Submitted by Brian Jean
(Editor’s note: Wildrose Livingstone-Macleod MLA Pat Stier also contributed to this column about changes to recreational areas.)
In 2015, the NDP government wandered into its first major debacle when it imposed heavy-handed legislation known as Bill 6 on Alberta’s farms and ranches without consulting farmers and ranchers, the people whose lives would be directly affected, first.
Farm families were rightly troubled by the government’s dismissive attitude towards them and protested in huge numbers.
The NDP used a bag of legislative tricks to bulldoze Bill 6 through the Legislature, but everything was different after this debacle. The public backlash exposed Premier Rachel Notley and her caucus as ideological and out-of-touch.
The NDP eventually agreed to consult with Albertans and relax a few of the rules around Bill 6, but their attitude towards governing had been revealed. We’ve seen the NDP government wander into other debacles since Bill 6, but the Castle issue happening in southern Alberta is especially causing some serious Déjà vu.
The Castle Region is one of Alberta’s greatest natural wonders, on par with Banff or Jasper. People from all over Canada come to the Castle every year to experience its world-class hiking, fishing, random camping and off-road trail systems.
Great conservationists and recreation enthusiasts have developed and managed these trails to ensure they don’t impact natural habitats, offering people the chance to access the outdoors in a way that is safe, reliable and respectful to the permitted uses that were established by Environment Minister Shannon Phillips when she announced the creation of the Castle Provincial Park in September 2015.
But now, with very little warning and no consultation, the NDP is meddling with the rules for permitted activities in the Castle. They’ve banned the use of licensed highway vehicles off the main roads. They’re eliminating random camping for people who like to enjoy the natural, undisturbed outdoors. They’ve also restricted the use of off-highway vehicles (OHVs) like quads and snowmobiles to designated trails, and promised to ban all OHV use in the next three to five years, a direct reversal of the permitted uses that the Minister granted in 2015.
These changes came into effect on January 20, 2017, and there are more on the way.
The NDP provided a short survey on their website and called it consultation, but this survey was a sham. It was full of leading questions designed to get the answers they wanted. They also opened a tight 60-day window for public feedback on these changes. But that’s not nearly enough time or venues for adequate consultation.
Wildrose is asking the NDP to expand this window to 120 days and to hold a series of public town halls, so the voices of the people can be heard. We will be asking the Premier and the Minister serious questions in the Legislature. We will be presenting petitions on behalf of concerned citizens. And we’re currently asking Albertans to write the Premier and Minister with their concerns, and to include all government MLAs.
The NDP eventually realized their mistakes on Bill 6. Similarly, with the help of everyday Albertans who love the Castle, we hope to convince them to strike a balance and adjust the permitted uses in the park to restore random camping and the use of OHVs on designated trails, while ensuring the administration of the park is properly managed including broadened enforcement.
Wildrose believes in the preservation of natural areas while providing recreational enthusiasts and environmentalists the opportunity to enjoy a wide-variety of activities in Alberta’s great outdoors. Let’s find a true balance.
Brian Jean is the leader of the Wildrose and Pat Stier is the Wildrose MLA for Livingstone-Macleod.