When Canadians see the words “national” and “park” together they have a vision: magnificent landscapes of national significance in a largely natural ecological condition, protected from traditional industrial, agricultural, hunting, trapping and motorized activities; a legally protected landscape managed, however imperfectly, by a public service of trained, accountable managers whose legal mandate is to protect and serve the interests of each and every Canadian regardless of geography, race or language.
National parks serve a social and environmental agenda recognized world wide as one of society’s greatest accomplishments.
Protected, ecologically functional landscapes are increasingly rare and the inherent value that most humans place in these natural refuges attracts widespread interest.
But national parks were not solely established for purposes of economic growth or political payback; they were at least equally intended to provide protection to keep native landscapes, wildlife and plant communities, all in danger of being crushed by human exploitation, ecologically functioning and viable.
It is disturbing news that the politics of exclusion engulfing an Okanagan national park threaten to dismember the working principles behind national parks.
The greatest threat is a fundamental breakdown in inclusive democratic process driven by the politics and manipulation of today’s federal government.
Our local Member of Parliament mused that what was intended to be a national park “will be more of a park that celebrates the ranching community type of thing”, or “more of an indigenous park.” A “fake park,” in other words.
Instead of treating this as a landscape that should be protected, Parks Canada is looking at it as a development exercise to pay off special interests.
One of the most ecologically degrading land uses known – livestock and horse grazing, accompanied by weed infestation, “predator control,” salting and water diversion – will continue, as will work-related and “ceremonial” off-road vehicle travel by local ranchers and Indian bands.
This agenda has never been reported to or approved by Canadians.
A fake Okanagan park will break the historical contract with Canadians meant to protect nationally significant landscapes “unimpaired for future generations.”
It will set a legal precedent that threatens to gut the long history and significant conservation role of national parks in Canada and corrode Canada’s national park system; the “rotten apple in the barrel” effect.
It threatens to be a massive transfer to minority interests, of authority and accountability that presently resides with 33 million Canadians.
All Canadians will suffer if this government foists a fake Okanagan national park on us.
A rare opportunity for an ecologically effective, publicly accountable national park will have been squandered.
This action will subvert any chance that critical and unique ecological landscapes will receive the protection and accountable management Canadians have long hoped would be the case.
Parks Canada has a democratic, moral and legal obligation to hold public hearings and listen to all Canadians in western Canada and across the country.
We all have a right to be heard on this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Otherwise we will be dealt a fake park and severely compromised accountability.
Dr. Brian l. Horejsi, Penticton