For a second consecutive year the Houston government has chosen not to introduce regulations that would require property owners to build farther back from the coast. 

This despite information more frequent and severe storms are on the way and a dire warning made to a Legislative Committee two years ago by Jason Hollett, associate deputy minister of Environment and Climate Change, who said:

We expect to see between 1 and 1.5 metres of rising sea levels in Nova Scotia by the end of this century. In combination with winds and storms, this can worsen coastal erosion, coastal flooding and lead to the permanent submergence of land. Lastly, the Atlantic Ocean is becoming more acidic and ocean temperatures are increasing. All of this means changes to species on land and in water, to natural resources and resource- based sectors like tourism, agriculture, fishing, and forestry that depend on stable climate conditions.

Essentially, change to every facet of daily life. 

The Coastal Protection Act was passed in 2019 after a period of public consultation by the McNeil government. The Houston government came to power in August 2021. Environment Minister Tim Halman told the fall sitting of the Legislature in September 2022 that the drafting of regulations to implement the Act was nearly complete. 

The purpose of the regulations is to protect sensitive ecosystems and make sure construction is carried out at a safe elevation and distance from the province’s coastline. 

After Hurricane Fiona caused more than $300 million damage last fall, Halman said regulations would be introduced during the spring of 2023.

But then late last month, while the government was moving at full speed to introduce amendments to make it easier to license foreign health care professionals and improve access for patients, Halman said the government was still not ready to proceed with the regulations to implement the Coastal Protection Act.

“We should have had these regulations years ago,” said Will Balser, the coastal adaptation coordinator with the Ecology Action Centre. “Hurricane Fiona was a clear sign that the implementation of the Coastal Protection Act is long overdue. Now we are seeing the results of irresponsible development in the face of a changing ocean climate, and the impacts are startling.” 

As an example of irresponsible development, Balser pointed to a house former Halifax mayor Peter Kelly is building that is “too close to the water and barely above sea level” on property he owns near Eagle Head Beach, Queens County. Balser suggests this is the type of shoreline development new regulations would prevent. 

“Delaying these regulations now, with no timeline for when they will be completed, is beyond disappointing,” said Balser. “This government is failing the public in its duty to protect them from intensifying impacts of climate change.” 

A white man with a moustache and eyeglasses.
Will Balser, the coastal adaptation coordinator with the Ecology Action Centre. Credit: Ecology Action Centre

So why has the Houston government chosen to postpone the implementation of regulations designed to protect sensitive ecosystems ?

In an interview with the Halifax Examiner last week, Halman said he wants to develop an education campaign to explain the new regulations to improve compliance and avoid creating an enforcement issue for the government. Halman suggested his background as a former high school teacher may have influenced his decision.

Halman believes if property owners understand the reasons for the new restrictions, there’s a better chance the regulations may be effective. Here’s Halman’s explanation for the delay:

In the development of the regulations, it was evident a lot of great work went into consulting with the municipalities and with land surveyors. However, we still have more work to do on the education side with Nova Scotians who are coastal property owners… so this is a new phase we are entering because there was a big gap that was missing in the development of the regulations. And I want this to be successful because it is a component of our climate adaptation plan for Nova Scotia.

Halman said the Environment Department employee tasked with heading the coastal protection file is now starting work on the public messaging around coastal protection. Stay tuned.

The EAC remains disappointed that four years after the passage of the Coastal Protection Act, the present government refuses to commit to any timeline for when regulations will be implemented. 

That said, Balser said the EAC has told Halman it is ready to assist with the development and promotion of a public education campaign around the (urgent) need for better coastal protection. 

Jennifer Henderson is a freelance journalist and retired CBC News reporter.

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  1. The protection of sensitive natural environments must be undertaken by any serious government. Minister Halman should be advised that we are already educated enough to recognize that. What is needed from government is strenuous limitations on those who pursue self interest and choose to ignore what is already known about environmental considerations.

  2. Sighhh… It’s hard to have a degree in heat transfer and read about the climate crisis. Stable climate? That has never existed. Sea levels will continue to slowly rise, hurricanes will continue to be part of life in Nova Scotia and waves from every big storm will cause erosion at high tide. None of this is new. And every climate study will conclude that the situation is dire and the only solution is more funding for more studies. C’est la vie.