This fall the provincial government launched a very positive initiative, seeking public input on the proposed National Park for the South Okanagan-Similkameen.
Now that the input period has closed, and some 400 submissions were received, the initiative is now taking a very disturbing and undemocratic turn. Boundary-Similkameen MLA Linda Larson, who has consistently opposed the creation of a National Park, has named a secret five-member focus group to “review” the submissions.
When governments solicit public input, they must respect the commitment of individual citizens in responding to that request for input. In this case, 400 citizens took the time to read the Intentions Paper, study the maps and respond to the detailed online questionnaire. There is a right way and a wrong way to handle this input.
The correct way is to strike a multi-disciplinary committee of professional, objective civil servants to summarize (not “review” or “filter”) the comments and provide that summary to the minister responsible, and to the public. The key here is maintaining transparency and objectivity throughout the entire process.
The wrong, undemocratic way, which the Clark government is mistakenly taking, is to hand public input over to a secret “star chamber” group, who then produce a summary report which may or may not reflect the balance of submitted opinion. This is, simply, an abuse of public process, particularly since the unnamed focus group has been hand-picked by MLA Larson, a vocal opponent of the park proposal.
I urge the Clark government to take the ethical high road and abolish this wrong-headed and undemocratic focus group initiative. The public has a right to transparency.