Richard Cannings, NDP
I support a national park in the South Okanagan. People are drawn to this beautiful valley by its diverse landscapes and by its wonderful climate. They come to play throughout the year, and they move here to work or retire, knowing they are living in a special place. This valley is home to one of the most endangered ecosystems in Canada, and the dry interior of British Columbia is the last ecoregion in southern Canada not represented by a national park.
A park would not only protect the natural environment, it would provide benefits to the local economy. Trails and signage would improve the recreation value of the area for visitors and residents alike. The feasibility study commissioned by the federal and provincial governments found that a park would directly and indirectly create hundreds of good, clean jobs. Visitors would travel to the area to explore a national park, and stay to enjoy our beaches, hotels, wineries, and other amenities in the valley.
Three scientific polls have shown that the park concept has strong local support, and the business community of the south Okanagan is solidly behind the concept. But it can only come to fruition through collaboration and consultation with First Nations, and only if the needs of groups such as ranchers, who depend on the landbase for their livelihood, are taken into consideration. Parks Canada has come up with some innovative policies that will ensure ranchers will not be impacted, and indeed could benefit, from working in a park environment.
This has been a long process (I first became involved with it in 1979!), but I am greatly encouraged by the recent decision of the provincial government to come back to the table for negotiations. If elected, I would work in whatever capacity was appropriate to further negotiations toward the establishment of a national park. It would be a priceless asset for our valley for generations to come.
In 2002, Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chretien visited the South Okanagan-Similkameen, and experienced first hand the unique ecosystems of the region, and put the concept of establishing a national park on the Government radar. A feasibility study then commenced, led by Parks Canada, and the Province of B.C. while the Government of Canada entered into a memorandum of understanding that the establishment of a national park in the area become a priority.
Over the past decade, the Conservative Government has made significant cuts to Parks Canada, and a new park in the area is clearly not their priority. In the meantime a number of concerns have arisen that need to be addressed. Those issues include the importance of accommodating businesses that rely on the area contained within the proposed park, more specifically the grazing of cattle and helicopter training. I believe that it is very possible to reach a workable compromise. I have heard from South Okanagan residents, who hope for cost-free access to the park. My family has been taking day trips to the Kilpoola area for many years, and Vaseux Lake is a favourite kayak destination for my husband Bob and I. Our son Dan has also done grasslands research in the Kilpoola area as part of his Masters studies in Environmental Science.
Recently I have been working with a small group of people who would like to “bring the park to the people” through a coffee table book, which will feature unique flora and fauna, history and beauty of the area through art and photography.
I believe a national park in the South Okanagan-Similkameen will not only help to preserve this treasure in our own backyard, it will also attract tourists and visitors.
Brian Gray, Independent
I have not devoted much attention to this issue, however unless and until further information convinces me otherwise, I am against this area of our province being designated a national park. As far as I can ascertain this grasslands region is not subject to expansion of housing subdivisions or any commercial activity, which is obviously a positive situation. It appears that people in the region’s main concern is the protection of wildlife and the grasslands eco-systems from increasing recreational activity. The provincial government’s information forums which concluded in March with input from concerned citizens of Osoyoos and Oliver, seems to me to be an effective approach in addressing these concerns. It may become necessary to restrict off-road vehicle use in areas deemed to be especially sensitive and therefore re-define and relocate such areas, still allowing those members of our communities to enjoy these lands.
I feel that Regional Districts, municipalities and local environmental and recreational groups working together can craft a policy that satisfies all concerns, without locking this land up in perpetuity in the hands of the Federal government. If in the future it is determined that these lands of our province should be designated park land, I would hope it would be a provincial park, and that all current agricultural stakeholders ie. ranchers, farmers, orchardists and vineyard owners and existing commercial enterprises such as the helicopter training centre are not affected in any way.
If this requires additional wildlife and recreational staff, those monies can be found in downsizing government bureaucracy. The cancellation of the rather significant salary and expense account of a former BC premier’s appointment as High Commissioner to the UK and Ireland would be a logical place to start.
Marshall Neufeld, Conservative
It is important to preserve both our most beautiful natural environments as well as the livelihood and lifestyle of local residents who currently make use of the land – whether that is for recreation or to make a living through ranching or working at HNZ Topflight.
As my team and I have door knocked on over 12,000 doors, the issue of a national park has only come up a few times on the doorstep and most often it is from someone concerned that if the park were to be established they would not be able to hunt or drive up into the hills on the weekend as they do now. It appears the Government of BC has tried to account for some of these concerns in their current position paper. That is why it is important for everyone who has an interest in the future of these lands to engage in the provincial public consultation to help ensure that the correct designations are used in the correct areas.
It is my hope that through this consultation, the Government of BC can identify a plan which can both preserve the South Okanagan grasslands and address the concerns of those who live, work, or actively make use of the lands in question. Once the consultation ends in October, and if elected, I will be happy to work with the province in their next steps.
I would encourage everyone who is interested in the potential future designations of the grasslands in the South Okanagan to engage in the ongoing provincial public consultation.
Doug Pederson, Independent
On the National Park. My take on that is:
I didn’t study the issue. I just asked / observed what some of the most self centered, greedy, wrong people I knew what they thought and took the opposite stance. Some of these people are my relatives. I’m for the Park.
Those with the “no National Park” signs up may see the tide change and take them down. People have been defacing the “yes national park” signs.