Parks Canada officials refused to attend, but there’s no doubt they would not have liked what was discussed at a meeting Tuesday night in Osoyoos regarding a proposed national park for the area.
The public forum was organized by the South Okanagan Similkameen Preservation Society, which has openly opposed a proposed park that would cover large portions of the South Okanagan and Similkameen valleys.
The SOSPS invited Parks Canada officials to attend Tuesday’s meeting, but they refused, which continues a longstanding pattern of the federal government agency refusing to engage in public discussion about the national park, said SOSPS director Lionel Trudel.
(Parks Canada said in a press release announcing its decision not to attend that it has already undertaken “broad and extensive consultations with residents of the region, stakeholders and all Canadians to obtain their views” on the proposed park.)
Parks Canada’s assertion that the majority of adult residents in the Osoyoos, Oliver, Keremeos and Cawston areas are in favour of a national park is simply untrue, said Trudel.
A telephone survey funded by the SOSPS in December, which focused only on residents of the proposed park area, found 76% of respondents were in favour of a referendum on the matter.
“This is an unusually high number and a great indication even the pro-park people felt a referendum was necessary to clear the air,” said Trudel.
A total of 35% of respondents “strongly opposed” the national park, while 27% strongly supported one.
So the only way to move forward is through a referendum, in which local residents can vote once and for all in favour of or against a national park, said Trudel.
As an alternative, the SOSPS recommends the areas being considered for the national park be managed by a combination of First Nation advisers, BC Parks staff and local volunteers. A First Nation interpretive centre and off-road recreation area near Oliver Mountain are also supported.
“That’s the choice we have to make right now …. That’s rejecting the national park and Parks Canada (or) accepting that there’s a solution and viable alternative,” said Trudel.
Rick Knodel, Area C (rural Oliver) director on the board of the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen, said his personal reason for not favouring a national park is local residents would “give up our sovereignty” to a federal government agency with its head office in Ottawa.
“They really have no concern for us,” he said. “We really don’t have a voting block in this part of the province to really interfere in anything they want to do and that really does concern me,” he said.
Parks Canada has attempted to paint those who are opposed to the park as a “bunch of mud boggers looking to go out there and stomp on a nest of eagles … who are uneducated and unwashed,” continued Knodel. “That’s just not the case. We love this land. We live here.”
Tony Acland, a spokesperson with the South Okanagan Similkameen Grassland Park Review Coalition, which represents a group of ranchers, outdoor enthusiasts, hunters and homeowners, said the coalition has attempted to provide a balanced approach to a national park for the past 17 years.
“The process, in our view, has been biased in favour of the park,” he said, suggesting the existing Land Resource Management Plan has been ignored.
The LRMP document is more in line with what local residents support in protecting regional grasslands and wildlife, said Acland, and provincial wildlife organizations, cattlemen, watershed managers, anglers and forestry industry leaders all support it.
“We want all users to come together not only in consensus to achieve not only environmental conservation goals on a local and global level, but also recognize in law Canadians’ rights to earn a living, recreate and enjoy our surroundings,” he said. “There is a better plan … implement the LRMP.”
Adopted by the provincial government in 2001, the LRMP covers more than 2.5 million hectares and includes resource management zones, environmental protected areas and designated outdoor recreation zones.
Timber harvesting would be allowed in most areas, helping create good-paying, long-term jobs over a few seasonal tourism jobs in a national park, said Acland, while close to 50 protected areas covering more than 123,000 hectares have been identified in it.
Politicians weigh in on referendum
MP Richard Cannings was shouted down and booed at a public forum Tuesday when he stated he doesn’t feel a referendum on a proposed national park for the South Okanagan-Similkameen will happen in the coming months.
Cannings, a members of the NDP who represents South Okanagan-West Kootenay, said referendums have never been used by Parks Canada in the past or by any provincial government, and he doesn’t believe it will happen in this case.
“As a politician, I just wonder what a referendum will accomplish other than making half of the people of this valley very upset,” said Cannings, who is in favour of a park.
“You have to look at who is going be asked in this referendum. I live in Penticton. You would have to define the area of the people who participate in this referendum and … we would have to get a good idea of what the park would look like.
“Right now, we haven’t seen the actual boundaries. We haven’t seen a lot of the actual policy defined. That would have to be worked out. Right now, I don’t think a referendum would help this matter.”
Cannings also told the audience there would not be any expropriation of land if and when a national park is established.
MLA Linda Larson, a park opponent, then took the microphone and said she recently sent a letter to Parks Canada asking that residents of Oliver be allowed to vote in a referendum, an idea that received loud applause from the audience.
“I’ve seen neighbour against neighbour for more than 17 years and if (the referendum) did nothing but use the democratic principle of the majority rules, I would be happy with that,” said the Liberal representative for Boundary-Similkameen.
Those in attendance were urged to write their local MPs and MLAs, as well as send letters to the editor of local newspapers to voice their opposition to the park.