A similar outcome, but with opposed ideas on how to develop a national park was just one topic in a face-off between Boundary-Similkameen provincial election candidates Tuesday.
Despite the writ for the provincial election not yet being dropped, Liberal incumbent Linda Larson and NDP candidate Colleen Ross fielded questions from the public at a forum in Okanagan Falls, hosted by the South Okanagan Chamber of Commerce.
Both candidates showed support for protecting environmentally sensitive areas in the South Okanagan-Similkameen, but shared different views on benefits and how to move forward with a possible national park.
“There is overwhelming support from many of the successful business owners in this community as a wonderful opportunity for not only economic development but to create jobs that our youth want. Between 500-700 direct and indirect jobs, according to Parks Canada, with the park that would be representative of the desert region in this area,” Ross said, pointing out she has a binder filled with all the work that has gone towards a national park since 2003.
Ross said there is job creation progress in establishing a national park for small business owners, farmers, tourism, wineries and they are “green jobs.” Arguing the First Nations community has stated they support a park since 2013, Ross said the government needs to go back to the table with Parks Canada.
“The park needs to happen. These are jobs we missed out on, but it is not too late. This is pristine region that we need to protect. Let’s do it now and we will begin on May 10 talking about it more seriously,” said Ross, insinuating a few times that after the NDP are elected it would become a priority.
Larson said the Liberals are also interested in protecting the region, however there is a balance between the environment and jobs. In January, Minister of Environment Mary Polak announced a moving forward plan for the entire area to do with protection in partnership with the Okanagan Nation Alliance and Osoyoos Indian Band Chief Clarence Louie. Larson said step one is underway with Louie speaking with Parks Canada about culturally sensitive areas and it is a process they are respecting.
Larson spoke in opposition to the claims Ross made of a boom of jobs and economic impact with the creation of a park.
“The figures that you hear, the 500 to 700 jobs, come from averages from parks like Banff. The last time Parks Canada did actually commision a report that was done independently, not by Parks Canada, they hired an independent agency. There was no job benefit. It actually was plus-five, is what the ultimate job benefit was because there would be 33 jobs created and 37 lost in agriculture and ranching and up to a dozen or so in tourism,” said Larson. “This is the last real study that was done, in 2008. I don’t doubt that the numbers have improved since then, but I believe we are on the right plan and we are talking to the right people.”
The national park is still a heavily debated issue in the South Okanagan-Similkameen. Within three days of a billboard in support of the park being erected on Highway 3 near Osoyoos, it was found vandalized on Sunday, believed to be cut down by a chainsaw.
“There’s a lot of aggression to it,” said Lee McFadyen, owner of the sign and property it’s located on. “They saw the sign and made a plan. They had to have a really sharp instrument. It’s really tough material. They had to use a chainsaw they are six inch posts they cut through. They cut the sign down, pushed it over and then destroyed the sign.”
McFadyen said over the years more than 60 pro-national park signs have been torn down. She is holding an information session at Cawston Hall on March 28, doors open at 6:30 p.m., to discuss updated information about the proposal and differences between land management by Parks Canada versus B.C. Parks.