Sometimes it is hard to know where to start when trying to respectfully respond to an individual or a political party that you disagree with on any issue but especially on the most recent NDP fiasco – the Big Horn Proposal.
Perhaps you start by addressing the trust issue and the actions of the Minister of Environment and Parks when she created the Castle Wildland Provincial Park when she promised to continue to permit off highway vehicle use on existing designated trails and then backtracked on that promise shutting down almost all OHV use in the Castle region.
Will this be the same fate for the West Country Public Land Use Zone? The documents provided by Alberta Environment and Parks that address the Big Horn Proposal say that OHV use will continue on all designated trails and designated areas giving the impression nothing is going to change. When I asked how many of the existing trails in the West Country PLUZ are designated trails the answer I was given was that there were no designated trails in the West Country PLUZ. In light of the actions in the Castle region one has to seriously wonder what the real situation will be regarding OHV use or any industrial activity once the government begins applying regulatory policy to the Big Horn Proposal.
The consultation process has been deeply flawed with the Minister claiming that the process had become dangerous. Now any intimidation, threats, or harassment is completely unacceptable. I would of course condemn any documented incidents – but, to date, there appear to be no such documented incidents. This then leads a person to wonder if disagreement over government policy and the exercise of our free speech is the new standard for deciding that the government will not meet with Alberta stakeholders.
Environmental groups like Y2Y and CPAWS are two of the groups pushing the Bighorn park plan and both are recipients of foreign-funding from the Tides Foundation, an anti-oil and gas group. Many conclude that the real reason for this Big Horn Proposal is that foreign money and environmentalist want to shut down the West Country to economic opportunity and recreational activity. This would appear to fall in line with this government supported trend of using the environment as the excuse for piling regulation and taxes upon an already struggling oil and gas industry.
Clearly, serious consideration should be given by this government into removing the Minister of the Environment from this file and starting over. Good public policy needs to have the support of the people, do no harm and where possible increase economic activity. This proposal misses the mark and the government should hit a reset button on this issue. A real and respectful consultation process must be initiated that listens to and at the end of the day results in a land use proposal that has the support of Albertans in general and with the users and stakeholder groups of the West Country in particular.
Mark Smith is MLA for the Drayton Valley-Devon constituency and writes a regular column for The Pipestone Flyer.