By Lyonel Doherty
The national park reserve and the Gallagher Lake siphon were the first two topics discussed at Wednesday’s all-candidates forum at Frank Venables Theatre.
Do you agree the national park issue has polarized the community, and if elected, how would you keep Parks Canada beholden to local concerns?
Incumbent MP Richard Cannings agreed the issue has divided the community for a long time.
“There is a lot of misinformation out there, and I have been taking all those concerns to Ottawa.”
He said the key concerns have been met and the park is much smaller than the original plan.
“There will be no expropriation, ranching will be allowed to continue as it always has been, and the helicopter school will be allowed to continue with permits from Parks Canada.”
Cannings said he has been pressing Parks Canada to create a local advisory committee once the reserve is established.
“I think the time has come that we should move ahead, create this park and make a park that we can all be proud of.”
Liberal candidate Connie Denesiuk said she is in favour of the park for the protection of local species and for the economic spin-offs. But she agreed it has polarized the community because the difficult conversations haven’t taken place.
Denesiuk said she is good at bringing people together for a common vision.
“Perhaps at the end of the day, not everyone will be happy but I do guarantee that many of the concerns that people have expressed will be mitigated in the plan.”
Conservative candidate Helena Konanz said Cannings was a third party who wasn’t involved in a lot of the negotiations, and neither was MLA Linda Larson, she added.
“We did not have a voice at the table. A lot of what’s happened with the national park is a problem because of very poor consultation with people who live within the park and around the park border.”
Konanz said they need proper consultation and somebody who actually has a seat at the table to speak for the residents who live here.
“Hear! Hear!” an audience member said to applause.
The next question was for Denesiuk, who was asked what went wrong when Oliver was “left in the lurch” by the Liberal government over lack of funding for the Gallagher Lake siphon repair project.
She said the issue is of great concern to her.
“Obviously I wasn’t in government and could not advocate, but every time I have a position of influence and power I get things done.”
She pointed to her history of being re-elected to the school board nine times.
“This (the siphon project) is something that should have happened,” she stressed, noting she will be at the minister’s door every day to make sure that Oliver gets the project done.
“I won’t rest until we get this infrastructure project approved.”
Cannings said when he was apprised of the situation, he thought it was a “no-brainer” because the siphon is something the entire area’s economy rests on.
“I was amazed when I was told simply that this didn’t fit into any of the categories. It wasn’t drinking water, it wasn’t a big enough disaster, it wasn’t innovation in agriculture.”
Cannings said he went to the prime minister’s office but there didn’t seem to be a mechanism to get the government’s attention.
“The NDP will change that. It will make infrastructure funding easier to get to for rural communities.”
Green Party candidate Tara-Lyn Howse said she would propose switching the gas tax program to a municipal fund and double that line of funding in the budget. In addition, one per cent of all GST can be redirected to all municipal infrastructure projects, she stated.
Konanz said the siphon is a disaster waiting to happen and pointed to the sitting MP who is frustrated.
“You’re going to hear a lot of that tonight. You’re going to hear that he’s frustrated that the government is not listening to him.”
Konanz said they need a representative who is actually in government, and it can’t be Liberal because the Liberals are ignoring rural Canada.