A petition opposing a national park in the South Okanagan was presented to the federal government on Wednesday, and it will soon be joined by another in favour of the park.
Though the petition was delivered among a number of others that day — part of the daily ritual in the House of Commons — member of Parliament Richard Cannings said the power of the petition will be in the mandated response by the government.
That response didn’t come in Commons, but the government has a legislated duty to respond to all petitions that make their way to through the official processes. Those processes include an e-petition that needs to be sponsored by a federal representative (Cannings, in this case).
The petition received over 900 signatures, according to Cannings, who is pro-park, himself.
“When the national park process was renewed, or whatever you want to call it, last October, with the federal government, the provincial government, First Nations announcing they were going to start talks to create a national park, there were a number of people with concerns,” Cannings said.
“I met with a couple of those groups, I guess early in November, shortly after that announcement, and one of the groups wanted to create a petition, and so I helped them through that process.”
Cannings said he also sponsored a petition from the other side —groups that were in favour of the park — which started a week or so after the first petition. Because all e-petitions have the same amount of time to run before they need to be submitted, that petition will shortly follow the first in Parliament.
Parks Canada was in the area earlier in the week to work with local First Nations and the provincial government on the park, but Cannings said that was about the first time they have been around since the October announcement.
“So things are kind of moving slowly. I’ve been telling them all along to make sure that they listen to these people with concerns, to hear them out respectfully,” Cannings said.
“They assured me that that’s what they will be doing. But really, they impression that I got was that things were still very early in the process.”
But Cannings said the potential for the park issue to spill over past the 2019 election likely wouldn’t be much of a threat to the park — every party both provincially and federally have expressed some level of support for the park.
It was initiated by the Jean Chrétien Liberal Party government and was carried by the Stephen Harper Conservative government, federally. Similarly, the B.C. Liberal Party under Christy Clark supported some level of national park, albeit with portions of that park cut out for a provincial park.
Still, Cannings suggested the park likely wouldn’t be such a heavily regulated park like Jasper or Banff.
“So I don’t think that would really affect it,” Cannings said. “It might affect the speed or something, but I think we’re on the path to create some kind of park.”