By Richard McGuire
Special to the Chronicle
The proposed national park reserve and marijuana legalization are two issues that MP Richard Cannings expects will be on the minds of his constituents in 2018.
Cannings addressed a number of issues in a video interview last week with the Osoyoos Times at his Penticton constituency office, reflecting on the past year and looking ahead at 2018.
He also spoke about the arrogant attitude of the federal Liberal government concerning ethics, the challenge posed by U.S. President Donald Trump, the past year’s floods and wildfires and his own progress with private member’s bills.
On the national park, he acknowledged hearing concerns from park opponents and said those meetings have been friendly.
“I’ve been trying to get Parks Canada on the ground to answer questions a lot of people have,” said Cannings. “I think a lot of those concerns are unwarranted, but it’s the unknown. People are very concerned about change, especially when it involves land around their homes.”
The federal MP for South Okanagan-West Kootenay noted that Parks Canada put up a website recently about the proposed national park reserve in the South Okanagan-Similkameen, but he said, “I think Parks Canada needs to step up and answer those questions.”
Cannings has been a supporter of a national park since he graduated university in the 1970s and worked for Parks Canada on a contract to study where to locate a park that would best represent the grasslands of the B.C. Interior.
He’s happy that the federal and provincial governments, along with local First Nations, have agreed to sit down and start the process of creating a park, mapping where it will be and considering the kind of park it will be.
“Parks Canada has shown recently that they are very willing to create national parks that aren’t in the mould of Banff or Jasper or Kluane, these wilderness parks,” said Cannings. “We have a very different situation here where we have land that needs protection, and would attract tourism and visitors. But it’s in a very built-up area and it would be a mosaic of land parcels in and around where people live and work.”
He noted that there are ranchers working on that land right now.
“We have to create a park that will take those interests into account so that it won’t affect the livelihoods of people that work on that land,” he said. “I’m confident that the process will go ahead in a satisfactory way.”
Cannings believes many of the issues people have with a national park can be easily dealt with, especially given Parks Canada’s indicated willingness to make this a different kind of park.
“There are other issues that I think will remain, issues around hunting, use of off-road vehicles, those sorts of things,” he said. “I think they are incompatible with most people’s ideas of a national park.”
But Cannings insists the benefits will “far outweigh” concerns about those restrictions. He also points out that in other places where parks have been established, some people have fought them, but have later admitted they were glad they happened.
Cannings believes the marijuana issue will dominate federal news through most of the year and he’s not sure the federal government can meet its July 1 target date for legalization.
“It’s something I think most people still want to move forward on, but it’s proving to be complicated,” he said. “I think it’s important that it be done right.”
Aside from issues of how marijuana will be distributed and sold, there are concerns about the rules under which it can be grown.
Cannings says he has many constituents who want to be able to grow marijuana, process and sell it legally.
“This is a farming crop,” he said. “It’s been grown indoors over the years simply because it’s illegal.”
Growing it outside, he said, would make more sense from an environmental standpoint because of energy considerations. The government has opposed this, but Cannings thinks “they are starting to come around.”
“I think this will evolve,” he said. “I just hope it doesn’t take as long to evolve as when we got rid of prohibition and started selling alcohol again.` There were some very senseless restrictions and I’m hopeful we can move a little faster forward on marijuana.”
But Cannings also says it’s necessary to ensure that children don’t have access to it and that there is a major education program aimed especially at young people.
He’s also concerned that there must be a way of testing for drivers impaired by marijuana.
“We have no way now of testing for impairment,” he said. “We can test to see if they have THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) in their blood, but that is completely unrelated to impairment. It’s not like alcohol.”
Cannings thinks that the government’s tests for THC will be immediately challenged in courts and won’t stand up.
“So, we have to come up with a better way of testing for impairment and people are working on this, but that won’t be ready in time for July 1 rollout,” he said.
On government ethics, Cannings points to situations involving Finance Minister Bill Morneau as well as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Morneau, he said, owns a family company, Morneau-Shepell, that deals in private pensions, but he failed to put the company in a blind trust when he came to office and as finance minister, he dealt with legislation affecting pensions.
“He and Justin Trudeau have not admitted that this is wrong,” said Cannings. “I think any Canadian could see that that is wrong. It’s just that sort of arrogance and if anything, that will be their undoing.”
The attitude of Liberals that everything they do is good for Canada, “bothers me and bothers an increasing number of Canadians.”
Cannings thinks it would be difficult for any government to handle relations with Trump.
“One of the difficulties for the opposition in this regard is that people come up to me and say Trudeau is so much better than Donald Trump,” he said. “I could be better than Donald Trump. You could be better than Donald Trump. It’s a pretty low bar.”
Cannings said Canada has benefitted in many ways from NAFTA, but if it does fall apart, Canada will still be in good shape because it has diversified trade beyond the U.S.
He hopes that Americans will come to their senses on softwood lumber when they see that both the United States and Canada are hurt by the present dispute.
Cannings says he was very excited to see the NDP choose Jagmeet Singh as their new leader, and to see his provincial NDP counterparts form government.
Singh, he says, wants to “inspire Canadians.” And he thinks British Columbians are happy to see how the province is being governed under Premier John Horgan.
His personal highlight in 2017 was having the federal government implement his ideas to close a loophole in the Species at Risk Act that allowed previous governments to ignore recommendations on species needing protection.