Posted by: friendsofstrathcona | March 26, 2010

How the Strathcona Park Master Plan Was Butchered (by Karl Stevenson)

This is the fourth in a series of articles on the history of Strathcona Park.

This is the fourth in a series of articles on Strathcona Park. The previous articles have shown how the park has historically received little protection from governments, and has instead been plundered by them, in a pattern that has continued since Strathcona was created in 1911. In my last article, I outlined how the park finally received some protection in 1988, when citizens became desperate enough to go to jail in an attempt to protect their park from their government. As a result of this citizen action, (which became known as the Strathcona Blockade) government plans for increased commercialization and industrialization of the park were thwarted, and a number of safeguards were formulated (with extensive public participation) which people hoped would help to protect the park in future.

Well, the future has now arrived, and it looks ominous. The park safeguards, which so many people worked so hard to put into place, and which have worked so well for so many years, have unfortunately not been strong enough to fend off our present provincial government. For reasons that are hard to understand, the government seems bent (against major public opinion) on granting a park use permit to allow a resort to begin a questionable operation in an area of the park not far from Tofino. In recent times, this area, known as the Bedwell Valley, has been slowly healing from a number of previous brutal encounters with the forces of commerce. Many people, including the Friends of Strathcona Park, believe the valley should finally be allowed some respite from our commercial ambitions, and think it deserves to be left alone and given a chance to recover in relative peace and quiet.

The provincial government appears to think differently. Apparently, what the Bedwell really needs is another large, healthy dose of commerce. In a process that’s lasted about 5 years, and has finally (against public wishes) resulted in a park use permit for the resort, the government has disregarded the advice of the Strathcona Park Public Advisory Committee, as well as the opinions of many members of its own administrative staff. Former park administrators, including at least one senior park planner and several assistant deputy ministers have also spoken against allowing the resort into the park, as have members of the committee involved in the creation of the Strathcona Park Master Plan. The government started its attack on the Master plan with an initial claim that it was irrelevant, and when that claim proved invalid, they settled on the notion that it was “unclear” and needed changing, even though (according to recorded quotes) many senior park administrators appeared to understood the plan quite well, and had, in fact, used it ”as pretty much a bible” since its creation.

After several hurried and poorly advertised “public hearings”, where the majority of people (80-90%) were against changing the Master Plan to allow the resort into the park, the plan was changed to allow the resort into the park. These “public hearings” were clumsy, ludicrous, and ultimately meaningless, since the opinion of the public was totally ignored.

In contrast, the original Master Plan, (which has now been butchered to allow the granting of the permit to the resort) was created in 1993, after years of dedicated work by many members of the public. In 2001, it went through a very thorough and comprehensive public amendment process, (totally unlike this recent cynical effort) and it came through with flying colours. It has stood up extremely well to the test of time, probably because it was created with such a large amount of sincere and dedicated public help. It didn’t need “clarifying”.

The government ignored the Strathcona Park Public Advisory Committee, ignored its own administrators, ignored the public, and caused the Strathcona Park Master Plan to be drastically altered. It spent a lot of money and years of effort, and the Master Plan is now a significantly weakened document. What was done may not be illegal, but it’s not right, and the park will suffer as a result.

When I see governments working to the detriment of a park, it troubles me very much. Is it democracy when a government callously pushes aside all the protective devices that the public has worked so hard to put in place to preserve a park? And is it democratic when the new, “clarified” version of the Strathcona Park Master Plan conveniently allows a resort owner to carry out his intrusive, high impact commercial activities within a park valley that deserves to be left alone?

I find this discouraging and disgusting, but it’s not the end of the story. I, and others like me, have been fighting and working for much of our lives to make Strathcona into a real park. Someday, somehow, we will find a way to get governments to comprehend that the purpose of a park has nothing to do with making money. In 1988, after 64 brave people were packed off to jail, the ensuing huge public outcry forced the government of that era to back off, and we began working to give the park boundaries some genuine meaning. The Master Plan was born at that time, and we established other safeguards which have worked to protect the park until now. Last year, unfortunately, those safeguards were shown to have little power against a determined government.

Will it always be necessary for people to break the law if they want to protect a provincial park? I hope not. Surely, in a democratic system, there must be other, less drastic ways to persuade governments to protect what the public wants to protect. And hopefully, in our society, we can someday find a little room in our hearts (and our legal system) for at least one thing that we value more highly than money.

Strathcona Park, the oldest provincial park in BC, the so-called “flagship of the BC park system”, will be 100 years old in 2011. Despite the incredible abuse it’s received in the last 99 years, it’s still a wonderful park. It’s ironic (but not very surprising) that it has had to endure an attack from its present “protectors” on the very eve of its centennial. Obviously, the park is as vulnerable today as it has been at any time in its history, because money, as we have seen, never rests. If we want protection for our parks, we simply must stand up for them. There is no other way.

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