Debate is healthy, but at some point, for the sake of the community, the discussion of a national park reserve in the South Okanagan has to move past “yes” or “no.”
“No-park” people have put forward some valid concerns over the years, and some not-so-valid theories. The park establishment process does have the feel of undemocratic bulldozing, the feds coming into town and telling locals what to do and where to do it. At the same time Canadians do not have an enshrined right to vote on every single decision made by government.
Conservative leader Andrew Scheer has told the media that, if elected, his party would have no plans to stop the proposed park process. So much for my federal election referendum option.
As someone who has banged his head against the wall of bureaucracy for years, I no longer think “no park” is a realistic option or pursuit. Trains this big don’t slow down easy.
Before anyone rushes to (further) accuse me of bias, I am not advocating those opposed to the park abandon their grievances. What I am proposing is a more wholistic, and perhaps less divisive, approach moving forward.
The memorandum of understanding puts the federal and provincial governments at the negotiating table with the Okanagan Nation Alliance. This is a historic amount of cooperation with Indigenous title holders, and Chief Clarence Louie of the Osoyoos Indian Band made it clear there is a lot of negotiating to be done before establishing any park.
I asked Kevin McNamee, director of protected areas establishment for Parks Canada, if one of the three parties pulled out of the negotiations would the park go ahead. His answer was essentially no. The only realistic “no park” option would be Indigenous stakeholders pulling out of negotiations, as the province and federal government have shown no indication of slowing down.
After the federal government touted the history it created with the MOU and unprecedented co-operation with Indigenous people on land establishment, I think it is fair to say the Okanagan Nation deservedly has a lot of sway in this discussion.
Park dissenters have protested Parks Canada and gathered petitions with hundreds of signatures for the Town of Osoyoos council, who, even if they changed their pro-park stance, would have little power to do much about the establishment of the park.
Instead of protesting those who really aren’t the decision makers in this process, my plea to those staunchly opposed to the park is to find ways to move their contentions forward working with the negotiating parties, particularly the Osoyoos Indian Band.
The discussion around the park is not over, but it may be time for everyone to accept some inevitabilities.
And of course, I will probably be scoffed at as pro-park for this opinion, so here is the mandated: I have nothing to gain or lose from the establishment of a national park reserve.
If there is any dark, outside money to be had (apparently that’s a theory now) I certainly don’t have it. I’ll show you my bank account if you ask.
Political divisiveness, especially when this entrenched, only breeds more division.