DEBATE ON NATIONAL PARK MUST RESUME AFTER PROVINCIAL ELECTION
With a provincial election just over two months away, there is almost no chance that the B.C. Liberal Party is going to change its mind about withdrawing support to build a national park in the South Okanagan-Lower Similkameen valleys.
However, once the provincial election is held on May 14, whichever party forms the next government isn’t going to be able to run and hide from the national park issue as the ruling Liberals have done over the past 14 months since officially withdrawing support for the project.
With Tuesday’s official release of a feasibility study supported by the Okanagan Nation Alliance (ONA), the national park issue is going to once again grab public attention and headlines across this province.
The study called, Building a Syilx Vision for Protection Final Report: Assessing Feasibility of a Syilx/Parks Canada Protected Area clearly indicates First Nation communities and their leaders from across the South Okanagan and Lower Similkameen are strongly in favour of a national park reserve being built in this region.
This represents a dramatic shift from the past when the vast majority of First Nation leaders were resentful of the process which left them largely out of negotiations dating back to the turn of the millennium.
With numerous studies showing more than 60 per cent of residents who have voiced an opinion on a national park in favour of the concept and the ONA now on board, the next government of this province is going to have to revisit this key issue following May’s provincial election.
No one should forget that the Liberals finally released their own feasibility study on a proposed national park this past summer after months of protest from citizens and media and this report also indicated there was overwhelming support.
First Nation leaders, including Osoyoos Indian Band Chief Clarence Louie, made it very clear during a press conference Tuesday that they will be pressuring the provincial government to re-open talks relating to a national park and the sooner the better.
With an election looming, the timing isn’t right to expect negotiations relating to a national park to resume any time in the next few months.
However, this issue is too important and has too many supporters now on board to simply pretend this isn’t a vital issue.
Whether or not a national park ever becomes a reality in the South Okanagan remains to be seen as there are still a lot of powerful and influential opponents that are vehemently opposed.
But after more than a decade of negotiations, provincial support for a national park was withdrawn without any sufficient answers being provided.
That’s not good enough. With the strong and united support of the ONA and First Nation leaders across the region, it would be foolhardy for any government to ignore this issue moving forward.
It’s up to the next government to meet key stakeholders and decide once and for all if a national park will or won’t happen.