Competing electronic petitions to federal government take opposite positions on planned national park reserve

By on December 12, 2017

Doreen Olson, co-ordinator of South Okanagan National Park Network, said she started an electronic petition urging the federal government to expedite a national park reserve because she says statements in a competing petition are “inaccuate.” The competing petition was started by Tony Iannella, of Oliver, who declined to be interviewed for this story. (Richard McGuire file photo)

Competing petitions to the federal government from opponents and supporters of a national park reserve are now gathering electronic “signatures.”

One petition started by Tony Iannella, from Oliver, opposes the park and calls on Catherine McKenna, Minister of Environment and Climate Change, to end the park proposal and for a referendum to be held.

A second petition, started by Doreen Olson, co-ordinator of the South Okanagan Similkameen National Park Network, calls on the government of Canada to expedite the creation of the national park reserve.

As of Tuesday morning, the petition opposing the park had 676 “signatures” while the one supporting the park had 502.

The one opposing the park has been running for two weeks longer.

Caught in the middle is MP Richard Cannings, the NDP federal Member of Parliament for South Okanagan-West Kootenay.

He’s listed as the sponsoring MP for both petitions.

“I was approached by both groups,” said Cannings, explaining that electronic petitions are different from traditional paper petitions in that they require a sponsoring MP to get them started.

“I am the MP for everybody, so I don’t like to pick sides on these sorts of things, even though I’m on record as supporting the park,” Cannings added. “I wanted to be the MP for everybody, so I supported both.”

The Osoyoos Times reached out early last week to Iannella to ask about why he started the petition, his concerns and about his efforts to organize opposition to the park.

Iannella declined a telephone interview, but said he would respond by email. He had not responded to emailed questions as of press time this week.

Iannella’s petition says the park would offer no additional protection to the land, it would not be financially viable, it would take away the use of lands by local people in the way they currently use them, and deny hunters and recreational users the right to enjoy Crown land.

The petition says the park “would only open (the lands) to resource exploitation by special interest groups.”

It doesn’t define “special interest groups,” but some park opponents use that term as code for First Nations.

“We voted this down previously and it should not be pushed forward without the consent of those who will be most affected by it,” said Iannella’s petition.

Olson said she started her petition to “address the inaccuracies” in Iannella’s one.

“What they don’t get is that there was an announcement that there is going to be a national park,” said Olson. “What they need to do instead of fighting about it is to start to think about how they can work together and have their needs met through the park process.”

She said those with concerns about land use would be better off to work with the process to address their concerns instead of trying to stop the park now that it is moving forward.

Asked what she sees as “inaccuracies” in Iannella’s petition, Olson took issue with almost every statement.

Iannella’s statement that park would offer no additional protection “is totally untrue,” Olson said.

“There would be exclusion of mining, logging and hunting,” said Olson. “There would be monitoring so the illegal activities couldn’t go on there. There would be connectivity between places. We would have park rangers. None of that is offered with the provincial park system. Parks Canada has the money to do that whereas the province does not have the money.”

She disagreed with Iannella’s statement that the park would not be financially viable, saying parks don’t have to make money – their role is to protect nature – but they provide many spinoff jobs in local communities.

She agrees that people won’t be able to do some of the illegal things they now do in the provincially protected areas because there will be monitoring.

ATV riding on sensitive areas, mud bogging and illegal tree cutting are examples of activities that are already illegal, but aren’t enforced by the province, she said.

“The park would be open for people to visit,” said Olson. “They’re not saying you can’t visit the park. It would be open for fishing, horseback riding, bicycle riding and walking your dog on a leash. Those activities aren’t being taken away.”

Olson pointed out that ranching will continue and activities such as hunting will still be permitted on nearby lands outside the park.

“Once the park is established, the park will become a nursery for wildlife,” said Olson. “Those animals are not going to stay within the park boundaries. They’re going to walk out and so they’ll have more hunting.”

Olson said it’s untrue, as Iannella’s petition suggests, that, “we voted this down previously.”

“When they say they voted, they may have signed a petition, but there’s never been a vote,” said Olson.

She points out that a 2015 scientific poll by McAllister Opinion Research found 70 per cent local support for a national park.

The level of support has risen from earlier polls, Olson said.

MP Cannings said the e-petitions are different from paper petitions in that names of those signing aren’t known to the MPs.

“You can sign the petition and no one will know you’ve signed it,” he said, noting that the information on those signing is only available to the petition clerk’s office when they verify “signatures.”

Petitions, he said, signal to the government that there is public concern about a particular issue. The government is required to issue a response, even though these responses are often short and “not entirely meaningful.”

MPs have a minute to speak when they present a petition in the House of Commons and although they can’t editorialize, they do put the issue on the radar of other MPs, he said.

To view or sign either of these petitions, visit petitions.ourcommons.ca/en/. For Iannella’s petition, enter 1360 in the search field. For Olson’s, enter 1390.

RICHARD McGUIRE

Osoyoos Times

Richard Cannings, MP (Photo supplied)

 

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