Opinion piece

A better balance: protect jobs and land

Protected areas plan disproportionately harms Guysborough County

By By Sean Kirby, Executive Director of the Mining Association of Nova Scotia    

The Mining Association of Nova Scotia has just released a new report about the provincial government’s Parks and Protected Areas Plan which highlights, among other things, how the plan is harming Guysborough County.

Based on a plan established by the previous provincial government, Nova Scotia has already protected over 12 per cent of the province’s land mass and the government intends to bring the total to 13 per cent. This would put Nova Scotia in second place nationwide in removing land from economic usage, despite being the second smallest province and a province with some of the biggest economic and demographic challenges.

Our report shows that the plan is potentially costing Nova Scotians 291-356 jobs by preventing mineral exploration and development in protected areas. That is $16-$19.6 million per year in lost wages and $22-$27 million in foregone economic activity each year. The full report, entitled A Better Balance: How we can protect jobs and land for Nova Scotians, is available at: tmans.ca/protected-lands.

The plan disproportionately harms some parts of the province. For example, Guysborough County contains a total of eight overlaps between protected areas and known mineral occurrences, which makes it harder, or outright prevents, exploration and development of all that potential wealth. Some other counties contain far fewer, or even zero overlaps. Also, Guysborough County contains 8.7 per cent of the total amount of protected land in Nova Scotia, almost nine times as much as some other counties and the fourth largest percentage by county.

The Mining Association of Nova Scotia proposes a modest policy change that would strike a better balance between protecting both natural lands and economic opportunity.

A “land swap” mechanism should be added to the protected lands regulatory regime. This would allow mining and quarrying companies to access protected land by purchasing land of at least equal size and ecological value outside of the protected areas and arranging for it to be protected instead. This would ensure that the total amount of protected land remains the same or grows; the ecological value of protected lands remains the same or grows; and Nova Scotians would continue to be able to access the minerals they need to create jobs and grow the economy.

Proposed land swaps would be fully regulated by the provincial government, on a case-by-case basis, to ensure there is a net benefit to the province. The government could even require that the land being swapped in by the company be larger and/or more ecologically valuable than the protected land being swapped out. This creates the potential to not only maintain but improve the government’s portfolio of protected lands, creating a win-win for both the economy and the environment.

The provincial government’s support of our industry has contributed to a banner year for mining in Nova Scotia. Three major new mines are opening in 2017, representing hundreds of new jobs for Nova Scotians and hundreds of millions of dollars in new investment in the province. A little flexibility in the plan would help us find more new mines and create more jobs for Nova Scotians.

While the mining and quarrying industry supports protecting natural lands for future generations, we also believe the plan needs to strike a better balance between protecting land and protecting jobs. Beautiful, natural lands are important, but so are job creation, economic opportunity and government revenues to pay for programs such as health and education.

We need a better balance.