George Buranyi 26Mar2021

My letter to MODL [Municipality of the District of Lunenburg] regarding their support of the Concerned Landowners Coalition opposition to the Biodiversity Act:. Posted on WWNS

I listened to the March 23 council meeting recording regarding providing support for the Concerned Private Landowners Coalition seeking amendments to the Biodiversity Act. There are several issues with councils actions on this matter:

1. This council along with the Federal government both declared a climate emergency in 2019. Refusing to support council member Haysom’s request to change the letter wording to support the intent of the Biodiversity bill is a failure to act in accordance with the declaration of a climate emergency and to appreciate and understand what that declaration signifies.

2. Several council members are private landowners who recognize and have a sensitivity to a bill that seems to abrogate their rights regarding ownership. However, many people own private property of some form – homes and the land they sit on being the most common. We all accept government having some degree of say in our rights regarding that property especially if it effects the rights of others or endangers their health (e.g. my sewage system failing, noise levels, storing hazardous materials, keeping the place unsightly).

Being an owner of a larger piece of property such as woodland should not privilege those owners from having different rights in regards to our government’s establishing policy and legislation that meets the larger goals of Canadians and Canadian society and our international agreements. We saw this yesterday when the Supreme court ruled that the carbon tax was constitutional and denied the claim of three provinces that it was a provincial jurisdiction.

I bring this up because in ruling in favour of the Federal government the court also noted that: “This matter is critical to our response to an existential threat”. Destruction of biodiversity is an existential threat. Private property rights are subordinate to the interests of a nation despite how much that may not sit well with landowners (I happen to be landowner and strongly support this bill). Governments have always had the power to override property rights in an emergency or crisis (War is an example, and the climate and biodiversity crisis is on par with that but is simply unfolding slower making it difficult for most of us to see the danger).

We are facing an existential threat and protection of biodiversity is essential. The provincial government in the Biodiversity bill is recognizing that fact. It is not a perfect bill but to fail to honor it’s intent was misguided. To try to enshrine private property rights above provincial interest and the future of our children is a mistake.

The government should have the right to establish Emergency Biodiversity Zones on private property if that is in the provincial, national and international interest. It should compensate the owner and ideally consult with the owner in the process and try to reach agreement. The fine structure needs to remain in place as a deterrent. This is not unusual. The Species at Risk Act allows for up to $1 million against corporations and much longer jail time. In the 13 years up to 2017 across Canada there were 444 enforcements and 10 convictions with most individual fines below $10K and one corporate fine of $750,000. So Mr. Zwicker’s fear of government overreaching seems unfounded.

3. The presenters stated they were representing the Concerned Private Landowners Coalition (CPLC) yet in an interview with CBC’s Preston Mulligan on March 7, Mr. Bishop acknowledged that this is not a formal organization. Instead it is a front group for the interests of Forests Nova Scotia which funds the expensive full page ads that the coalition has been placing. Forests Nova Scotia, as some of you are aware, represents the interests of over 600 members including not just small woodlot owners but industrial players and saw and lumber mill operators and the larger players have a significant vested interest in watering down the Biodiversity Act. The ads are misleading and designed to foment fear among landowners and use them to further the agenda of industrial forestry. A recent ad claimed “Halifax Activists” are trying to control what happens across the province. This is a lie. Most of the activists opposing clearcuts directly are rural based and many are landowners. CPLC has degraded the discussion on an important bill to “rural vs. urban” and “elite vs. common folk” reminiscent of what we witnessed south of the border for four years. Such campaigns undermine a healthy democratic process.

The CPLC campaign is not about altruistic concern for the many small landowners. Forests Nova Scotia and the forestry consortium have lost the confidence of the public. A petition of over 38,000 signatures is calling for an end to clear cutting. There have been regular protests, a two month blockade and dozens of media pieces about these protests. Did nobody wonder why two important people in the industrial forestry sector were presenting for CPLC and why the industry needs to create and fund a group to oppose the Act that could curtail their decades long destructive forestry practices? If they did not do this at arms length the public would see it for what it was and dismiss their ads.

4. Council may want to consider Ms. Haysom’s recommendation to invite a presentation by experts from the environmental side to discuss the Act and what there is to like and support about it. I believe the Ecology Action Center was mentioned and that would be a great start.