Report calls for Parks accountability
Thursday, Apr 06, 2017 06:00 am
A parliamentary standing committee is calling on Parks Canada to be more transparent and accountable to the public in its decision-making process and stick to development limits in national parks.
On March 24, the federal standing committee on the environment and sustainable development released the 109-page report Taking Action Today: Establishing Protected Areas for Canada’s Future.
The committee, chaired by Liberal MP Deb Schulte, noted there will always be people who disagree with some development decisions, but members of the committee found it difficult to understand Parks Canada’s decision-making process.
“For example, despite repeated questions to numerous witnesses, the committee was unable to determine what process led to the announcement in budget 2016 of a $65.9 million investment for a new biking and walking trail in Jasper National Park,” states the committee in its report. “More transparency in decision-making is required.”
A key recommendation of the committee is that Parks Canada adhere to existing limits placed on development as outlined in legislation or in management plans, guidelines and policy.
But the committee left the development door open.
“Development proposals as well as any changes to existing limits should be subject to a transparent and publicly inclusive decision-making process,” states the report.
A local conservation group said the overall report is positive, especially in light of Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna’s recent speech in Banff about ensuring ecological integrity is the number one priority.
“But it’s like a lot of things. Actions count stronger than words,” said Reg Bunyan, board member of Bow Valley Naturalists.
The paved trail from Jasper to the Columbia Icefield, potentially heading all the way to Lake Louise in the next phase, has caused a stir for a host of reasons, including questions about how the project showed up in last year’s budget.
In addition, the committee was told development approvals had been given in cases where there was overwhelming public opposition, including Brewster’s skywalk in Jasper.
Parks Canada did not grant an interview request on the recommendations in the parliamentary committee’s report, but emailed a statement.
The statement claims Parks Canada remains committed to a rigorous development review and environmental assessment process that ensures all development proposals comply with limits and that a park’s ecological integrity is maintained.
“Additionally, any development in national parks is managed through consultation with the public and stakeholders, and planning that is informed by science,” the statement said.
As it relates to the proposed Icefields Trail, the statement said public consultation and engagement is a key priority for Parks Canada.
It said results of these consultations will be fed into a detailed impact analysis, also known as an environmental assessment. The public will also have an opportunity to provide feedback on analysis once it is prepared.
“Through these consultations, Parks Canada hopes to identify issues and opportunities that will be considered for the proposed Icefields Trail,” according to the statement. “The feedback Parks Canada receives will be carefully reviewed and used to inform decisions on the overall project.”