Boundary-Similkameen MLA Linda Larson said criticisms of the focus group which will review submissions from a provincial report on a possible national park are unfounded, while one critic argues the group is unnecessary.
The 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 will review the submissions for common threads that are brought up in the report, and members were selected by Larson and B.C.’s Environment Minister Mary Polak.
“I submitted a list of names and the minster herself also had a list of names of people who were representative of a lot of the groups in the South Okanagan,” Larson said. “Out of that she chose five to act as a focus group.”
Polak is attending the climate summit in Paris and was unable to be reached for comment.
“Focus groups are perfectly normal in the province, we do them with a ton of things,” Larson said. “They are just going to do a summary, they make no recommendations whatsoever, they only summarize,” Larson said.
Doreen Olson, co-ordinator for the South Okanagan Similkameen National Park Network, said she has more questions about both the focus group and its necessity.
“There are just so many questions about it and what is the need of doing this a second time when the province’s staff is perfectly capable of looking at these submissions?” Olson said.
Ministry staff will be reviewing the submissions on top of the focus group to assure no common threads were missed, Larson said.
“When I had the interview with Chris (Walker) on CBC Daybreak, I asked him specifically who was accusing us of slanting or doing anything but what would be perfectly normal,” Larson said. “He read it right out to me ‘Doreen Olson.’ (She) decided the focus group was slanted, etc., and she is the one that started this whole process.”
“I’m not the only one. For her to single me out is ridiculous,” Olson said.
“My criticism is more about the process. I have a number of criticisms. We don’t know who these people are, it’s a closed process, we don’t know how they were selected, what are their biases?
“Linda Larson on (CBC Daybreak) said I was upset that I wasn’t on the committee,” she continued. That’s untrue, I think the committee should be made up of people who are totally impartial.”
Larson said Olson’s opinion is not representative of the general population when it comes to the focus group.
“It’s a very vocal, small handful of people who are pro-park who have been using the newspapers, radio and anything they can think of to promote their particular entity,” Larson said.
The members of the focus group remain anonymous so “people like Doreen Olson can’t phone them up,” Larson said.
Olson said the anonymity of the group is unnecessary.
“I don’t know that that’s the case at all. I sit on the (Advisory Planning Commission) for Area D and some of the discussions are controversial and I’ve never been approached by anyone who was upset with the decision that I or anyone else on the committee have made,” Olson said.
“What an insult to Linda Larson’s constituents that she thinks that anyone would harass someone,” Olson said.
The issue has been a divisive one for a decade and Larson said once the report comes out, she is washing her hands of it.
“If there is certainly a huge interest in engaging with Parks Canada in doing something in the way of parks and conservation, then (Polak) will do that,” Larson said.
The federal government has yet to sit for their first session, and while some topics can be taken on provincially, talks with the federal government may be a big part of the process should it go forward.
“I actually asked the minister, can we do a summary on this? Can we do a way of really taking a look at it, seeing if there really is something there that is very much supported by the people who actually live in the area? If there is, let’s do it, and get this off the table,” Larson said. “I’m not going to talk about this thing again, I am done with it.”
The report gathered input from those who live and work in the proposed park area, something Larson hopes will come to a conclusion one way or the other.
“People should respect that, whichever way it is,” Larson said. “If the people have said they want some sort of national park component, the people who didn’t like it have to respect that and it works the other way too.”