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MLAs discuss Sable Island, environment at Dal

By Scott BeedStaff Contributor

Sable Island may be a federally- and provincially-protected wilderness area, but some of the province’s more eco-savvy politicians argue more needs to be done.
Dalhousie University hosted an environmental panel last Monday. It was the same day the province made the Sable Island announcement and much of the conversation hinged on protected wilderness.
Howard Epstein, Leonard Preyra and Michele Raymond, all members of the New Democratic Party, and Liberals Andrew Younger and Diana Whalen joined the crowd for the informal discussion.
“It’s a really good day for me today,” said Preyra, MLA for Halifax Citadel Sable Island, who had pushed for the protected land.
Sable Island, known for its ponies, has a population of four. Preyra says it’s important to protect the habitat and wildlife because they are part of Nova Scotian culture.
The decision comes as part of the province’s Buy Back program.
Through the program the province has already put nine per cent of Nova Scotian land under protection from development, with a goal to put a total of 12 per cent under protection by 2020. Epstein said the 12 per cent marker isn’t an end point, but he wants to look at it as an attainable goal.
Unlike other provinces, such as B.C. where the provincial government already owns 90 per cent of the land, N.S. owns only about four per cent. In order to protect land, Epstein explained, the province has to spend vast amounts of money to buy it back from private owners.
Younger argued that the NDP’s buyback plan is misleading.
“If you just say we’re gonna add Sable Island and count that, you haven’t really added anything that wasn’t technically already protected,” he said.
He said nine per cent is a step forward but that opposition parties have not been told what land that percentage represents. No one has access to the information about the land the government plans to buy.
The protection of Sable Island is governmental grandstanding, he added. Younger said the NDP is only adding the island to the list of protected areas for good publicity.
“The government would never dream of selling off Sable Island or developing on it,” he said. “So by adding it to the 12 per cent you’re effectively just padding your numbers.”
The event was mostly informal. About 50 people participated, clasping mugs of fair trade organic tea and eating from plates of homemade hummus with crackers.
“This semester we wanted to bring the focus back home and we started thinking about how so many Dal students are from out of province,” said Kaleigh McGregor-Bales, of SustainDal, a society that promotes sustainable campus policies.
She added that new students often don’t know the issues or the political climate in N.S. SustainDal decided to host the informal Q&A panel discussion to spark conversation between students and the MLAs.
“We wanted to just educate students, get them involved, give them the chance to meet the local politicians so hopefully they’ll find it easier to get more involved in their new home out east,” said McGregor-Bales.
McGregor-Bales said the invitation was sent out to any MLA who lived relatively close to campus because they wanted to cut down commute time.
“Luckily the ones who were interested were the ones who had more background in environmental issues, so they can speak to actual issues they’re pushing for in the provincial legislature” she said.
McGregor-Bales said SustainDal has focused its attention on the federal government. Their main concern was how Harper’s Conservatives were dealing with climate change and the Copenhagen conference.
Noticeably absent from the panel participants were Conservative MLAs. McGregor-Bales said she sent invites to many Conservative MLAs with no response.


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