Connecting the (Blue) Dots

CBRM Council has declared its support for the Blue Dot movement.

Launched in 2014 with the backing of the David Suzuki Foundation, Blue Dot is a “national campaign to advance the legal recognition of every Canadian’s right to a healthy environment.” In passing its resolution of support last night, the CBRM joined 173 other Canadian municipalities (including Yarmouth, the first municipality in Nova Scotia to sign on, in June 2015, and Inverness County, which passed its resolution in March 2016).

The ultimate goal of the movement, is:

…to amend the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to include the right to a healthy environment, so that we can join the 110 countries around the world that already have this right included in their constitutions.

Council was first approached to join the movement in June of 2017, when David Suzuki Elder Paul Strome of Chéticamp gave a presentation to the general committee of the CBRM council. The general committee called for an Issue Paper on the movement which was presented (17 months later) during the November 5 general committee meeting. That committee voted in favor of supporting the declaration and sent it to council, which voted to approve it last night.

Here’s the CBRM’s version of the declaration:




I don’t know how accomplished the CBRM will ever become at Two-Eyed Seeing but judging by that reference to the Bras d’Or Lakes’ status as a UNESCO Biosphere and to the Bras d’Or Lakes Collaborative Environmental Planning Initiative (CEPI), it’s mastered the art of speaking out of both sides of its mouth.

When David Suzuki Elder Paul Strome of Chéticamp presented to council on the Blue Dot Movement last June, he made specific reference to CEPI, an initiative of four levels of government — municipal, provincial, federal and First Nations — coordinated by the Unama’ki Institute of Natural Resources (UINR). CEPI “arose in response to a request by the Cape Breton First Nations Chiefs in 2003 to develop an overall environmental management plan for the Bras d’Or lakes and watershed lands.” Strome told CBRM Council:

I want to take a little time to talk about an organization closer to home, that’s the Bras d’Or Lakes Collaborative Environmental Planning Initiative or CEPI, which was conceived by the five Mi’kmaq chiefs and has been doing incredible environmental work since 2003.

CEPI is an amazing example of what a team can accomplish by attracting elders, scientists, students, experts and visionaries to come together with a common goal in mind.

Bras d'Or Charter. (Click to enlarge)

Bras d’Or Charter. (Click to enlarge)

After council had voted to approve the declaration in principle and order up a staff Issue Paper, Mayor Clarke wrapped things up, saying:

[Y]ou did mention CEPI and of course, the cooperation and collaboration with…our First Nation partners around the lake. And I do know that Councilor [Esmond] Marshall is playing a lead role, but also, historically, Councilor Ivan Doncaster has played a key role and former Councilor Mae Rowe all participated as well as our watershed committees in terms of municipal engagement, so that will carry on. So we are an active participant in those processes.

And yet, a year and change later, when Calgary land developer Chris Skidmore proposed a 500+ site RV campground in Big Pond Centre, on the shores of those Bras d’Or Lakes, and some citizens pointed to the CBRM’s obligations to CEPI as a reason to turn Skidmore down, the CBRM was suddenly a far less “active participant” in “those processes.” Here’s how the planning department responded:

What CEPI has not achieved yet is a plan for the Bras D’Or Lake watershed with an implemented bureaucratic process to regulate development in compliance with it. Yes, CBRM is a signatory to the CEPI Charter, but so is every other municipality within the watershed, but so are four departments of the Province and three departments of the Federal Government. To be candid Planning Department staff no longer regularly attends meetings of CEPI out of frustration because we can’t afford to commit our scant staff resources to a project that was seeing little progress towards its objective i.e. to develop an overall management plan for the Bras D’Or Lake. To expect a Municipality whose jurisdiction covers less than 25% of the Bras D’Or Lake watershed and whose jurisdictional responsibilities don’t cover the scope of concerns expressed at the Public Hearing and in the written submissions to take on the role of environmental protector is neither fair nor realistic.

First, as the Spectator has noted before, the CBRM planning department had no problem devoting its “scant resources” to promoting Skidmore’s RV development. Skidmore himself barely spoke during the February public hearings on the project; the heavy lifting was done by the planning department — first in presenting the RV park plan to council, then in refuting each and every objection raised by the public.

