Earlier this session the government introduced Bill 4 – the Park Amendment Act. This act essentially allows the government to issue park permits for two activities that are unrelated to the mandate and purpose of our parks. The first is that park-use permits can now be issued for film production. Generally I support this development, and think that it could provide a boost to our film industry. The second is that park-use permits can now be issued for “research” activities.
Prior to this legislation, park-use permits could not be issued unless, in the opinion of the minster, they were necessary for the preservation or maintenance of the recreational values of the park. This Bill now allows park-use permits for film production and for ‘research’.
Research can mean different things to different people. Research can mean a study on an endangered species, or it can mean exploratory drilling. Some types of research seem appropriate for our parks and fall within the purpose and mandate of our parks, others do not. Leaving out a definition of research without any parameters around what will and will not be allowed under a ‘feasibility study’ is leaving our parks open to possible industrial development in the future.
Current regulations and policy does define and constrain research activities that will be undertaken in our parks. However, regulations and policy can change without any public input and without public announcement. Legislation, on the other hand, is openly debated in parliament.
There is a lack of public trust on this issue. There is a lack of public trust that government has the best interests of our parks in mind, particularly given the strong opposition to pipelines going through our province. Instead of unilaterally weakening the laws that protect our Parks, the government should instead undertake an extensive public consultation in order to obtain the social license that is critical for this type of change to the Parks Act.
Today in the house I stated that:
“Public trust is a key component of why I am opposing this Bill. The public does not know why this Bill is being brought forward, and does not necessarily trust government to ensure that this Bill will not undermine our parks. Although the policies and regulations around the issuance of research permits do have specific constraints, these policies can be easily changed without going through the legislature. Today the public is concerned about pipelines and large industrial projects going through our province, and it is not surprising, therefore, that this legislation which weakens the requirements for the issuance park permits, has faced considerable backlash. Indeed, of the legislation introduced thus far this session, this Bill has gained the most significant and controversial media attention that I have seen in quite some time.”
I also stated that “Our parks are world-renowned and are a huge part of our tourism industry, they are enjoyed by thousands of British Columbians every year, and in many ways, represent the best that “Beautiful British Columbia” has to offer. This legislation weakens the current legislation of the Parks Act, and there are many who fear that it paves the way for industrial projects through our parks.”
Understanding the concerns around this Bill my staff and I were prepared to call for an amendment to delay the enactment of the Bill, allowing for public engagement and clarification of the Act. However, before I spoke to the Bill the official opposition, sharing many of my concerns, introduced an amendment calling for a delay of 6 months on the enactment of Bill 4. This is a move I fully support.
My Views towards the Bill in Full
The Park Amendment Act, introduced earlier this session, has some elements to it that I believe warrant support. In particular I was happy to see the inclusion of a more streamlined and accessible park permit issue process for activities related to film production. This legislation will likely attract additional filming business to the province, and I applaud the government for its foresight in including film production components in this Bill.
However, I have considerable concerns around how the concept of “research” is being proposed in this Bill. Good research is an integral part of forming good policy and I am a firm believer in the principle of evidenced-based decision making. The problem with how this legislation uses the term ‘research’ is that it does not define the term, it does not give any limiting parameters around what types of research would or would not be allowed, and it provides no guidelines on how the research activity is to be conducted. I am aware that there is a definition for research as well as guidelines around how research permits can be issued within the parks policy, but herein lies the problem. Policy and regulations can be changed and modified without public input or awareness, in contrast, modifying legislation has a clear accountability process.
The reason why we have parks in this province is to preserve and protect the most outstanding natural environments and ecologically diverse areas of British Columbia. Our parks exist for the use and enjoyment of British Columbians today and for the future generations of tomorrow. Indeed, the mission of BC parks is to “protect representative and special natural places within the provinces Protected Areas System for world class conservation, outdoor recreation, and education.” Furthermore, in its mandate BC Parks outlines its commitment to British Columbians through:
Operating on this understanding of the purpose of our parks, this Bill fails to define research in a way that ensures that the mandate and underlying purpose of why our Parks exist, is not undermined. One definition of research that I would argue is compatible with the mandate of our parks is one used by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. This organization defines research as “experimental or theoretical work undertaken primarily to acquire new knowledge of the underlying foundations of phenomena and observable facts, without any particular application or use in view.” I would like to draw attention to that last section of this definition and highlight that research in this sense is done, and I quote, “without any particular application or use in view”. Being a scientist by trade, I believe this definition encompasses the spirit of what good research in our Parks should entail.
