NDP calls for return to National Park tal

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Osoyoos Times

By on October 22, 2014

Osoyoos Mayor Stu Wells (left) chats with Spencer Chandra Herbert, the provincial NDP environment critic. Chandra Herbert was in Osoyoos and Oliver to meet with proponents of a national park in the South Okanagan-Similkameen. The NDP wants the provincial government to return to discussions of a park, but MLA Linda Larson is opposed. (Richard McGuire photo)

The provincial NDP has broken its long silence on the issue of a proposed national park in South Okanagan-Similkameen.

Last Wednesday, NDP Environment Critic Spencer Chandra Herbert visited Osoyoos and Oliver to meet with organizations supporting a national park.

Chandra Herbert took aim at the provincial Liberal government for withdrawing from talks with Parks Canada early in 2012. He was also critical of positions taken by Boundary-Similkameen Liberal MLA Linda Larson.

“I’m learning the depth of support for getting the conversation going and getting the province back at the table,” Chandra Herbert said. “A lot of people are asking me why would the Liberals stop a conversation that could potentially lead to over 700 jobs in the area and protect habitat and endangered species.”

The Vancouver MLA said he met with representatives from the South Okanagan Chamber of Commerce, the Osoyoos Desert Society, the Osoyoos Indian Band and the Town of Osoyoos. He also met with park supporters at the Burrowing Owl and Seven Hills wineries as well as with rancher Ace Elkink.

While Chandra Herbert acknowledged there could be details to work through and he stopped short of unconditional support, he said the NDP wholeheartedly supports returning the province to discussions with the federal government.

“I think it’s time,” he said. “I disagreed with the province pulling out from the talks to begin with. I hope that’s just a bump in the road and we get back to the table.”

Chandra Herbert acknowledged that he has not been active on the national park issue since his appointment as the environment critic after the 2013 election.

“I thought it was important after the election not to jump into the national park conversation because it has been so controversial,” said Chandra Herbert. “I think it’s important for the region to come to some kind of consensus.

“Now that I’ve seen chamber after chamber, town council after town council, First Nation after First Nation – quite widespread support to get the conversation going again – I thought it important that I come up and meet with some of those advocates to understand why they’re so passionate for the park and why they think it will help the economy.”

The NDP position calling for a return to talks is not a new one, Chandra Herbert said, noting that his predecessor Rob Fleming also called for a resumption of talks when he was environment critic.

Chandra Herbert took issue with MLA Larson’s previous statements suggesting that agricultural jobs are more important than tourism jobs and that a national park would impede mining in the area.

“I’m disappointed with her trying to pit tourism against agriculture and trying to suggest that tourism jobs aren’t worthwhile and agriculture jobs are,” he said. “I’m sorry, tourism jobs are great jobs and they sustain many families in this region. To dismiss them out of hand in such a way is just rude and wrong.”

He’s also puzzled about where Larson would want to put a mine.

“We’ve got endangered species in there that you cannot find anywhere else in the world,” he said. “Putting a mine on top of where the endangered species are generally does not lead to good effects for those species. If she wants to propose a mine – I have not heard of one being proposed for this area – what I have seen is a proposal for a national park with huge local support.”

Chandra Herbert said he did not meet with opponents of a park on this trip because he has read their views already and his additional questions were directed at those supporting a park.

A study by the Outspan Group found that national parks in B.C. create an average of 752 jobs each including spinoffs and based on the study years 2008-09.

As a national park reserve, the South Okanagan-Similkameen Grasslands would not hire the same number of employees as larger active parks such as Yoho and Kootenay national parks.

The number of full-time positions employed directly at a park here is estimated at around 20, not including other spinoff jobs. This compares with an average of about 70 direct jobs at other national parks in B.C.

RICHARD McGUIRE

Osoyoos Times