On July 19, people gathered in parks across the country to celebrate Canada Parks Day, but in British Columbia, the celebrations rang hollow.
Instead, British Columbians were protesting the threat to our world-renowned parks system posed by the Park Amendment Act, which opens the door to industrial research in parks and enables industry to remove land from parks for industrial development.
Volunteers fanned out in parks and protected areas across the province to raise awareness of the Park Amendment Act. They talked to park users and encouraged them to write the Environment Minister Mary Polak, demanding she repeal the legislation.
As a result of the Park Amendment Act, our parks – built over more than 100 years and covering more than 14 per cent of the province – face the possibility of being overrun by pipelines, logging roads and other resource extraction projects. Surely, our parks are meant to be forever, not forever threatened by the needs of industry.
Rammed through the legislature with no consultation, the Park Amendment Act immediately sparked protests and thousands of letters of opposition to the environment minister. In May, just two months after the legislation was passed, a petition with 167,000 signatures was presented to Ms. Polak, calling for the act to be repealed – the largest parks petition ever gathered in Canada.
British Columbians treasure our parks system. B.C. parks protect some of the most spectacular and ecologically valuable parts of our province, and at the same time, they support the tourist economy on which so many B.C. businesses and jobs depend.
So why would the provincial government roll out the red carpet to industrial development in parks, without even asking the public first?
It’s pretty clear much of the impetus for the Park Amendment Act came from [oil] sands pipelines, as well as other resource extraction projects, including forestry and mining. Documents obtained under freedom of information show industrial interests queuing up to secure adjustments to park boundaries, with at least 35 parks targeted as of last December.
Take Kinder Morgan’s proposed Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, which would pass through at least five parks or protected areas. Prior to the legislation, the provincial government had issued Kinder Morgan permits for “invasive research” – Kinder Morgan’s words, not mine – without the legal authority to do so. The Park Amendment Act simply made legal what until then was being permitted unlawfully.
Industry wants to conduct this research as a means to justify park boundary adjustment requests to the provincial government. If the Park Amendment Act is repealed, industrial research cannot be conducted, which would make our parks safe from industrial incursion.
Our parks are an ecological and economic asset. They should be protected forever, not sliced and diced for short-term gain. The Park Amendment Act needs to be repealed.
Caitlyn Vernon is Campaigns Director with Sierra Club BC, working to keep pipelines and other industrial activity out of B.C. parks.