Osoyoos Council may have determined last month there was little value in holding a local referendum on a proposed national park, but Council members are still likely going to hear — in person — from a substantial contingent of park opponents.
“There’s an event coming up at the Town Hall where the Mayor must listen to you,” the South Okanagan Similkameen Preservation Society’s Lionel Trudel said Tuesday evening as he wrapped up what was billed as a park information session.
“I invite all the Osoyoos people to go and give her a piece of your mind.”
Mr. Trudel was referring to Council’s June 17 Annual General Meeting. Traditionally, Osoyoos Council provides opportunity for the public to ask questions at the annual reporting.
The irked body of park naysayers might make that session a long afternoon.
About 150 of them certainly had a lot on their mind as they gathered at the Sonora Centre to express their opposition to a proposed South Okanagan Similkameen National Park Reserve.
Much of it was related to being heard — especially by Parks Canada, which speaker after speaker suggested wasn’t doing a whole lot of listening.
“This has been our experience throughout this whole process,” said Mr. Trudel. “This meeting is a great example. We asked for their participation in this meeting three weeks ago when we first announced it . . . They got back to us in two and a half weeks.
“This is the kind of structure we’re dealing with and the lack of respect for local opinions.”
Parks Canada had no representation at Tuesday evening’s meeting; the lone federal representative in attendance was South Okanagan – West Kootenay MP Richard Cannings and he determined to hunker down and just listen.
That left a void the speakers eagerly filled with anti-park messaging about environmental and economic consequences.
“We need to care for (the land) but we also need to have a say in how it’s cared for,” said the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen’s Rick Knodel, who represents Oliver Rural.
“Tourism jobs are great, but agriculture is the heart of the economics here. If we destroy our economic base, all the tourism in the world isn’t going to help. It will be a land for the elites, not for us.”
Other speakers worried about the risk of wildfire threat, encroachment on private property and even the impact of a park reserve on local communities — including Osoyoos.
That brought up talk about Osoyoos Council’s decision in early March not to support a call from MLA Linda Larson to request the federal government and Parks Canada hold a referendum.
Tuesday evening, with just one Osoyoos representative — Coun. CJ Rhodes — attending, Mr. Cannings bravely stood and supported Osoyoos Council’s decision.
“I don’t think a referendum would help this matter be resolved,” he told those gathered, explaining he wasn’t even sure who should be included in the balloting, noting the park’s boundaries weren’t yet finalized.
Later, Mr. Cannings said he would take back what he heard to his colleagues in Ottawa.
“I’ve been saying this to them from the start, ‘You need to get out there and communicate better.’ ”
Also attending was Ms. Larson, who took the opportunity to express her support for the “No” effort and encouraged a local land management plan she called the best she has seen for the South Okanagan.