Editorial: Squabbling over Park Amendment Act semantics

If the critics’ accusations prove correct, the secretive semantics surrounding the real intent behind Bill 4 will prove to be a sneaky ploy

This past Saturday was a significant day in Canada for nature enthusiasts (and what Canadian isn’t enthusiastic about nature?).

July 19th was Parks Day in Canada and parks across the country held special events to commemorate it.  Parks Day is celebrated annually by Parks Canada (which, incidentally, manages a network of 44 national parks, and 167 national historic sites). It’s also honoured by the B.C. government. According to a government press release, British Columbia has one of the biggest parks and protected areas in North America (with 1,029 parks and protected areas throughout the province), and over 20 million people visit British Columbia’s parks each year.

In the same release, it’s stated that “Since 2004, B.C.’s protected areas system has increased by more than 3.2 million hectares. This includes designating some existing areas, totalling more than 500,000 hectares, to Class A parks and conservancies, providing an increased level of protection. More than 55,000 hectares was recently added this spring session to B.C.’s protected area system.”

Despite this lofty proclamation,  concerned citizens and environmental groups took this year’s Parks Day as an opportunity to protest the provincial government’s new parks legislation. #StandUpForParks demands Environment Minister Mary Polak to repeal the Park Amendment Act (Bill 4) passed earlier this year, which they say threatens to open B.C. parks and protected areas up for pipelines and other industrial projects.

The day before Parks Day, Polak released a statement: “I want to be absolutely clear, the Park Amendment Act does not allow, promote or otherwise enable industrial projects in provincial parks and protected areas. Suggestions that future industrial operations will be allowed in parks are simply not true. There will be no drilling, no mining, no forestry, no transmission lines and no gas wells in our parks.”

That same day, in response to a Valley Echo inquiry,  Tim Pearson, the director of communications for the Sierra Club (one of the environmental groups organizing the protest) said in an email: “Minister Polak is, quite frankly, being less than forthcoming. The legislation explicitly allows for research “without limitation, the feasibility of the location, design, construction, use, maintenance, improvement or deactivation, of one or more of the following: a road or highway, a pipeline, a transmission line, a telecommunications project” and/or “a structure, improvement or work related” to any of the foregoing.”

According to a December 2013 Vancouver Sun article, Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline expansion from Alberta to Burnaby could potentially require boundary adjustments to 10 provincial parks.

The link between, for example, the expansion of Kinder Morgan’s pipeline and Bill 4, said Pearson, is that “it enables previously illegal research, that enables the application for a boundary adjustment, that enables the pipeline to go through a park.”

Thus, technically, Polak can stand by her statement since once a park boundary has been adjusted to allow for industrial operations, those industrial operations aren’t actually taking place within a park.

And presumably, the government’s addition of 55,000 hectares to B.C.’s parks system during the same spring session that passed Bill 4 is meant to balance out any park land lost in the boundary adjustment process, which according to Polak, remains as vigourous as ever.

If the critics’ accusations prove correct, the secretive semantics surrounding the real intent behind Bill 4  will prove to be a sneaky ploy for pushing through unpopular industrial development, eventually resulting in plenty of tweaked park maps. A disingenuous method not worthy of our provincial leaders.