Opinion

Seeking guarantees on national park not realistic

I was at the proposed national park community meeting in Penticton Wednesday evening and I listened very closely to what Jan Rustad, Doug Harvey and Randy Manuel said about the Canadian flight school operations in Penticton and the proposed park area and I think the problem that was raised by Randy Manuel is partly a matter of semantics. (Western News, Nov. 23)

Doug Harvey said several times that Parks Canada will do everything possible to ensure that Canadian Helicopters “could continue their operations.” He used the word “could” every time. Randy Manuel wanted Doug to use the words “would continue their operations.” Randy repeated the word “would” every time.

The problem is that neither Parks Canada, nor Jan Rustad, nor anyone else, can guarantee that Canadian Helicopters would continue their operations. The flight training school could be shut down at any time for any number of reasons, park or no park. The only thing that Parks Canada can do is provide the appropriate regulatory environment whereby Canadian can (or could if you like) continue.

We all know the history of the business world is full of success stories (many of them very long lived) that either moved, went out of business or changed their business model. Kelowna had Western Star Trucks, started in 1967 but moved to Portland Oregon in 2002, Western Canada and Penticton had Woodwards department stores, a great success but out of business now. Again, Canada and Penticton had Beaver Lumber Company — I lived next door to one in Vancouver in the 1950s — but shortly after 2000, Beaver Lumber was no more. The aviation world is replete with success stories — Canadian Pacific Airlines flew more places internationally than Air Canada does even now, Pacific Western Airlines, Wardair — none of them are still in business. More recently, Okanagan Falls lost a longtime fixture, the Weyerhaeuser mill.

None of that, of course, changes the fact that the Canadian Helicopters flight school is important to Penticton and the Penticton airport. Is there anyway that anyone can guarantee that Canadian will still be operating out of here in two years or 20 years from now? Absolutely not.

If a park goes ahead, we can be pretty certain that it will still be here 100 years from now. As for Canadian Helicopters, all we can ask is that Parks Canada do all that is possible (and to me that seems to be the case) to ensure that Canadian Helicopters can continue to operate in the area if they choose to do so.

Finally, much of the value of Canadian Helicopters to the city comes from the spin-off jobs created by their operations — restaurants and hotels need more staff because Canadian’s students need food and lodging while they are here. Presumably that is at least in part where Randy Manuel comes up with the $5 million that he says is the value of Canadian’s operations to the city. I don’t know if the $5 million is correct but using spin-off jobs is accepted methodology. But many of the park opponents belittle the park proponents when they point out that a park will also provide spin-off jobs. You can’t have it both ways — either spin-off jobs count or they don’t count.

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