And second, the logic of the argument quoted above simply doesn’t stand up to scrutiny: if you support the concept of a comprehensive regulatory framework governing development on the Bras d’Or Lakes and watershed lands, and if you recognize the ecological, environmental and cultural significance of the watershed, then you don’t throw a hissy fit because the process is taking too long and approve a project you have to suspect would not be permitted once such regulations were in place.

Proof that this project would probably not be up to CEPI-drafted development standards? Councilor Marshall, acknowledged by the Mayor for his engagement in CEPI, voted against the RV Park proposal (as did Councilors Eldon MacDonald, Ray Paruch, Ivan Doncaster, Amanda McDougall and Kendra Coombes). And Chief Wilbert Marshall of Potlotek First Nation — another CEPI signatory — warned that a failure to vote “no” to the park could damage the CBRM’s relations with the Island’s First Nations.


UNESCO Biosphere

CBRM’s planners were equally dismissive of the Bras d’Or Lakes status as a UNESCO Biosphere and residents’ fear this designation could be lost if the RV Park were permitted to go ahead:

Council is on record as supporting the Biosphere Reserve Association’s application for this UNESCO designation. However, when the Chair of the Association lobbied Council for its endorsement he made it quite clear that the Regional Municipality would be under no obligation to adopt more stringent regulatory provisions if the designation was approved and their website confirms the development rights of individual property owners are not to be restricted because the watershed is now a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.

Source: UNESCO

Source: UNESCO (Click to enlarge)

While it’s true a UNESCO Biosphere designation doesn’t preclude development, that doesn’t mean it welcomes it in any form. According to UNESCO, a biosphere reserve has three “interconnected” functions:

  • Conservation: protecting cultural diversity and biodiversity, including genetic variation, species, ecosystems and landscapes and securing services provided by such diversity
  • Development: fostering economic and human development that is environmentally and socially sustainable and culturally appropriate
  • Logistic support: facilitating demonstration projects, environmental education and sustainable development education and training, research, and monitoring. While education, research, monitoring and capacity enhancement are seen as components of the logistic or knowledge-generation function of biosphere reserves, they are also integral to the conservation and development functions.

I honestly do not see how anyone could read that description and think it applied to Skidmore’s proposed RV Park — with its splash pads and ATV trails and zip lines and sand beach and floating docks.

What also strikes me, though, is that in the case of the RV Park, no one was asking the CBRM to adopt “more stringent regulatory provisions” to prevent its development — residents were simply asking the CBRM to enforce the regulatory provisions already in place, namely, a zoning by-law that did not allow the development of an RV Park in Big Pond Centre.



David Suzuki Elder Paul Strome presenting to CBRM Council. 6 June 2017.

David Suzuki Elder Paul Strome presenting to CBRM Council. 6 June 2017.

Is it possible that, with the Blue Dot declaration, Council actually means it this time? That it is ready to consider the environmental impacts of its development decisions rather than simply insisting the environment is a provincial jurisdiction?

Because, as Paul Strome told me by phone on Tuesday, although a key focus of the movement is to pressure provincial and federal governments to protect the environment, the declaration has real implications for municipalities, too. In fact, he said, he finds the whole concept of “jurisdiction” when it comes to the environment to be “rather odd.”

Municipalities, he said, “are where we live” and “we’re the ones who need clean water and clean air.”

He points to Inverness County which has passed a law banning fracking (which had been proposed for the middle of Lake Ainslie) as proof municipalities can play a role in protecting the environment in general — and water in particular. Said Strome:

The whole Bras d’Or Lake system is really important to thousands and thousands of people. Not just people, but all living things here in Cape Breton…When we look at, for instance, that issue about the trailer park….We need to talk with each other in order to do the best we can for the citizens who live here. And it’s only by cooperating in a democratic way that we get the best for everybody…If we don’t consider those people who live close to these contentious [projects] then we really aren’t doing anyone any justice. Those people who live downstream from or are close to these locations, they have a vested interest in what’s going on. And it’s those proposals that are critical. And that’s mentioned in the Blue Dot movement declaration.

Which, indeed it is. Citizens, the CBRM has just declared, have:

…the right to participate in decision-making that will affect the environment.

It will be interesting to see what that looks like in practice.






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