I recently had an opportunity to participate in a meeting with Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna and other stakeholders expressing concerns with regards to a proposed national park reserve in the South Okanagan-Similkameen.
McKenna was unable to provide much in the way of actual information. She casually dismissed local concerns such as fire suppression and infrastructure, choosing instead to discuss tourism and economics.
While these are important topics, there was little mention of the real issue that is at stake: the conservation of unique ecosystems that exist nowhere else on earth.
It is hard to imagine how such sensitive areas will thrive with tens of thousands of additional visitors camping, tramping and driving over them.
Finally, when the floor was opened for questions, I asked the minister directly if the government would be willing to put this matter to a referendum. Her response was no, and that I might not like that answer, but that’s how it is.
The government will not enter into democratic process with local people regarding the implementation of a national park reserve, even if the people request it.
It seems misguided that the government has already decided on the necessity of a park when it is unable to provide even the most basic details concerning boundaries and management.
Exactly what research is this all based on? Or is it just part of some private agenda that completely dismisses the local people, environment and culture?
I find this to be incredibly disturbing. Canadians value democracy, even if we don’t like the outcome at times. This is not democracy, nor is it collaboration.
The federal government seeks to control large tracts of land in the South Okanagan-Similkameen, and charge for access. It will market the land to outsiders and bulldoze sensitive grassland for parking areas and gravel roads, just as it has done in Gros Morne and Banff. It will subject the area to Parks Canada’s abysmal track record with regards to management and funding. And it doesn’t care what you or I think about it.
The South Okanagan-Similkameen exists in all its beauty to be responsibly explored by locals and tourists alike right now, as it is.
There are many stunning single tracks available for your enjoyment. They are free of cost, and many of them are already protected by the province and non-governmental organizations, as they should be.
Sasha Hopp, South Okanagan
Similkameen Preservation Society, Oliver