I attended the meeting held in Osoyoos on April 23 by the South Okanagan Similkameen Preservation Society to listen and observe. I took photos of the audience and recorded the meeting as a voice memo. It was not a crowded hall so I questioned the figures for attendance given out to the public afterward and used my photos to count the numbers myself. My count came to 178 and would include both those against the park reserve, which was clearly the majority, and some who support the park reserve but who did not identify themselves, except, that is, for MP Richard Cannings.
The meeting was well organized with several people who presented their points of view, followed by an open microphone so members of the audience could ask questions or make statements. All of those who were speakers were against the park reserve; questions from the audience were either addressed or acknowledged along the lines of “I (or we) don’t know and Parks Canada won’t tell us.” Throughout this time, the audience was quiet and attentive to those speaking and applauded at appropriate moments.
The meeting lasted about 90 minutes. At the end of the meeting Cannings was asked to answer a question from the audience: “since we all live here in a democracy, why is the government so afraid of having a referendum?”
Cannings replied that, “I didn’t come here to make apologies for Parks Canada, I just came here to listen. . . but before I answer that question . . . I just wanted to say that I agree with Tony and Lyonel and Rick . . .but that as most of you know I am not on the no side, I am on the yes side but I totally agree that we share so much . . . and I am heartened every time I go to these kind of meetings . . . I just like to listen . . . I’ve heard a few things and I just want to say a couple of things . . . no expropriations. Parks Canada has said that from the very start 17 years ago, there will be no expropriations here. If any land is sold to Parks Canada it will be on a willing seller, willing buyer basis. As far as the referendum goes, you know it’s not part of, it’s never been used by Parks Canada or the provincial government to make a decision on a national park.”
He explained that Bowen Island was a situation in which a regional district was offering land to Parks Canada that wasn’t part of Parks Canada’s original plans for Gulf Islands National Park, so it was put to a referendum and the people decided to keep it as a regional district park. So referendums “are not part of the usual things.”
Cannings went on to suggest that a referendum wouldn’t solve anything while it would simply continue to be divisive and make no one happy with the results. This was when someone called out: “It would demonstrate that we don’t want the park,” and some heckling and noise began.
Cannings went on to say that we have to get a good idea of what the park is going to look like, that right now we haven’t seen the actual boundaries or policies in place so instead of a referendum, he thought what we should be doing is telling Parks Canada, and they should be listening, what kind of protection we want in this valley, what kind of park we want, at which point Cannings was interrupted by a voice shouting, “We don’t want a park! We don’t want a park! and other voices were raised so it became difficult to hear what Cannings was trying to say.
At that point MLA Linda Larson took over the microphone to express her opposing view and support for the people present who opposed the park to loud applause and cheers. The moderator then thanked everyone for attending and participating, asked everyone to write letters, and encouraged everyone to go to the Osoyoos Town council’s AGM on June 17 and “give her (Mayor Sue McKortoff) a piece of your mind.” Then the meeting ended.
I have tried here to present what I saw for myself and recorded so that I could be as accurate in what I say as possible. The no park people had their say and it got its time in the various newspapers and TV news. The yes park people only had a quote from Cannings taken out of context and the meeting was not a welcoming place for him or anyone else with a different point of view, which is why I felt I should write this letter.