Trans Canada Trail's
Trans Canada Trail goes off-track
The Trans Canada Trail Foundation is the matriarch of the Canadian trail network. It raises millions of dollars, engineers the construction of thousands of kilometers of trails for walkers, hikers, bicyclists and in some areas, snowmobiles. TCT has always maintained that ATVs are not compatible with non-motorized activities, and has recently been promoting its Greenways Vision - trails which were never supposed to be rutted by an ATV tire track.
Except in Nova Scotia.
On October 21, 2008 TCT turned its back on the 65% of the population of Nova Scotia which, according to numerous surveys, want to be as far away from All Terrain Vehicles as possible. The same surveys say that less than 15% of the population want ATVs on recreational trails in the province. Yet, in a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed by the then-premier of NS Rodney MacDonald, the president of Nova Scotia Trails Federation Terry Norman, and the newly minted President and CEO of Trans Canada Trails, Deborah Apps, the Nova Scotia Trails Federation and TCT cemented their commitment to building "shared-use" trails - a worn-down euphemism which everyone now knows means "motorized" trails. NS Trails became TCT's "partner...and...its recognized agent" in the province. In other words, TCT provides the imprimatur of respectability but NSTF calls the shots.
Nova Scotia Trails' historical bias for ATVs should not be underestimated. The current president of NSTF - Ted Scrutton - was the chief architect of the infamous "Kiddie ATV" fiasco while working for the Department of Health Promotion and Protection (HPP). In the public uproar and inevitable house cleaning which followed, Mr. Scrutton "retired" and his boss - Minister of HPP, Barry Barnett - fell on his sword to deflect criticism away from his boss, then-premier Rodney MacDonald. But not to worry - Scrutton was parachuted in as President of the Nova Scotia Trails Federation, and Barnett wound up as the new Executive Director at the All Terrain Vehicles Association of Nova Scotia (ATVANS). Terry Norman, whom Ted Scrutton replaced at NSTF, almost immediately went on to become the "National Coordinator" at the newly formed National Trails Coalition, where his primary responsibility is to ensure that $25 million of federal infrastructure money intended for building new ATV and snowmobile trails is indeed used for that purpose.
As in Nova Scotia, so in New Brunswick, when TCT prostituted itself for the Off Highway Vehicle industry. On March 31, 2006, TCT tore up its agreement with the New Brunswick Trails Council - NBTC. At issue was TCT's demand that ATVs be allowed on the trails operated by NBTC. NBTC said no, and has never backed away from that position.
Unlike the situation in Nova Scotia, this was not about money. At the time, TCT was run by one of Deborah Apps' predecessors who was very much in favour of promoting ATV activity. TCT was feeling the heat for not making more progress in realizing their coast-to-coast trail, and was looking for ways to get through New Brunswick in a hurry. Combining ATV trails with walking trails would help expedite that process, and TCT hooked up with the New Brunswick All Terrain Vehicle Federation.
Trans Canada Trail and the New Brunswick Trails Council formally reconciled on August 3, 2010 when they signed an MOU - along with the government of New Brunswick - to have TCT completed through New Brunswick by 2017. One issue was crystal clear - there would be no ATVs on any segment of the Trans Canada Trail in New Brunswick.
Back in Nova Scotia, TCT had removed the Nova Scotia MOU from its website and makes very little reference to it anywhere. Not surprisingly, it has not been widely circulated. However, you can see the full document here.
A Greenways group called Nova Scotians Promoting Active Transportation on Community Trails (NSPACTS) approached TCT in an effort to establish a coalition of joint interests. It would have been a perfect fit - NSPACTS' Active Transportation objectives were in perfect alignment with TCT's supposed Greenways Vision. Instead, TCT chose to mate with the Nova Scotia Trails Federation - an OHV-dominated group which views "active transportation" - walking, running, hiking, bicycling - with contempt.
In their February 2010 newsletter, NS Trails had this to say:
As the TCT’s Provincial Partner in Nova Scotia, NS Trails will carry forth the message of a "Greenways Vision" and national vision of the Trans Canada Trail, but as recognized in our MOU with the Province and the TCT, we are clearly committed to maintain our provincial community trail development model where in which we support the community’s decided trail type, route and sustainability plan. We genuinely want to ensure that those community trail groups that are currently recognized as managing or planning on completing TCT in NS have every opportunity to be so. We are also committed to continue requesting TCT "National" to recognize NS TCT Phase 2, "The Western Loop".
In the last week of September 2010, rumours began to circulate that a secret agreement had been signed between TCT and the Nova Scotia Trails Federation, apparently as a result of this web page. Reports suggested that NSTF had demanded that the agreement be kept secret. Inquiries produced the disturbing scenario (disturbing for non-motorized trail proponents) that any trail in NS which was currently motorized would remain motorized under TCT stewardship. The controversial "Phase 2, Western Loop" trails seemed destined for official TCT-sanctioned ATV use, which is exactly what NSTF has been asking for all along (see their newsletter, above).
One of our contributors contacted a senior executive at Trans Canada Trail to resolve the uncertainty. In short, he said that any shared-use/ATV trail in NS which was registered under TCT as of the end of 2009 would remain motorized under TCT. Any trail for which a Concept Plan is submitted after the end of 2009 and which includes ATVing as a permitted activity will not be considered for TCT endorsement or support. This specifically shuts the door on the "Phase 2, Western Loop" project. TCT may eventually consider this network as a TCT trail but only as a Greenways trail. No application has been filed by NSTF in this regard. Our contributor was reminded by the TCT executive that there is nothing stopping NSTF from developing the "Phase 2, Western Loop" as an ATV trail but there would be no TCT involvement. This would also assume that NSTF and/or its affiliated trail associations could raise the money for what would ultimately turn into a very expensive undertaking.
