Just when we thought there was nothing left to discuss about the national park, our local government has stepped into the fray.
At last week’s regional district board meeting, Osoyoos Director Stu Wells motion to request “the Province of B.C. to re-engage in formal discussions with the Government of Canada re the proposed South Okanagan Similkameen National Park” drew a standing room only crowd of interested citizens to hear the approximately hour long debate.
The discussion concluded with the board endorsing Well’s motion, and left me with the feeling that after nine years of controversy over the prospect of a national park in our midst, we are not going to see an end to the discussion, but rather the beginning of round two.
The park debate seems to have more lives than a cat.
From the beginning, locals were told that no park would occur without their support. Nine years later opposition is as strong as it ever was locally, but the pro park argument continues – through local and national interest groups – while the provincial and federal government entities take a backseat – to the public proceedings, at least.
The early stages of this debate centred on the ecological and environmental merits of a national park. It appears that those benefits were not sufficient to sway the argument, so more recently the pro side of the debate has centred on extolling the economic gains that might be had.
It is curious to me that the most forceful pro park proponent of recent note – the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) has made two rounds in the past six months to communities in the South Okanagan – Similkameen, emphsizing the economic virtues of a national park. This, coming from an organization that, according to their website, is “Canada’s voice for wilderness.”
How do you preserve wilderness and benefit from the economic influx of the size being discussed, that wouldn’t eventually see hundreds – maybe thousands if you believe the pro park view – tramping through the South Okanagan Grasslands? The two ideas are diametrically opposed, in my opinion. (Those extolling a park’s economic benefits also neglect to factor in the loss of the exisitng local ranching industry and its infrastructure.)
Area “A” Director Mark Pendergraft’s suggestion that the province threw the decision in the laps of the directors when they announced their withdrawl of support for the park last January resonates of deliberate intent after following these discussions for the last few years. The way the process is going, it feels to me as though the process is being manipulated, from high levels – a conspiracy, frankly – with different arguments, pro park groups and members of the national government stepping in and out of the discussion when necessary, as though it was a tag team wrestling bout.
To say, as did Area “D” Director Tom Siddon, that the park belongs to all the people of Canada might be true, but that doesn’t mean the ultimate decision that creates it should belong to all the people of Canada. That decision is very much purely a local one. (We don’t get to provide input as to where Ontario builds its next freeway, for instance.)
Area “C” Director Allan Patton’s suggestion that only areas “A,” “B” and “C” participate in a potential referendum is a reasonable approach.
At the end of the day, however, the situation remains where locally, those whose interests are against a park have not been assauged in close to a decade, in spite of all the arguments and promises – a prerequisite Parks Canada themselves said would need to take place before a park could occur.
So, how many more years of debate is reasonable – and who is, or will be, ultimately responsible for putting the matter to rest?
Stay tuned for round two.