This is the third in a series of articles on the history of Strathcona Park.
No one who took part in the 1988 Strathcona Blockade expected it to be fun, and it wasn’t. It was exhausting, draining, and terrifying. We hadn’t wanted to do it in the first place, and, when it was done, we certainly had no wish to do it again. Against all predictions, we had “won” our battle with the government, (we had stopped the drilling in the park) but we all knew it wasn’t enough. If we didn’t want to stage a blockade whenever the government “forgot”, once again, that it was supposed to be looking after our park, we had to do more. We needed to introduce safeguards which would hopefully make it harder for government and commercial interests to continue destroying what so many of us had worked so very hard to protect.
In the aftermath of the blockade, and the huge show of public support, the government was frightened enough (an election was looming, after all) to take our demands seriously. They appointed a four person committee to hear public concerns. After extensive input from the public, the Strathcona Park Advisory Committee presented a report in June, 1988. The report was titled ” Strathcona Park : Restoring the Balance”, and it laid bare much of the sad history of the park under government “care”. It also outlined many recommendations for future treatment of Strathcona. It was an excellent document.
Meanwhile, the Friends of Strathcona Park formed a negotiating group to meet with the provincial parks minister to secure a number of safeguards which would hopefully result in better treatment for the park (and some real protection) from governments in future. Our wish list was long, and there were many meetings, but in the end we were largely satisfied with what we’d achieved. (If we could have seen into the future, we would have been a lot less satisfied, but that’s a story for the next article.) In any case, most of our demands were met, and all of them were important, although I’ll deal with only four of them here.
- Statute Park: As a result of the blockade, Strathcona is now a statute park, which means that any large changes to the park are subject to debate in the legislature. For reasons I won’t go into, Strathcona wasn’t a statute park before the blockade. The government could (and did) do just about anything they wanted to the park without consulting anyone. When they cut Strathcona in half with an industrial corridor, and dumped large areas from the park completely, they had no legal requirement to let the public know what they were doing. Now, at least, the public must be informed.
- Master Plan: Before the blockade, Strathcona Park had no Master Plan. This basically meant it was at the mercy of whatever whims the government might have, and, as park history plainly shows, that has almost always been bad news. FOSP wanted a Master Plan, which would serve as a visible blueprint, so that both the public and parks staff could clearly see how the park was to be managed. The first Strathcona Park Master Plan was created with much help and input from the public, and was implemented in 1993. It was subject to a good amendment process in 2001, again with large public input. This amendment process, which was very well done, resulted in no significant changes to the original plan. The original plan stood up very well to the test of time, and remained as a wonderful testimony to the dedicated people and the excellent public process which created it.
- Strathcona Park Public Advisory Committee: In the months leading up to the blockade, it became obvious to FOSP that the government had no idea whatsoever about public wishes for Strathcona Park. Government officials seemed genuinely shocked to learn that an increase in mining and logging in the park might be upsetting to some park users. With misunderstandings like this in mind, FOSP thought that a group should be formed which could act as a liaison between the public and the government, so that similar short circuits in communication would be less likely to develop in future, and undesirable events like blockades could be avoided. The Strathcona Park Public Advisory Committee (SPPAC) is a government appointed body comprised of representatives from parks staff, together with an assortment of people from varied walks of life. Terms on the committee last several years, and anyone can apply. One of the main jobs of SPPAC is to advise parks staff about public concerns with regard to possible park changes.
- Public Hearings: FOSP wanted to make sure that members of the public were no longer excluded from having any input in park decisions, as was the case before the blockade. We wanted it written down (as it is now, in the Master Plan) that public hearings must be held before any significant changes are made to such things as land tenure in the park, or changes to the Master Plan. The “public” part of public hearings is crucial. It is important for people to be able to hear the opinions and viewpoints of others, something which doesn’t happen with letters or written submissions to officials. We believe that a public process is essential to insure that all who are interested have a chance to hear all views. Proper public hearings take time and cost money, and before the blockade they didn’t happen. Lack of public involvement in park changes was one of the biggest reason for the 1988 blockade, and so we tried to institute a public review mechanism so that, in future, all sides would have an adequate opportunity to listen and be heard.
I hope it’s obvious how the four gains listed here help to protect the park. They’re also there to hopefully forestall another blockade or similar action, because such actions are always to be avoided, if possible. Breaking the law to protect a park is definitely a last resort. In 1988 we did it, but we didn’t want to do it then, and we certainly don’t want to repeat it. In the next article I’ll show how, just last year, our current government trampled most of the hard-fought gains listed here, and altered the Strathcona Park Master Plan in order to allow a wealthy resort owner to fulfill his commercial dreams in our park.