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Larson’s political future relies on national park moving ahead
Local MLA Linda Larson just can’t resist embroiling herself in the national park debate.
In her recent year-end report to directors with the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen (RDOS), Larson alleged that it is Parks Canada that is holding up the national park. In fact, it has been over a year since the Province missed its first deadline for announcing its conservation plans for the South Okanagan.
A national park is favoured by a significant majority of Larson’s constituents.
This is clear from both the Province’s recent Intentions Paper process and from the only scientific polling that has been done in the riding.
A politically influential minority of local residents believe that land should continue to be used for ranching, hunting and fishing and that the helicopter school in Penticton should continue to operate.
In Larson’s view, “Parks Canada is not coming to the table on those kinds of things … they will not allow those things to continue.”
Larson needs to be reminded that it was the Provincial Cabinet that shelved plans for a national park in 2011 as a result of backroom politicking by local hunters and ranchers. At that point, Parks Canada and the Province had negotiated a scaled down national park proposal which grandfathered ranching under existing Provincial grazing regulations (which were to be incorporated by reference into the federal regime) and which similarly contemplated continuation of existing helicopter school operations.
Sport fishing was to continue in the park and hunting was to be preserved by excluding key areas from park boundaries.
Traditional Aboriginal hunting and cultural activities were to continue in the park and local First Nations had released a comprehensive report strongly supportive of the park proposal.
A patchwork of small and underfunded Provincial parks and conservation areas, which appears to be where the Province is now going, will not satisfy the South Okanagan electorate nor local First Nations. Premier Christy Clark needs to include a significant national park for the South Okanagan in her newly announced Park Futures Policy.
A properly scaled national park would be a centrepiece of the Okanagan tourism industry, promoting ecotourism and highlighting our ranching heritage and Aboriginal culture. The park needs to be big enough to protect ecosystem values and wildlife corridors. And it needs to include Mount Kobau as its feature attraction.
In Larson’s view, it is the federal government that is holding up the national park. As she reported to the Regional District, “It’s (the establishment of a national park) not off the table but Parks Canada does not want to talk to us.”
In reality, Parks Canada stands ready to reopen discussions with the Province on a properly scaled national park for the South Okanagan and local First Nations have invited such discussions.
Larson’s political future depends on this happening sooner rather than later.