It’s a simple yes or no
There were five options for the national park vote on the table: the dual or single vote and holding the vote before, on, or after the election. And during a public hearing on Monday night, all five options received passionate endorsement from island residents. But when it was time to reach a decision, council found it easy to listen to the pros and cons and come to a consensus – a simple yes or no vote on election day.
Council unanimously passed a motion to hold a single community vote on November 19 with the question “Do you support the creation of a national park reserve on Bowen Island?”
Because the decision was made at a committee of the whole meeting, the final decision will be made at the council meeting on September 19.
Council looked at the availability of mail balloting, the cost of polling and completeness of information as selection criteria. “If you look at the mail balloting issue, it is not available before November 19,” Councillor Nerys Poole said in her report to council. “This reality does disenfranchise primarily off island residents who own property on Bowen.”
The report identified holding the community vote at election time as the most cost effective option and suggested wording for a single or dual vote process. One option was to have a vote in November and envision a second vote that was based on the final national park concept at a later date. “But obviously any vote after the election or whether or not there’s a vote, that’s for determination by the next council,” Poole said.
In an old work plan, the feasibility assessment study was to have been completed before the community vote. That situation has changed. Parks Canada is engaged in discussions with Metro Vancouver and First Nations and there is more information to come within the next six months.
Councillor Peter Frinton wanted to know what crucial information was missing from the revised concept plan. Mel Turner, a consultant in the national park process, identified two outstanding issues: designation of Seymour Landing as a park access point and the fact that Parks Canada had not heard from Metro Vancouver whether a transfer of Crippen Park is feasible.
“Another aspect,” Turner said, “is the response to the revised concept itself. Parks Canada has set October 15 as the date for comments back from the community. We don’t at this point of time have the benefit of knowing what the people have to say.”
Turner placed a high importance on a letter from the province that ensured the municipality that an establishment agreement would only go forward if it had community approval. He said, “The issue then becomes: how is this council or how are future councils going to measure community support? This council has suggested [holding] a community vote. Given the support of the province, the best time for that vote would seem to me when the establishment agreement is drafted so we know exactly what we’re voting for.... Parks Canada and the province are looking to the community to indicate whether or not they are supporting the initiative. Clearly, the sooner that level of support is indicated the better because everyone can then move on.”
Frinton said that Metro Vancouver had, in a closed session, assigned a value for Crippen Park. He added that “in open meetings, it has been determined that Metro Vancouver takes the position that they will not release land except for due consideration of return. So it is either going to be a trade or it would be a fair market value or it would be some other mechanism. They have also indicated more of a willingness to some kind of partnership agreement.”
In a discussion about the timing of the vote, council excluded the option of holding the vote prior to the election because mail balloting wasn’t available. Mayor Bob Turner said, “The options that are remaining in front of us are a vote or no vote. Essentially, deferring the vote to the future is no vote because is up to the next council to determine what’s done after the election.”
Councillor David Wrinch urged, “I don’t think there is any question that we have to have a vote at the election time. One way or the other, that is going to be at least our first vote.”
Councillor Doug Hooper agreed. “I support a vote on November 19 for two principle reasons. One is the issue of the mandate. I think the next council needs to have a clear mandate articulated on the national parks question. And the second reason is with respect to accountability. I think the electorate deserves to know where the candidates for the next council stand with respect to what they will do with the outcome of that vote. Will they bring it back to a second vote or will they obtain the authority to advise Parks Canada what the Bowen position is at some point in the future? There is that whole accountability of whether or not the issue will ultimately be determined by the public or by council.”
Not all councillors were positive about future negotiations. Councillor Cro Lucas said, “A national park on Bowen possibly would be an opportunity to receive additional revenue for this municipality without increasing taxes. Having said that, I believe that the die in this process was cast when Parks Canada presented their revised concept plan. It was only fractually changed. Most importantly, it failed to recognize the substantial petition request that Crippen Park be removed from the park plan. I believe that there is a substantial number in the community who now have lost faith in process. And they need a clean and unbiased question for the public poll.”
Lucas spoke in favour of a single vote at election time.
Wrinch raised the issue of Parks Canada’s conversation with Metro Vancouver and First Nations. “I would like to make a decision when I get answers to those kind of questions. I would hope that a yes vote now would not preclude another opportunity to say no.” Wrinch concluded that he would favour a two-step process, as long as it was assured that second vote would be held.
Frinton said, “The important thing to me is that is be a simple, clear question. And it is not predicated on the revised concept plan. It is simply a gut question of whether or not we would like to have a park.... I don’t like this to be wedded to the concept plan in front of us because clearly, there are deficiencies from a community perspective. I would hope that the discussion would then be in the public realm around the greater issues and not the minutia what if and this, that and the next thing but look at the merit or the downsides of having that national park.”
Councillor Alison Morse said, “If the single vote was a no, then a letter would go from council saying that Bowen says no?”
Mayor Turner answered: “This council will have two council meetings following the vote so that puts us in a position to know the outcome of the vote, to speak to it and communicate what the majority opinion is to Parks Canada and the province. My own opinion is that this is the duty of this council to close the loop on that.”
Poole said, “This council will have the opportunity to send a message to Parks Canada that, if it is a yes, this is not this community saying, ‘just go ahead and do whatever you like.’ This is this community saying yes to the concept. And we are basically going to hold the province to their commitment to ensure that we get the best deal for Bowen. The next council may very easily decide to hold a vote on the terms and conditions. And the reasons we need to communicate that to Parks Canada is that if there’s a yes vote, we want to be in the best negotiating position.”
To sum it up, Hooper said, “A no means no. A yes means maybe or yes. It’s as simple as that.”