British Columbia

South Okanagan residents call for referendum on proposed national park

A new public poll shows 76 per cent of residents surveyed in the South Okanagan-Similkameen support a local referendum to determine if a Parks Canada plan for a national park in the region should be green lit.

Poll shows 45 per cent of people surveyed oppose Parks Canada's plan

A 'No National Park' sign along a road in Cawston, B.C. (Brady Strachan / CBC)

Public support for a proposed national park in the South Okanagan is dwindling and a new poll shows the majority of residents want a local referendum to determine if the plan should go ahead at all. 

The controversial project has been discussed and debated since it was first proposed in 2003. Concerns from locals include restricted roaming for cattle, increased wildfire risk, and loss of outdoor space for recreational activities such as hunting.

The South Okanagan-Similkameen Preservation Society, which, according to its website "is fundamentally opposed" to the park, commissioned Innovative Research Group and polled 300 locals. Seventy-six per cent of respondents favoured holding a local referendum to determine if the plan for a park should ultimately be parked.

The survey also found that 45 per cent of respondents are opposed to setting aside 284 square kilometres for Parks Canada.

This is in contrast to a 2010 poll that CBC previously reported on, conducted by McAllister Opinion Research, which showed 69 per cent of 405 respondents favoured the idea.

Boundary map of the proposed South Okanagan - Similkameen National Park Reserve. (Parks Canada)

More cons than pros

"We're at the moment opposed to the park simply because there are more cons to the park than there are pros," Lionel Trudel, director of the South Okanagan-Similkameen Preservation Society, told Daybreak South host Chris Walker.

Trudel said there hasn't been an honest discussion with the federal government about possible tax increases to support infrastructure for the park, such as wear and tear on roads and the strain on local first responders if the park entices more people to explore the back country.

According to Trudel, Parks Canada has not yet come forward with its budget for park development so residents are still in the dark on costs. 

The society's survey also indicates 59 per cent of people think the government has done a poor job of local consultation.

"If we can get that promise of a referendum from government, that opens the gates to actual dialogue and discussion," said Trudel. 

In a statement, Parks Canada said it is committed to consulting Indigenous communities, partners, stakeholders and local residents. They are also taking public input online until Feb. 28.

Innovative Research Group polled residents at random by telephone from Dec. 12, 2018 to Dec. 19, 2018. The margin of error is plus or minus 5.72 per cent 19 times out of 20.

To hear the complete interview with Trudel click on the audio below:

Lionel Trudel, director of the South Okanagan-Similkameen Preservation Society, on the results of a public poll about the proposed national park in the South Okanagan-Similkameen region. 9:34

With files from Daybreak South and Brady Strachan

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