Describing the Nova Scotia government’s delay in implementing the Coastal Protection Act as “recklessly irresponsible,” the Ecology Action Centre (EAC) is calling on the province to act immediately.
“By continuing to delay the Coastal Protection Act, this government is practically inviting the ocean into our homes. In 2019, the Coastal Protection Act passed with full support from all parties,” the EAC’s director of programs Marla MacLeod told reporters during a press conference in Halifax on Tuesday.
“This government has repeatedly promised that they would complete and implement the Coastal Protection Act regulations by the end of this year. But as of August, the regulations have been delayed until at least July 2025. Now we are in the third set of consultations … We believe that public consultation is very important. But enough is enough.”
‘People trying to beat the act’
While MacLeod told reporters the province’s lack of movement on implementing the act was a “mystery,” she also said the delay is providing an incentive for some coastal property owners to build faster.
“This is what we’re seeing. People trying to beat the act, even though the act is there for our protection. There are people racing to build close to the coast, too close to the coast, as fast as they can before these regulations come in,” MacLeod said.
“And so this is why we’ve been advocating for this to happen quickly. Because it’s real, it’s live, it’s here, and it’s happening, and so we don’t want to create new problems.”
MacLeod said the climate crisis has become “very real” for many Nova Scotians, particularly over the last year in the wake of increasingly severe hurricanes, unprecedented wildfires, and devastating floods. She pointed to the “huge” sections of coastline on the province’s northern shore and in Cape Breton lost to Hurricane Fiona in 2022.
“Continuing to stall solutions and plan only in the short term is recklessly irresponsible and represents a complete disregard for the safety of Nova Scotians and their families,” MacLeod said.
“The process of adapting our communities to a changing climate is complex and time consuming. Fortunately, there is a straightforward first step. Implement the Coastal Protection Act regulations, and stop building in known risk areas.”
‘About getting authentic feedback’
Just days after Nova Scotia’s historic flooding in July, Premier Tim Houston told reporters implementation of the act “would move forward with more consultations.”
This led NDP leader Claudia Chender to express her belief that the delay was out of concern for private property owners who “won’t have access to the coast in whatever manner they want.”
In a media release last month, the Department of Environment and Climate Change said the province was for the first time contacting coastal property owners for their input on how to plan and adapt development along Nova Scotia’s coastline in response to climate change.
In the provincial legislature on Tuesday, the Halifax Examiner asked Environment and Climate Change Minister Timothy Halman if approval of the Coastal Protection Act regulations was being delayed to give property owners time to finish building.
“No. That’s absolutely not the case. This is about getting authentic feedback from the people who are going to be affected by the Coastal Protection Act,” Halman replied. “In the two previous public consultations, the government didn’t get that clarity from property owners.”
Halman also said he’s committed to the Coastal Protection Act, but he wouldn’t provide a timeline for the implementation of regulations.
NDP leader Claudia Chender told reporters the government has indicated the act won’t be implemented until 2025, after the next election.
“It’s embarrassing. Sea level rise is real. It’s happening,” Chender said. “We all need to take it seriously. I don’t think this government can say it takes climate change seriously if it won’t enact this legislation.”
Until Nov. 7, coastal property owners are encouraged to provide their feedback through a provincial online survey.
‘Yet another delay tactic’
In a media release, MacLeod described that survey as “too broad and often leading.” She said it also covers information previously obtained through extensive consultation and studies, and appears to be “yet another delay tactic.”
MacLeod told reporters that four years of work — including input from numerous stakeholders — already went into developing the regulations. She said repeatedly starting over isn’t an option.
“The protection of our coast affects us all, and every Nova Scotian will feel the impacts and pay the costs resulting from continued delays to the implementation of strong, comprehensive coastal development regulations,” she told reporters.
“We urge all Nova Scotians to tell the government that coastal protection matters to them and to our future.”
While the province has said municipalities could pass their own bylaws while waiting for the Coastal Protection Act’s implementation, the EAC’s coastal adaptation coordinator Will Balser said that places “unfair” pressure on municipalities.
“This is a clear indication that the province is content to offload their responsibilities on the matter,” Balser said in the EAC release. “Municipalities will be stuck filling in the gaps and burdened with the labour and financial costs of legislation that should have been finished years ago.”
‘Things have only gotten worse’
Patricia Manuel, a retired Dalhousie University professor of planning with a specialization in coastal adaptation, also addressed reporters and EAC supporters on the Halifax waterfront.
Manuel said three years of “excellent, thorough, provincewide, boots on the ground type of consultation” resulted in an act with regulations that are sensitive to regional and site conditions.
Pointing to decades of inaction by all three provincial political parties that have been at the helm, Manuel said “not following through on coastal management is one consistent theme in our approach to coastal management in this province.”
“Thirty years ago, our government, a Conservative government, could see that we needed coastal management and began a plan to do just that. Other governments, Liberal and NDP, agreed. But what’s holding us back again now?” Manuel asked.
“Things have only gotten worse. More development pressures. Stronger, more frequent storms. Sea level rise and increasingly damaging and costly impacts of flooding and erosion … If there is another reason to wait until 2025 or beyond for these regulations, it’s hard to imagine what that reason could be.”
Manuel said the Coastal Protection Act would require any development along the coastline be assessed for its susceptibility to erosion.
“For those shorelines that are susceptible to erosion, they seem to be getting hit pretty hard,” she said. “And the more that you try to protect your shore from erosion, it seems the harder you have to try each time.”
‘We don’t have to be in the water’
The go-to solution of putting up seawalls results in more hard surface that generates its own energy when hit by waves. Manuel said this travels down and along the shore, and can impact other people’s properties. She said across the province there are many people and organizations using nature to help protect the shoreline.
“There’s a lot of things we can do in addressing what’s going to be coming and what is happening now. This isn’t new, by the way. It’s been going on forever,” Manuel said.
“It’s just becoming more and more evident as more and more people are trying to build close to the shore. We love our coasts, we want to be near, but we don’t have to be in the water.”
We have to manage this now together
Coastal property owner, conservationist, author, and activist Jane Alexander also spoke during the EAC event. She stressed that the act wasn’t a blanket zoning bil, but would instead affect vulnerable areas like her own home in Lockeport.
“Hurricane Lee, the last one, wasn’t even called a hurricane, but it came so close to the house and so close to the barn that it was heaving up cantaloupe-sized rocks up the walkway,” Alexander said.
Alexander can’t move her own coastal home as the ocean encroaches. She said she doesn’t want others to face what she’s now experiencing.
“I don’t want the legacy of my children and my grandchildren to have to live with what the ocean will do. I respect the ocean greatly, I love her. But water will find a way,” Manuel said.
“She will find a way to come in where she needs to come. And she’s not stopping. We have to manage this now, and we have to manage it together … So please get your act together and pass these regulations.”
With files from Jennifer Henderson