Misinformation fills void on national park reserve

By on November 7, 2017

At the Jan. 27 announcement, politicians stuck to high-level messaging, but they avoided giving details that might alleviate concerns of local residents about their decision to move forward with a national park reserve. (Richard McGuire photo)

The recent announcement of a national park reserve in the South Okanagan has sparked a mix of jubilation, anxiety and anger, and few are more aware of that than MP Richard Cannings.

Cannings, the NDP federal MP for South Okanagan-West Kootenay, says he’s received numerous calls and emails from people on all sides of the debate and he’s been trying to answer as many questions as he can.

“I think misinformation thrives in an area of lack of information,” he said.

Cannings says he’s been contacted by people thinking they’ll be forced to sell their property to the government, they won’t be able to keep livestock or they won’t be able to get firewood, even though they get it from nowhere near the proposed park.

Osoyoos Councillor Mike Campol, who represented the town at the Oct. 27 announcement, said he’s also concerned about the lack of information.

The announcement by federal, provincial and First Nations officials was exciting, he said, “but I think to leave that out there for the general public without much detail is concerning,” Campol said. “It’s my hope that they will come out with some official statements … to discuss what public engagement is going to look like. The angst this creates just builds up when answers aren’t forthcoming.”

Campol points out that many people are expressing concerns about their property rights on social media.

“The longer [government] waits, the more intense the ‘no park’ people are going to be for good reason, with not having information and feeling that angst for a long period of time,” said Campol.

Federal and provincial environment ministers at the Oct. 27 announcement at the Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre delivered high-level messaging about working together with local First Nations to begin the process immediately to establish the park.

But they brushed aside reporters’ questions about details, saying these would come out in discussions.

Facebook pages such as ‘Locals Say No to National Park Reserve’ have sprung up to mobilize opposition to the park.

But they’ve also become a platform for concerned local residents to post questions. And not all the answers are accurate.

Lee McFadyen, a park supporter who organized an information forum in Cawston in the spring that drew a mix of supporters and opponents, said some of the information circulating on social media is absurd.

One example, she said, is someone in Willowbrook expressing concerns that they won’t be able to keep domestic animals.

Willowbrook doesn’t even fall within the proposed park area, either in the 2011 federal-provincial feasibility study or the 2015 provincial government Intentions Paper.

While boundaries have not yet been settled, most of the land to be included in the park is Crown land, with private property only added on a willing-seller, willing-buyer basis.

“A lot of concerns can be addressed,” said McFadyen. “I’m still hearing the argument that we’re going to have to pay every time we go through the park.”

Cannings is hearing similar misconceptions that he thought were clarified at community engagement sessions years ago.

“People contact me saying, ‘Is my land going to be expropriated?’” he said. “I say ‘no.’ They say, ‘If I choose not to sell my property, what will I be allowed to do on my property?’ So the big message I’ve been trying to get out there is there will be no expropriation and there will be no change at all to private property.”

One person expressed concern they won’t be able to get firewood to heat their home. When Cannings asked the constituent where they get their firewood now, he was told up McKinney Road, which is in the opposite direction from the proposed park.

“I said that’s never been a part of any plan,” he said. “I’m trying to allay those concerns. I talked to Parks Canada [last Thursday] and I said it would be really good if you got out there with your media team and spelled out the basics.”

Campol agrees that misinformation fills a void.

“My feeling has always been that I’d like to better understand the concerns from people that are concerned,” he said. “This is big for our area as far as tourism and potential growth of the economy. I think that’s all very positive. I’d just like to see more engagement whether through the municipalities or directly from the federal and provincial governments to give some more detail of what the process and timeframe could look like.”

McFadyen thinks some people who opposed a park are taking a second look at it.

“There is a bit of a shift, but some people will never change their minds,” she said. “I think some people have put themselves in such a deep hole, there’s no graceful way for them to dig out.”

She thinks that governments need to consider all the uses that are taking place on the land currently if they want to win support for the proposed park.

This includes ranching and helicopter training, she said, noting that federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna mentioned both of these briefly at the Oct. 27 announcement.

“There are a lot of things that have to be worked out,” she said, noting that there needs to be a stakeholder committee like the one at Grasslands National Park in Saskatchewan, which continues to this day.

MP Cannings sees entrenched positions on both sides of the issue.

“There are people that are for a park who are dead set against having grazing in the park,” he said. “But that is something that I’m sure will happen. There will be grazing in the park, so those people won’t be happy.”

On the other side, he said, there are people who want nothing to do with Ottawa.

“They think that any federal thing is just going to be very negative for the valley,” he said. “They won’t be happy.”

For many people though, it’s a fear of the unknown, Cannings said.

“This is a big change for the valley,” he said. “It’s not the whole valley, but it’s a significant piece of the hills on the west side of the valley. I think until we have a park there for a number of years and people can see how their lives change or don’t change, then there will be those really entrenched views.”

RICHARD McGUIRE

Osoyoos Times

 

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

4 Comments

  1. Tony

    November 8, 2017 at 11:16 am

    It’s almost amusing how the tone of articles such as this suggest that the park is going to happen and that the majority of locals support this. The only reason people believe this is that the no-park side isn’t being given a voice in a fair manner. As an example, Mr. Cannings, our local MP, has had an official e-petition sitting on his desk awaiting his sponsorship since Thursday November the 2nd and has not bothered to follow up on making this happen. In speaking with other MP’s, whether Mr. Cannings agrees with the petition or not, it is his duty to represent his constituents, yet he has thus far ignored the petition in an attempt to keep the no side quiet.
    Don’t be fooled, the locals know a great deal more about the consequences of having an NPR in this area, we’re just not being given the opportunity to speak up and that’s going to change very quickly.

  2. M

    November 8, 2017 at 11:30 am

    The people who actually live in the area do not support this. This wreaks of corruption!

  3. Sasha

    November 8, 2017 at 12:40 pm

    Politicians may be able to speak to what could happen *right now*, although I suspect they know more than they say, and that there are things they deliberately choose not to say.
    Does the government really expect local landowners to believe that if they live next door to, or are surrounded by, national park or national park reserve, that there will be NO changes to their lives? Clearly that is a ridiculous assumption to make. There will always be fallout, and we will be the ones who are most greatly affected by it. The people who live in this area are almost unequivocally against the proposal. To insinuate that we are uneducated backwoods people who have just decided we don’t want change is offensive at best.

    Furthermore, if the intent is to preserve sensitive ecosystems, why is the government seeking to increase tourism to these areas? As someone who respectfully uses this area on a regular basis, I can tell you that there are not heaps of people out in the bush. So why bring more? Seems like the opposite of conservation to me. What’s the REAL reason behind the proposal?

    • D Arnold

      November 9, 2017 at 6:55 pm

      Why not protect the east side of the valley before it is all turned into vineyards/race tracks/prisons etc? What are the conditions for areas to be considered protected? Also, as far as bringing more tourism to the area, being the ‘Wine Capital’ is already doing a great job in my opinion.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *