The first reading of proposed amendments to the B.C. Park Act has taken place in the provincial legislature.
If changes in Bill 4: The Park Amendment Act, 2014 are finalized it will allow the Minister of Environment, currently MLA Mary Polak, singular power to approve or deny requests for alterations to long-standing provincial parks and protected areas.
The move has caught more than a few, including Stikine MLA Doug Donaldson, off-guard and wondering why the changes have yet to be put to citizens for critique.
“We’ve seen a lo of rushed legislation by the BC Liberals in the past,” Donaldson said. “That has led to constitutional challenges and having to go back to make changes to legislation ratified only a few months before.
“Often times government will go out and speak to people before a bill is drafted, but that wasn’t the case here.”
The announcement prompted Graeme Pole, Hazelton-area advocate, to write a letter to Premier Christy Clark and Minister Polak, questioning how changes of this magnitude were not part of the most recent election platform.
Your government has not consulted the public on this intention, and its promotion now is nothing less than outright deception and betrayal,” Pole said in correspondence dated Feb. 20. “If your political party had run in the last election with a platform that included these proposed amendments – which promote activities that are currently illegal – your party would have been soundly run out of the province by the electorate.”
Not pulling any punches in his letter to the B.C. government, citing more than 19 million individuals visit parks for their natural beauty that spans the province, he added a few pointed remarks.
“The park system is more than a century old, and has been nurtured and fought for by five generations of groups and individuals whose concerns and vision have been greater than whatever has been perceived as the economic generator of the moment,” he wrote. “You do not have the right to act outside of the trust that voters have placed in you. You do not have the right to destroy the only remaining protected areas in this province for the sake of an industry – LNG – that, if pursued as you would like to see it pursued, would do a great deal to destroy most of the unprotected landscapes of this province.”
The Premier’s office replied via e-mail.
“We understand that this is an important issue for you, and have taken note of your comments and position,” the unsigned letter stated. “We see you have also shared this letter with the Honourable Mary Polak, Minister of Environment, for her review and consideration as well. We can assure you that the minister and her staff will be including your feedback in related discussions moving forward.”
Bill 4, 2014 was outlined by Minister Polak Feb. 13 upon introduction for first reading in Victoria.
“This bill contains amendments to the Park Act to provide increased certainty and clarity respecting the authorization of outdoor recreation, tourism, commercial filming and research activities, including academic and investigative uses, in parks and protected areas while ensuring the natural resources and values and visitors’ experiences are protected,” Minister Polak said, according to Hansard.
“The fact that it opens up the ability for the government to approve feasibility studies for things like pipelines in previously protected areas … I think people generally think that was something that was never going to happen here,” Donaldson said, citing the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary as a prime example.
The second reading of Bill 4, 2014 is scheduled for the next legislative session in Victoria, which begins March 3.