The opposition environment critic said Boundary-Similkameen MLA Linda Larson has been “nothing but unhelpful” in moving a national park forward.
Spencer Chandra-Herbert, official opposition environment spokesperson for the BC NDP, criticized the handling of a focus group, which was disbanded on Wednesday, to review submissions from a provincial report on the potential for a national park in the Okanagan-Similkameen.
“I think for me this just shows the division and confusion this government is making with this park for years. Remember Christy Clark said this project is dead and there is no public support even though her own government polls showed quite high support,” said Chandra- Herbert.
Larson came under fire last week from Doreen Olson, co-ordinator for the South Okanagan Similkameen National Park Network. Olson questioned the intentions of those chosen for the focus group because the names were kept private and asked why it was needed if the province’s staff were already reviewing the comments from the report.
A report issued by the provincial government entitled Intentions Paper: Protected Area’s Framework for British Columbia’s South Okanagan gathered input from August until Oct. 31. The focus group, which came under unfounded criticism according to Larson, was to review submissions for common threads that are brought up in the report. Larson told the Western News members of the group were selected by Larson with assistance from B.C.’s Environment Minister Mary Polak.
“Since announcing the creation of a five-person focus group to seek that input, it has become clear the idea has become a distraction from the thoughtful and needed debate that must occur,” said Larson in a statement on Wednesday.
The MLA added that the question of how to protect the environment has created divisions and she aimed to bring people together to discuss how to move forward to ensure those divisions are bridged.
“As the local representative I wanted to find a way to ensure the voices of those who live and work here, who will be most impacted, had an opportunity to be heard. As an MLA, that is my job and one that I strive to do every day,” said Larson.
While Larson would not identify the members of the focus group, earlier this week the Osoyoos Times learned it included two national park opponents in Jesse Zeman of the B.C. Wildlife Federation and Ernie Dumais, a member of the anti-park Grassland Park Review Coalition. They also identified two members who said they are undecided in Beth Garrish, an Oliver realtor and Mark Pendergraft, the chair of the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen.
Chandra-Herbert said the focus group did the opposite of what Larson stated she was intending to do. The BC NDP are supportive of the national park concept in the Okanagan-Similkameen and believe it will bring jobs and help endangered species. Chandra-Herbert said the continued advocacy from the public has kept it alive, despite his allegation that the government was trying to sweep it away.
“Politics, I think, killed it. Now the people brought it back,” he said.
Having been talked about for over a decade, Chandra-Herbert said he would like to see action taken on getting the national park in place in the next year.
“I think it would be a real mistake to delay it further and kick it beyond the next election. The public has spoken in poll after poll, letter after letter and meeting after meeting. They want to get going on it. Unfortunately it seems some prefer to widen the divides. I hope Minister Polak listen to the people in the region.”