A HNZ Topflight helicopter flies over a section of the Similkameen Valley near Keremeos. The Penticton company regularly uses the region for training purposes.

A HNZ Topflight helicopter flies over a section of the Similkameen Valley near Keremeos. The Penticton company regularly uses the region for training purposes.

National Park issue returns with search for common ground

An Oliver councillor motions for parties to find common ground in those for and against a National Park in the South Okanagan - Similkameen.

An Oliver councillor isn’t taking a stance for or against the long sought after Okanagan-Similkameen national park with his latest motion, but trying to promote the best of both sides of the argument.

“This is my effort to have the Town of Oliver’s council take a position in the middle,” said Jack Bennest, Oliver municipal councillor.

His motion entitled “Living together with respect” fleshes out the common ground he thinks can be found between those against and for a national park in the Okanagan.

The motion, which will be debated at the next public meeting in Oliver on April 27, urges the council to support the Province of B.C. in their efforts to “acquire land to protect the area’s grasslands, to preserve endangered species in the South Okanagan-Similkameen and in setting goals to enhance off-season tourism opportunities.”

These are goals that some feel would be achieved through the designation of a national park, however, Boundary-Similkameen MLA Linda Larson has dismissed the idea as well as a recent poll by McAllister Opinion Research showing residents of the regional district are in favour of the park three to one.

“The national park issue is very divisive. There are people in favour and people against and when they all meet and actually talk about what they are trying to do, they actually agree on many things,” Bennest said.

Bennest said his motion is neither for or against the park, but looking at common ground like protecting endangered species and maintaining discourse around key pieces of land and helping boost the tourism industry.

“I believe in the principals that everybody wants,” Bennest said.

“Here’s a situation where some people want a national park, but the main proponent that has to agree to talk and to implement is the provincial government of British Columbia and at the moment they are pretty firm on their convictions.”

Bennest said it’s a dead issue to the provincial government and they want to continue what they think is a proactive approach towards the consolidation of land, the better management of land, protecting endangered species and promoting more tourism. All of which are part of Bennest’s motion.

“Both sides agree with all of those things, it’s just the pro-national park people believe if you put that label on it, it’s an instant success story,” Bennest said. “If a national park was the answer, why would the provincial government of British Columbia not be just saying ‘give me the money.’”

On Earth Day, April 22, Spencer Chandra Herbert, Vancouver-West End MLA and the NDP’s environment spokesperson announced that he would like to reopen talks about the idea of a national park.

“When you’ve got local mayors, councils, chambers of commerce, the Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association, First Nations, and in a recent poll showing in Penticton 75 per cent of residents supporting it, clearly we’ve got to act. The government should be listening and responding,” said Herbert.

He said the park could bring in millions of new dollars and many new jobs.

“Linda Larson seems to be the only one against it and she’s argued that agricultural jobs are more important than tourism jobs,” said Herbert. “The ranchers that I’ve talked to up there, they support it too. Including ranchers whose ranches would become part of the park.”