou Beach Provincial Park as a Natural Environment Park shortly thereafter. In 2017/2018, the Cabot Group took a swing, in spite of the park's protected status. Once again, the government said "no" to the outlandish proposal. But with each new government, it seems that the Cabot Group is trying again.
This time, we're working to save West Mabou Beach Provincial Park—once and for all.
How do we save West Mabou Beach once and for all?
To protect the park, the public coastal access, and the thriving biodiversity, it's important that we work together to advocate for stronger legal protections for provincial parks across Nova Scotia.
How do we bring the Provincial Parks Act into the 21st century?
"What is 'legally protected,' right? There has to be some teeth to that."
— Nadine Hunt, local advocate
Of Provincial Parks, Nature Reserves, and Wilderness Areas, Provincial Parks in Nova Scotia currently have the lowest level of legal protection.
As we learn more about natural ecosystems, biodiversity, and how important protected areas are to our physical and mental health, it's natural to want our legislation to evolve with us and safeguard those values. The right legislative amendments can ensure that special places like West Mabou Beach Provincial Park remain protected for current and future generations.
What can I do to help?
To learn more about how you can stand up for West Mabou Beach Provincial Park, please visit our Take Action page.
Suggestions or questions? Want to get involved? Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.