On March 25, the Park Amendment Act (Bill 4) was passed. The Bill, introduced in mid-February, allows “research” in provincial parks regarding “the feasibility of the location, design, construction, use, maintenance, improvement, or deactivation” of roads or highways, pipelines, transmission lines, and other industrial activities to take place. It also reduces legal protection for smaller parks. The legislation doesn’t include areas smaller than 2,023 hectares.
Bill 4 has caused great controversy among environmental and conservation organizations, and it was met with significant resistance throughout BC. The Ministery of Environment received “thousands of letters” of opposition. There was no public consultation about the Bill, and according to Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society’s Peter Wood, the pace at which it was pushed through suggests that consultation “was never a consideration.”
Valerie Langer of ForestEthics Solutions said that “at the very least, the province should be consulting with the environmental movement who helped establish all of these parks,” as they would speak with industrial sectors before passing a Bill that would affect them.
Gwen Barlee from the Wilderness Committee said the Bill “undermines the definition of what a ‘park’ is, given that our protected areas will now be open to industrial activity.” The BC Parks Service claims that provincial parks and conservancies are a “public trust” for the “protection of natural environments for the inspiration, use, and enjoyment of the public.”
In the past, park use permits have only been given out after a demonstration that the proposed activity was “necessary for the preservation or maintenance of the recreational values of the park involved.” Though Bill 4 states that “research” will only be considered after a “thorough review of the protected area values,” Andrew Gage, staff lawyer for the West Coast Environmental Law, mentions that “this requirement is nowhere to be found in Bill 4.”
Critics are concerned Bill 4 will open BC parks to environmentally destructive oil and gas extraction processes. “The government has sent a clear signal that it is open to having pipelines cut through our globally renowned protected areas,” said Al Martin of the BC Wildlife Federation.
Darryl Walker from the BC Government and Service Employees’ Union said that, with the passing of this Bill, “2014 will be the year BC parks [change] forever.”