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Liberals vote down NDP motion for public consultation on changes to Parks Act

Colin Payne
By Colin Payne
March 16th, 2014

The provincial government recently voted 43-35 in favour of moving a controversial bill to amend the Parks Act through its second reading in the Legislature – much to the dismay of Nelson-Creston MLA, Michelle Mungall and environmental groups who say the bill will open parks for development and needs more public consultation.

While the provincial government says Bill 4 – The Park Amendment Act 2014 doesn’t allow or promote industrial projects in parks and protected areas in the province, the Valhalla Wilderness Watch (VWW) has said the exact opposite is true; that the bill will open the doors to all manner of invasive activities in parks across the province.

Bill 4 came up for debate during second reading on March 6 and Nelson-Creston MLA, Michelle Mungall says the NDP opposition put forward a Hoist Motion on the bill, which would take the bill off the table for six months and require the government to do public consultation on it.

Mungall spoke in favour of hoisting the bill because she says the full repercussions of the changes to the Parks Act made by the bill aren’t understood and need to be vetted by the public and independent experts.

“This bill opens the door for exploration research for mining companies as well as oil and gas,” Mungall says.

“Historically for research to be done in the park it’s a long process and they have to remove that particular area from the park. If the development doesn’t go forward, they have to put that area back in the park and do remediation.

“This bill basically subverts that process, however a lot of environmental groups have been telling us that they need some time to understand the long term consequences of this bill. They were blindsided by it with no consultation from the government. And there was no opportunity for public consultation for people to air their concerns.”

Mungall said the Hoist Motion was put forward in hopes that the government would step back and take some time to consult, but to no avail, as the motion to delay the bill was voted down by the Liberal majority.

She added that the bill can now proceed through the legislative process without any public input.

“The opportunity to go back to the public for a broader consultation has been lost,” she noted. “We tried to make that happen and the Liberals voted against it.”

Minister says concerns about development in parks unfounded

The Nelson Daily contacted the Ministry of Environment to seek comment on the public consultation process for Bill 4, and received an Op-Ed by Minister of Environment, Mary Polak released on March 5.

In the piece, Polak writes that Bill 4 does not change regulations in the Parks Act that prohibit industrial activity in parks. She adds that currently research permits can’t be issued under the Parks Act and the bill changes the act to allow that.

“That is why we are proposing these amendments; to ensure studies that improve knowledge of potential park impacts can be undertaken in provincial parks,” she writes, adding that research and information gathering activities include such things as soil sampling for archeological assessments, collection of plant or animal specimens, and installation of environmental monitoring technology – either for academic study or as part of an environmental assessment.

She adds that development is not allowed on parkland, so any parkland approved for development must be removed from the park with a boundary adjustment, and boundary adjustments involve lengthy processes that include consultations with First Nations, the public and stakeholders.

Polak states that since 2004 there have been only eight proponent-led park boundary adjustment requests approved, totaling 562 hectares or 0.006% of parkland, while four requests have been denied. She adds that Class A parks, conservancies, ecological reserves and protected areas have increased by more than 3.2 million hectares during the same period.

VWW says minister’s statements misleading

In a recent press release, the Valhalla Wilderness Watch (widely known as the Valhalla Wilderness Society) questions the minister’s comments by asking why park boundaries would be amended aside for the purposes of allowing industrial developments.

“Inviting corporations to spend tens of thousands of dollars on feasibility studies virtually guarantees that some feasible projects will be approved,” the VWW states.

“What’s more, there isn’t one word in the proposed Park Amendment Act that limits the feasibility studies only to the boundary areas of parks. This bill would allow the Minister to permit ‘research’ anywhere in any park. This could mean mining exploration crews crawling all over park land with bulldozers . . .”

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