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VIEW: BC enviro minister wrong on Park Amendment Act

Last weekend, people across B.C. gathered in our provincial parks to celebrate Parks Day and to send a strong message to the B.C. government -- the fight to keep these special places protected from industry is far from over. There are already more than 167,000 people who have demanded that the government repeal the Park Amendment Act, which threatens the integrity of our provincial parks and protected areas by allowing industrial research.

Instead of responding to these legitimate concerns, the provincial environment minister has opted to dismiss them as unfounded in a release issued in response to the Parks Day of Action. This release contains misleading statements that demand correction.

Fortunately, it is very easy to get to the truth of the matter. It's time to clear up the misconceptions about the Park Amendment Act and be honest with British Columbians about what it means for our parks.

Minister Mary Polak claims that:

"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."

Even a cursory glance at the new legislation reveals that this is not true -- the newly amended Act now specifically allows government to issue park use permits for conducting research to inform feasibility studies for pipelines, transmissions lines, and other industrial projects.

As Polak explained in the legislature, this was required because the ministry was already issuing such permits even though they lacked the legal basis to do so. The amended law explicitly identifies activities like building pipelines in the list of projects a research permit may be used to support. If a park use permit is used to conduct research to support roads, pipelines, and transmission lines, is this not the very definition of changing the law to enable industrial projects?

Case in point: Kinder Morgan's TransMountain pipeline project. This company was granted park use permits to go into the five parks and protected areas that the proposed pipeline route cuts through, to conduct research in support of a proposal to expand their existing pipeline.

When asked about these park use permits by the media, the company's main environmental consultant, Jason Smith, said, "We were very clear that our reason for seeking the permit was to do the necessary studies and research for the proposed pipeline."

So while the environment minister says changes to the Act do not enable industrial projects in parks, Kinder Morgan says otherwise: that the park use permits they obtained from the government -- which the amendments to the Park Act now explicitly allow -- were specifically obtained to enable an industrial project through not just one, but five different parks and protected areas.

What's more, it is undeniable that an expansion of the Kinder Morgan's TransMountain pipeline would require the removal of lands from each of the protected areas it passes through. The only reason the minister can get away with saying that industrial activity within parks remains banned is that the land will first be removed from the park.

To do this, Kinder Morgan has invoked B.C.'s Boundary Adjustment Policy to request that the park be redrawn to accommodate the pipeline. Combined with the Park Amendment Act, this forms a one-two punch that leaves our parks wide open to development. This will result in parks that have swaths of unprotected land running through them, fragmenting wildlife habitat and threatening the health of the ecosystems surrounding the newly un-protected land.

The reason we have a Park Act is to ensure a high level of integrity in the management and protection of lands and resources within parks and protected areas. When the government designates protected areas and parks, it is to ensure that the landscapes, wildlife and resources within those borders are protected in perpetuity.

If B.C. is not able to guarantee that its parks are off-limits to industry -- whether by issuing industrial research permits or by redrawing park boundaries at will -- it has no parks.

We call upon Minister Polak to come clean with British Columbians about the Park Amendment Act, and to show leadership and address these concerns in a forthright manner. We're not going away, so long as our parks are at risk.

Peter Wood is the Director of Terrestrial Campaigns for CPAWS-BC

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