December 18th, 2020
I have written to inquire about your positions on NS environmental issues twice before. You didn’t bother to respond. After a fellow activist met with you, and you told her your silence was due to a preference for phone conversations, I reached out twice more to provide you with my cell number. But I guess you were simply trying to avoid an awkward question when you chatted with my colleague because you never did call (or answer my messages at all). Sadly, I am not even surprised, because your silence is emblematic of the party that you wish to lead.
Indeed, the provincial Liberal’s lack of transparency, accountability, or even willingness to discuss issues in which the public interest conflicts with a corporate one has never been clearer than the past two months. I’m referring, of course, to the campaign to save critically endangered mainland moose habitat in the Southwest Nova Biosphere Reserve from being clear-cut by WestFor, a consortium of 13 large mills/forestry companies. This issue is no longer simply a grave injustice against the moose and the forest; it has become an injustice against democracy itself. You’ve been busy crisscrossing the province talking about other things, so allow me to provide you with a brief timeline in case you haven’t been paying close attention.
On October 21st, a dozen-ish concerned citizens established an encampment blockade to prevent WestFor from clearcutting mature Acadian forest that contains some of the last remaining habitat for the critically endangered mainland moose. The encampment remained, through cold and snow, for eight weeks before being forcibly removed by police. Throughout that time, its occupants made repeated requests to speak with Minister of Lands & Forestry Derek Membourquette. Every one of those requests was ignored. (At this point, it bears stating that just last year, the NS supreme court ruled your government was guilty of “a chronic systemic failure to implement action required under the Endangered Species Act” in a case that specifically cited the mainland moose, but I digress…)
To be clear: the dozen+ encampment occupants were not far-left radicals with fringe views. During those same eight weeks, the Nova Scotia chapter of Extinction Rebellion staged three phone/letter-writing blitzes in support of the encampment. I have no way to know how many Nova Scotians called & wrote your government during those actions, but I do know it was substantial. During the first phone blitz, Marcus Zwicker’s (i.e., the GM of WestFor) voicemail was completely filled. The L&F office aide I spoke with said that the phone had been ringing off the hook and that I was her fourth call in five minutes. The NS Liberal response to the public outpouring of concern, when it bothered to respond at all (my response rate was 1/3), comprised form letters in which the Ministry of Lands & Forestry (L&F) absolved themselves of responsibility and washed their hands of the problem.
But there’s more. On November 18th, a report was issued to UNESCO describing how, by allowing WestFor to destroy endangered moose habitat, the provincial government was violating legally mandated UNESCO goals. It further stated that SWNS risked being stripped of its UNESCO biosphere reserve status. Your government covered their ears and hoped the report would go away. On November 23rd, Halifax activists staged a peaceful, socially-distanced sit-in at the Halifax L&F office. They had one demand: That Minister Membourquette pick up the phone and call an encampment representative. Your government had the activists arrested instead. On November 29th, a public (socially-distanced) protest was held near the encampment area. Your government pretended not to notice. In early December, L&F was presented with multiple pieces of evidence which showed that moose were regularly present near the blockade area. Your government (via L&F) described this evidence as “not overly useful” and filed it away on a shelf to collect dust. At the same time, your government was sent a petition (now containing over 30,000 signatures) demanding a halt to all even-aged forests harvests on crown land until the Lahey Report is implanted in full. Your government ignored those 30 thousand Nova Scotians as well.
…And you continue to ignore us.
Mr. Kousoulis, despite a clear scientific consensus that the twin climate and biodiversity crises facing our planet are the greatest threats of our generation, not a single environmental concern made it to the list of Liberal delegate priorities.
Now we’re in mid-December. Last week, a young, concerned Nova Scotian named Jacob Fillmore set up a tent in Grand Parade outside of Province House. Like the original encampment occupants, Jacob is risking his health sleeping on the ground, through snowstorms, because he is so desperate for the provincial government to stop ignoring its citizens’ voices.
Will you pay attention to Jacob, Mr. Kousoulis? Will you pay attention to the many calls and letters I know you received today in support of what Jacob is doing? Will you, unlike your predecessors, pay attention when tens of thousands of Nova Scotian speak up to demand your government protect public interests over corporate ones?
In my earlier letters, I asked you three direct questions about environmental issues in Nova Scotia. Your lack of response suggests that I was setting the bar too high. So today, I will only ask but one, and a simple yes or no will suffice: If elected, will you buck the NS Liberal tradition of appointing businessmen and former businessmen to the positions of Minister of Environment and Minister of Lands & Forestry and instead commit to appointing ecologists, conservation scientists, or individuals with a proven record (read: not lip-service and green-washing) of prioritizing conservation and sustainability to these important posts?
Your answer will help clarify to Nova Scotians who, if elected premier, who you will actually pay attention to.
Yours in correspondence,
BSc, ecology; MES, landscape ecology