Opponents to a proposed South Okanagan – Similkameen park reserve brought their “No” message to Town Hall Monday, organizing a mid-afternoon outdoor gathering to garner support for a local vote on the Parks Canada proposal.
Their effort follows a unanimous March 5 Osoyoos Council decision not to support a call by Boundary-Similkameen MLA Linda Larson for a local referendum.
A similar request made by the MLA in Oliver was supported by that Town’s Council.
“I’m pleased with the turnout. I’m sure if we’d done this on a Sunday with a couple of more weeks notice for people we’d easily have two to three times as many people,” said Dustin Stephens, who lives west of Osoyoos off Hwy. 3 “smack in the middle of the park.”
I’ve had quite a few people contact me personally and apologize for not being able to make it because they’re stuck at work.”
He called the Parks Canada process “somewhat of a sham,” suggesting the federal agency has “full intentions of proceeding with the park.”
“My commitment to the effort essentially is for a true democratic process,” he said. “I guess the consultation was more to help shape the park or get people’s input. But I don’t really think it’s fair that we’ve never actually rally had a chance to vote or debate.”
The gathering outside the Osoyoos Town Hall as Council prepared for a regular meeting, brought about 40 people, many pleased to carry “No” signs. Several parked vehicles also sported signage and a number of participants elicited honks from passing motorists by standing in the street.
Mr. Stephens believes Parks Canada should have taken a different approach to informing stakeholders and gathering local support for the park.
“Parks Canada really should have been literally knocking door to door in our neighbourhood, introducing themselves in person and going, hey, here’s who we are, here’s what we’re proposing,” he said. “I don’t believe that they’re believe they’re being truly transparent with stakeholders at all.”
Mr. Stephens added a referendum would give a better picture of how the South Okanagan “really feels” about the park.
“There’s been a lot of misinformation out there saying that the majority of people in these communities support the park, which I don’t believe to be true,” he said. “I think if we were to hold the referendum, even if it were close, the opponents would be the majority.”
The South Okanagan Similkameen Preservation Society — a key opponent to the park — is also planning to push its referendum message through the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen, hoping to talk its board into an alternative approval process, said Lionel Trudel, one of the society’s directors.
The society, he added, was formed by various opponent interests to “essentially research what the consequences are of the national park.”
“All the people who were involved in this went to their various concerns of the Internet and started doing research, starting meeting people who were in similar jurisdictions . . . and we did some fact-finding.”
That collected information, he said, is now available on the SOSPS website.