TCT insisted that there was no attempt to keep the TCT-NS agreement secret. It was in fact signed in April 2010. That agreement - according to TCT - was to be posted on the TCT website during early October 2010, and it was. The NS MOU - along with similar agreements with the other provinces - can be seen here.
The 2008 MOU offended community groups in NS promoting walking, hiking and bicycling as a preferable use of public, taxpayer-funded recreational trails. NSPACTS is to Nova Scotia what TCT used to be to Canada, and its credibility and appeal to the masses are expanding. It sprung out of the 2008 "Paradise Incident" in which government staff was so incensed by a ministerial ATV ban through Paradise that they choreographed ensuing community consultations until they got the results they wanted, and saw ATVs returned to the trail there. See Trouble in Paradise for a description of the events.
The NS government found itself in the middle of an unhappy spectacle in which a group of Paradise residents dragged it into court. The group wanted the government to reinstate the ATV ban. Career civil servants - long time allies of the off-highway industry - circled the wagons and pressed on with defending the court action.
The batting average to date in terms of court decisions: Paradise, a thousand. Government, zero.
Amazingly, Nova Scotia's NDP government, led by Darrell Dexter, appears indifferent to the awful optics created across Canada by this debacle - a small group of retirees, farmers and just ordinary people having to go to court to force the government to implement its own trail policies and obey its own laws. As explained in detail elsewhere on this web site and in professional journals around the world, this is not about irritants and annoyances, this is about serious damage to people's health. Nova Scotia is the only province in Canada which not only allows ATVs to prevail, but is prepared to promote them in the courts when necessary.
And so, Nova Scotia became the second place in Canada where the Trans Canada Trail Foundation has helped fund ATVs. So why is TCT still fund-raising under the pretense that it is Canada's foremost Greenways builder? It's been suggested by one provincial trail association executive that TCT's pitch for $50 to sponsor a meter of trail is fraudulent because many people would not have contributed if they had known that they were supporting motorized trails.
Reaction in Nova Scotia has been relatively low-key but decidedly negative. Rumblings from TCT staffers suggest that the Foundation's allegiance to off-roaders might be a mistake. But TCT does not answer e-mails from concerned citizens in Nova Scotia on the subject. As news of TCT's about-face spreads, people in Nova Scotia are contacting TCT to ask that their names be removed from the list of donors on the TCT pavilion in Dartmouth. Those requests - as far we know - are not being answered, either.
TCT's reputation has been tarnished, not only in Nova Scotia but across the country. True, TCT may stop funding ATV trails in Nova Scotia by the end of March 2011 (according to their 2010-2011 Trail Funding Guidelines), but by then the damage will be done. As in the case of the Sydney Tar Ponds, perpetrators wash their hands of their mess and leave it for Nova Scotians to deal with. As backyard gatherings are disrupted by convoys of ATVs roaring by and as people are awakened at 3 in the morning by ATVs screaming their way home from bars on TCT-funded trails, people think of the Trans Canada Trail Foundation, and not fondly.
For the Foundation in Nova Scotia, it boils down to money. Off Highway Vehicle activities throughout Canada have been lavishly funded for many years, almost all of it by taxpayers. A snowmobile club in Quebec got a million dollars from the federal government without even asking for it. The OHV industry has hired a lobbyist to promote their interests at the federal level. The $25 million slice of the 2009 Infrastructure Fund allocated to building new ATV and snowmobile trails across Canada was secured by that lobbyist.
The Greenways entities, on the other hand, have to scratch hard for funding. A so-called National Trails Coalition was set up to manage disbursement of the $25 million, and ensuring that most of it went to motorized trails was top priority. Some provincial trails associations walked away in protest; then NTC reluctantly handed out crumbs to walking and hiking clubs. When the New Brunswick Trails Council (NBTC) missed a trail building deadline by a few weeks, NTC cancelled $73,000 they had been promised, a decision the NB group says was made out of personal vindictiveness by senior management at NTC . (At about the same time, TCT was throwing a quarter million dollars into the Judique Flyer ATV trail on Cape Breton Island. The year before, the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency put a half million dollars into the same trail.)
When it comes to keeping ATVs off their trails, New Brunswick Trails Council doesn't just talk the talk, they walk the walk - literally. They build trails which are purposely impassable to ATVs. A trail along the Bay of Fundy incorporates enough narrow twists, turns, hills, and gullies to make it unattractive to ATVs. A 200-foot long suspension bridge was built 3 ½ feet wide - again too narrow for ATVs but great for hikers.
In NB, there is neither misunderstanding nor compromise on the "shared use" approach which is so eagerly embraced by the government in Nova Scotia. For any trails which appears headed for a "shared-use" designation - joint use by ATVs and walkers/bicyclists - New Brunswick ATVers are asked to find an alternate route. If the ATVers refuse to relocate, the NBTC will arrange for an alternate route for walkers and hikers.
Now that the Trans Canada Trail Foundation is an avaricious bottom feeder in the OHV financial food chain, it should come as no surprise that ATV interests and their lobbyists attend TCT meetings, to remind them to caress the hand that now feeds them. TCT has said it won't pay for any more ATV trails in Nova Scotia after early 2011, but there are many opportunities in other parts of Canada for ATV interests to present TCT with offers TCT might not want to refuse. Huge expanses across Northern Ontario and the prairies show no sign of the Trans Canada Trail, proposed or otherwise.
With the ATV industry acutely sensitive to the problem that they're not going to sell many more ATVs unless trails are built for them, and that most Canadians hate ATVs more and more, no other organization is positioned better than the Trans Canada Trail Foundation to open up vast new opportunities for ATVers. This will represent a betrayal of all Canadians who really believe in the benefits of Greenways.