‘Hypocritical:’ Alberta NDP call out UCP refusal to consult on parks changes

‘Hypocritical:’ Alberta NDP call out UCP refusal to consult on parks changes

EDMONTON — Alberta’s Opposition leader is calling out the province’s environment minister for contradicting himself by refusing to consult the public over plans to shrink the province’s parks system.

“This is intensely hypocritical action by Jason Nixon,” said NDP Leader Rachel Notley.

“He knows full well Albertans would not agree to this.”

This week, documents released under freedom of information legislation revealed that Nixon told his staff there would be no public input for changes he’s planning for Alberta parks.

Nixon announced in March that the United Conservative government plans to fully or partially close 20 provincial parks and hand off another 164 to third-party managers. Sites for which no managers can be found are to lose park status and revert to general Crown land.

Despite advice from his most senior staffers that at least two rounds of consultation were called for, a document labelled advice to cabinet states: “As recommended by (the minister’s office) and communications, recommended option is to not do consultation.”

Notley contrasts that to Nixon’s position before the last provincial election, when he was fighting plans to create a park in the Bighorn area Alberta foothills. Nixon accused the then-NDP government of trying to ram the plans through before the vote without adequate consultation.

“It is completely unacceptable for the NDP to arbitrarily cancel in-person consultation,” he said in January 2019.

“Sadly, it’s increasingly clear that the NDP isn’t interested in listening to those who live and work in the region.”

Notley scoffed at the apparent change of opinion.

“Before the election, Jason Nixon dined out on the fact that after 10 years of consultation on Bighorn we still hadn’t consulted enough. Jason Nixon doesn’t have a leg to stand on.”

Nixon and his staffers have downplayed concerns over the changes.

“We are using a successful model that has existed in the province for decades to leverage partnerships on public lands to keep a vast majority of facilities accessible to Albertans,” department spokesman John Muir wrote in an email.

“Ecologically-sensitive areas of the province will continue to be protected through the regional planning process whether under the Parks or Public Lands Act. All of those protections will continue and parks will not be sold.”

Notley took little comfort, pointing that much Crown land is simply leased, not sold, to industry.

“(Oilsands companies) don’t own that land. They lease it.

“(The government) never says ‘We’ll never lease that land to a coal mine operator or we will never lease this land to clear-cut it.’ All they say is they won’t sell any parks.”

The New Democrats have started a campaign to fight the proposed changes, which are expected to take five years to implement.

Notley said that in the first three days of the Don’t Go Breaking My Parks campaign, 11,000 letters were written from the public to protest the plans.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 23, 2020

— Follow Bob Weber on Twitter at @row1960

Bob Weber, The Canadian Press

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