For example, research that is focused on understanding the endangered Vancouver Island Marmot within the Haley Lake Ecological Reserve is, in my opinion, entirely acceptable as the underlying motivation of the research is to acquire new knowledge of this species. This type of research is also directly compatible with the mandate and purpose of our Parks. In comparison, exploratory drilling ‘research’ or widespread ore-sampling ‘research’ in the same type of protected area is not acceptable, as the motivation behind this type of research is likely for an industrial project which would directly contradict the mandate and purpose of our Parks. In my view, this latter type of research that supports a specific application or project within our parks, and which also inherently works against the purpose and mandate of our Parks, is problematic to say the least.
The proposed legislation will overrule previous clauses of the Park Act which ensure park use permits are not be granted unless it is clear that the permits “will not be detrimental to the recreational value of the park”. Current legislation also states that permits “must not be issued unless, in the opinion of the minister, it is necessary for the preservation or maintenance of the recreational values of the park involved”. By allowing park use permits to be issued around this vague concept of ‘research’, particularly research focused on undertaking a “feasibility study” for virtually any type of “prescribed project”, we are opening our Parks to special interests whose intentions may not align with the interests of British Columbians. It seems to me that this legislation is, intentionally or not, prioritizing industrial proposals over the preservation and protection of the parks of British Columbia. Given that we are discussing protected crown lands meant to preserve and protect places of ecological sensitivity, the habitats of endangered species, or places of historical and natural significance, should there not at least be some basic guidelines imbedded in the legislation around what type of research can be conducted and how it must take place?
Public trust is a key component of why I am opposing this Bill. The public does not know why this Bill is being brought forward, and does not necessarily trust government to ensure that this Bill will not undermine our parks. Although the policies and regulations around the issuance of research permits do have specific constraints, these policies can be easily changed without going through the legislature. Today the public is concerned about pipelines and large industrial projects going through our province, and it is not surprising, therefore, that this legislation which weakens the requirements for the issuance park permits, has faced considerable backlash. Indeed, of the legislation introduced thus far this session, this Bill has gained the most significant and controversial media attention. Six of the leading environmental organizations that are active in this province and which have memberships representing many tens of thousands of British Columbians, have condemned this Bill. Good governance requires outreach and consultation on controversial topics and I encourage the government to actively engage the citizens of British Columbia in public forums before enacting Bill 4
Our parks are world-renowned and are a huge part of our tourism industry, they are enjoyed by thousands of British Columbians every year, and in many ways, represent the best that “Beautiful British Columbia” has to offer. This legislation weakens the current legislation of the Parks Act, and there are many who fear that it paves the way for industrial projects through our parks.
As the Bill does not define the term research, and does not outline what constitutes a valid research activity within the protected areas of British Columbia, I cannot support this Bill. Before this legislation is passed I ask the government to explicitly define the term research, to produce research guidelines that would ensure any research activity done within our Parks would follow specific rules, and to amend the definition of a “feasibility study” to contain specific limitations and parameters which would ensure that these feasibility studies are compatible with the mandate of our Parks. Furthermore, as this research will take place on public lands, I believe that the Bill should clarify that any research activity which receives a park-use permit must be done in a manner that is consistent with the long-term health and purpose of the park. I ask that all of these requests be enshrined within legislation.
I think that in BC right now, there is a general lack of public trust at this juncture for changes to the way parks are administered, particularly with the uncertainty around major pipeline projects. Despite some positive aspects to the legislation, the fact that the public does not trust the reasons why government is making amendments to the Park Act is a serious concern.
I question whether the government has obtained the necessary social licence to make changes that could contribute to streamlining the development of industrial projects in our parks – projects which in some cases, a majority of British Columbians are opposed to.
I am opposed to the nature and direction that this legislation currently takes, and I urge the government to carefully consider the long-term consequences of passing this bill as it stands today.