February 25, 2019 8:36 pm
Updated: February 25, 2019 11:45 pm

Oliver, B.C. mayor calls for referendum on controversial national park concept, Parks Canada extends public input period

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UPDATE: Parks Canada has announced a two week extension for the public consultation process regarding the proposed national park reserve near Oliver.

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“The extension will allow stakeholder groups who had their meetings rescheduled to late February an opportunity to submit their views on the proposed boundary and provide their input on key aspects for consideration in the management of the lands. It will also provide members of the community and other interested parties with more time to participate,” Parks Canada spokesperson Marie-Hélène Brisson said in a press release on Monday night.

Views on the proposed park can be shared on the consultation website until Mar. 15.

“Consultations with residents of the region are an important part of assessing the establishment of a national park reserve in the South Okanagan–Similkameen,” Brisson said.

ORIGINAL STORY:

The mayor of Oliver, B.C. says the federal government should hold a referendum on the controversial proposal to establish a national park reserve in the South Okanagan-Similkameen.

Martin Johansen says the Parks Canada consultation process has been lacking, with a focus on discussions with special interest groups but not the general public.

“People having their say is important, especially in a project like this that is very contentious in the community,” he said on Monday.

READ MORE: Parks Canada launches public consultation on South Okanagan national park reserve

“When you don’t do that, you end up with people who are very polarized because they’re not involved in the process, they become suspicious of the process so I think a referendum is a great way to bring people in.”

WATCH: (Aired Feb. 13, 2019) National park opponents call for extension to public consultation period

Johansen said the decade-long debate continues in the community due to a clash of economic, personal and environmental interests over the land in the proposed park boundary.

“I think it’s divided the community,” he said.

Johansen introduced the referendum motion two weeks ago but it was defeated.

One town councillor was absent, so the mayor used his powers under the Community Charter to reintroduce the motion at Monday evening’s regular council meeting.

READ MORE: South Okanagan national park opponents stand pat in wake of renewed talks

Even Oliver town council is divided. Councillor Larry Schwartzenberger initially voted against the referendum motion.

“As a council, I feel that we are to maintain our neutrality and we shouldn’t be pushing an option, any option from either side of the argument,” he said.

Schwartzenberger also expressed disappointment with the Parks Canada consultation process.

“I think it would be helpful if there was a chance for the public, both for and against the park, to have a meeting and be able to speak their mind to the powers that be at Parks Canada but that doesn’t seem to be how Parks Canada wants to get the involvement of the public,” he said.

WATCH: (Aired Dec. 12, 2018) Parks Canada launches public consultation on South Okanagan national park reserve

Some special interest groups, such as the South Okanagan-Similkameen Preservation Society, are pushing for a referendum as members express discontent with the current process.

“The local communities in the south Okanagan-Similkameen are probably going to be the most affected.  So, excluding them from the decision process really is unfair and it is unjust,” said spokesperson Lionel Trudel.

Meanwhile, pro-park advocates say a referendum is unnecessary.

“The park area is land that is owned by either private lands or the province of British Columbia, so all British Columbians should be asked about whether they want this to be a national park,” said Doreen Olson with South Okanagan Similkameen National Park Network.

Trudel said the referendum could be held this fall.

READ MORE: Website launched on a proposed national park reserve in south Okanagan

“We happen to have an election coming up for our federal election in October of 2019 and for no costs whatsoever they can attach a ballot to the communities of Oliver, Osoyoos, Keremeos and Cawston,” he said.

Parks Canada has indicated in the past that a referendum is not on the table. People are encouraged to visit the Parks Canada website and fill out an online survey on the proposal.

The public consultation process ends on Feb. 28.

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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