Environment minister misses deadline on parks management: wilderness group

By The Canadian Press

OTTAWA – National parks advocates are frustrated that Environment Minister Catherine McKenna is nine months late responding to concerns over how the parks are managed.

“We’re still waiting for her to respond to Canadians,” Alison Ronson of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society said Wednesday.

In early 2017, McKenna invited public comment on the future of the national parks and what goals and management targets should be. Such periodic consultations are required under federal legislation.

But Let’s Talk Parks Canada, as the effort was called, turned into the largest consultation the agency has ever held.

More than 13,000 people and organizations participated either in person at public meetings, through online surveys or via email submissions or social media sites. Let’s Talk Parks elicited more than 600 concrete suggestions.

By law, McKenna had 180 days to respond after the comment period closed on Jan. 27, 2017. That time ran out July 26.

“She’s more than nine months overdue on providing a response to Canadians at this point,” Ronson said. “These are thousands of Canadians that took the time either to attend in person or fill out an online survey or provide their ideas online.”

The society broke down 481 ideas provided by the end of the comment period. It found nearly 62 per cent were asking Parks Canada to make ecosystem integrity and biodiversity a main goal.

More than one-third wanted the agency to limit commercial footprints and infrastructure development. And more than one-quarter suggested Parks Canada’s scientific capacity should be increased.

Environment Canada spokeswoman Caroline Theriault said McKenna will deliver her formal response to the consultation next week.

“The minister will address feedback and advice received from Canadians … and outline priority areas for future action and investment in Canada’s national parks and heritage places,” Theriault said in an emailed statement.

Theriault said Canadians have a strong personal connection to their national parks and care deeply about ensuring natural heritage and historic sites are preserved.

“Our government shares that goal and has been working diligently to seek and respond to an unprecedented amount of input from Canadians on how best to manage parks and protected areas.”

Ronson said her group provided its own submission to Let’s Talk Parks.

That submission strongly echoed public suggestions that environmental concerns should trump all others. It also called for $25 million a year for park science, ecological monitoring and public reporting.

The group wants greater transparency as well, noting that assessment reports are no longer available for individual parks. It said no further commercial expansions should be allowed and Parks Canada should focus on “nature-based” experiences rather than mass recreational activities.

The submission also recommended that any developments in the parks should receive the most stringent level of environmental review and that national parks currently proposed should be created by 2020.

Ronson said her group has been holding ongoing talks with McKenna.

“We’re still very frustrated with the delay. We expect the minister to recognize that the vast majority of Canadians who participated in this process are really asking for Parks Canada to refocus on nature and wildlife management in our parks.”

— By Bob Weber in Edmonton. Follow @row1960 on Twitter

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