Bowen residents will likely get more time to make up their minds about the national park.
The community opinion vote about whether council should continue exploring the possibility of creating a national park reserve on Bowen had been scheduled for June 25. It may be postponed now that Parks Canada has announced that its revised park concept won't be ready to be presented to the public until the end of June.
Council will be discussing the implications of the delay at the May 9 council meeting. One suggestion, Councillor Nerys Poole said, is to hold the community opinion vote at the same time as the municipal elections in November.
Parks Canada had initially planned to present the revised park concept in mid-May. It announced this week that it has to reschedule the open house because more time is required for internal and provincial reviews of the revised park concept as well as the completion of an independent social assessment of some of the impacts a national park could have for the Bowen Island community. As a third reason, Parks Canada cited the ongoing consultation with First Nations.
The revised concept plan is, in part, Parks Canada's answer to the extensive documentation compiled by community groups and council. And the open house is seen as an important step in Parks Canada's engagement with Bowen residents who need to be informed about the national park reserve in order to vote on the issue.
Poole, who is chair of the BIM national park council committee, said that postponing the community vote is a likely outcome of council's deliberation.
"The committee has been in discussion with Parks Canada and we support their decision to delay the release of a revised park concept plan," she said. "We believe that the additional time will allow Parks Canada to better respond to the recommendations from the Bowen community and Bowen council regarding the draft concept plan."
Rob Cairns headed the national parks community advisory commission. He said, "There are a couple of positive things. First of all, the delay of the vote allows more time for Parks Canada to answer some of the community's questions. And holding the vote together with the municipal election will save us some money. The administration cost to run a vote like that is substantial."
Cairns added, "There's one more thing that I think is important. There is some confusion on the purpose of the vote. The purpose is to authorize council to continue communications with Parks Canada. It is not to say yes, we want the park, or no, we don't want the park. This is an important distinction for some people."
Cairns thinks that the proposed timing for the community vote will give candidates a chance to talk about how they would represent islanders in negotiations with Parks Canada if they were elected. He said, "Candidates should be clear on whether they will agree to further community involvement [in the national park process] or even a further community vote once there are more details available."
John Greene would also welcome the delay. He's been lobbying for a delay at numerous meetings. He said, "It is a step in the right direction. But a more appropriate time would be after the election when we have a new council with the mandate to deal with Parks Canada."
If the results of a community opinion vote are positive, the next step would involve discussions about the inclusion of land and about park management. Results from those negotiations would inform the final feasibility assessment that Parks Canada had envisioned to be done in late 2011 or early 2012.
The national park council committee has also made it clear that the community vote is only the first in a number of steps toward approving a park. As the project will only move ahead with the support of Bowen's municipal council, it will be up to elected officials to ensure that all key concerns of the community have been adequately addressed.
As soon as a new date for the Parks Canada open house is announced, the information will be made available to the public in the Undercurrent and on Parks Canada's project website.