An open letter to Barry Penner, Minister of Environment, published here by request.
I am writing to you about your recent decision to amend the Strathcona Park Master Plan to allow for expanded horse use on old road beds.
I am astonished that you chose to ignore the advice of the Strathcona Public Advisory Committee (SPPAC) on this issue, and shocked that the strong objections of the public to expanded horse use, and particularly to commercial horse activity, in Strathcona Park have also been disregarded.
However, material obtained by the Friends of Strathcona Park through Freedom of Information and posted on their website (www.friendsofstrathcona.org) provides some insight into your decision.
Communications between Ministry personnel reveals that the draft Terms of Reference for the Master Plan Amendment process and the Level 2 Assessment was referred to SPPAC for comment. However, the committee was not informed that the document had already been signed off because, the author explains to his colleague, “SPPAC may not feel the opportunity to provide input is real if the Terms of Reference have already been signed off”.
I cannot believe that the person making this statement did not understand that circumventing the role of SPPAC in the decision-making process was a serious breach of trust, and a blatant manipulation of the public consultation process. Moreover, it causes me to wonder if it was an isolated incident or symptomatic of a prevailing attitude towards the public within the Environment Ministry.
The dedicated volunteers who serve on the SPPAC committee were appointed by BC Parks to advise on issues relating to the management of Strathcona Park because of their expertise in a variety of relevant fields. The role of SPPAC in deciding the direction for public consultation is spelled out in the 2001 Master Plan Amendment (section 5.1). It is unacceptable that input from SPPAC should be considered as irrelevant, and it demonstrates a lack of respect for the value of public opinion by Ministry personnel.
It seems clear to me that the concerns and comments expressed by the general public during the consultation process were not afforded any meaningful consideration either. Indeed, the fact that overwhelming public opposition to amending the Master Plan did not result in your making a different decision supports my belief. Clearly, public opinion was deemed to be insignificant compared with other considerations. However, it should not be forgotten that, although each member of the public commented as an individual, collectively they comprise the largest and most important stakeholder group.
I do not believe that the public expectation of a fair and unbiased consultation process has been met and, consequently, it raises the question of the correctness of your decision.
You cannot expect public support for your decision unless there is confidence that is was made without prejudice.