Proposed amendments to the B.C. Park Act will open the door to easier access to possible industrial research within the province’s park systems, said the Quesnel River Watershed Alliance.
“This bill will change how our parks are protected,” spokesperson Chris Blake said.
“It is clear that it is this Liberal government who are not holding our parks in public trust for all British Columbians.”
Blake said many people in the region have worked together to put parks in place based on their ecological values and for use and enjoyment of all B.C. residents and visitors.
“Now in just less than one month, this Liberal government is trying to shove through this amendment to our parks without involving any of us,” Blake said.
Cariboo-Chilcotin MLA Donna Barnett argued Bill 4 commits to protect and maintain B.C.’s pristine Class A parkland so that generations of British Columbians will be able to enjoy these spaces for many years to come.
“The environment will not come at a cost of economic activity on or near our Class A parkland,” Barnett said.
“Regardless of size we will continue to maintain our parks to our already high standards and that is never going to change.”
Environment critic NDP MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert said people in the Williams Lake area traded off a lot of things over the years.
“There were huge conversations about what areas would be parks, what areas would be a ecological reserves and what areas would be used for forestry, mining and tourism,” he said.
The concern now is that the public’s parks could be under threat for industrial uses, he told the Tribune.
“Why didn’t Donna Barnett say to her constituents and government, ‘hold on here and let’s talk to the public first,’” he continued.
“If passed, the bill will radically change how parks are protected and governed.”
Environment Ministry Mary Polak insisted last week the amendments to the park act outline clear requirements for certain activities within provincial parks to ensure natural resources are protected.
The guidelines would provide “consistent” direction around authorizing outdoor recreation, tourism, commercial filming and research activities in parks, Polak noted.
“The Province remains committed to protecting our natural resources, while at the same time expanding our economic activities,” Polak said. “Strong economic growth and strong environmental stewardship can co-exist in British Columbia. However, these economic activities will not be at the cost of our environment.”
On Thursday, March 6, Bill 4 passed second reading with 45 to 35 votes.
Debate will continue next week when the legislature resumes.