Former B.C. environment minister John Cashore remembers the “beautiful day” back in 1995 when he got to announce the creation of Stawamus Chief Provincial Park.
At the time, Cashore was the province’s minister of aboriginal affairs, and he joined with then–environment minister Moe Sihota to deliver the news in Squamish.
Seventeen years later, Cashore is speaking out against a private-sector proposal to remove land from the Class A park for a sightseeing gondola. The former NDP MLA believes the proposal, under consideration by the B.C. Liberal government, goes against the park’s management plan and doesn’t deserve a “snowball’s chance” of approval.
“I am absolutely opposed to it,” Cashore told the Georgia Straight by phone from his home in Coquitlam. “It is not necessary. It is not going to fulfill a purpose that overrides the purpose of the original protection.”
In March, the Straight reported that Sea to Sky Gondola Corporation applied in December to take 2.36 hectares out of the 526-hectare park. The Squamish-based company plans to erect seven of 15 gondola towers and log 364 to 597 cubic metres of timber in the 20-metre-wide, 1.18-kilometre-long corridor, which would be redesignated as a protected area under the Environment and Land Use Act. The proposed gondola would cut through the park from a base between the Stawamus Chief and Shannon Falls to the wooded ridge northwest of Mount Habrich.
Earlier this month, Sea to Sky principal David Greenfield told the Straight that B.C. Parks staff have recommended the park-boundary adjustment go ahead. The company is hoping Environment Minister Terry Lake, the cabinet, and the legislative assembly will approve the change by the end of the spring legislative session on May 31 so construction can begin in September.
According to Joan McIntyre, the B.C. Liberal MLA for West Vancouver–Sea to Sky, the gondola is a “worthy project” that has garnered “widespread support” due to the economic and tourism activity it promises. Although she wouldn’t say how she will vote if the park amendment goes to the legislature, McIntyre pointed out that 9.7 hectares were added to the park last November to protect the Malamute climbing area.
“So there’s a real plus for those who are concerned about a very small amount possibly being removed,” McIntyre told the Straight by phone from her constituency office in West Vancouver.
Brandin Schultz, South Coast regional manager for B.C. Parks, maintains the proposed gondola corridor is “consistent” with the park’s management plan. The bureaucrat confirmed that B.C. Parks made a recommendation to the environment minister in March but said policy prevented him from commenting. Although B.C. Parks called for public feedback in 2008 on a failed proposal to remove land from Pinecone Burke Provincial Park for a power line, Schultz told the Straight there are no plans to do so for Sea to Sky’s application.
“The onus is on the proponent to bring forward public consultation, First Nations support, where local government stands, and arrange all that and provide it to us,” Schultz said by phone from his North Vancouver office.
B.C. NDP environment critic Rob Fleming argued the public deserves the opportunity to submit comments directly to B.C. Parks. On the phone from the parliament buildings, the Victoria–Swan Lake MLA told the Straight it’s “critically important” that B.C. Parks act as an independent advocate for the provincial park system.
“If and when this proposal hits the floor of the legislature in the form of a bill, legislators from all over the province are going to have to rely on information that has been carefully gathered and considered by B.C. Parks as to whether this would be an acceptable change,” Fleming said. “My concern is that so far B.C. Parks has been missing in action.”
According to Jane Sterk, land shouldn’t be taken out of provincial parks for commercial ventures. The Green Party of B.C. leader called B.C. Parks’ reliance on Sea to Sky Gondola to gather public input “inexcusable”.
“I think it’s just a confirming of a belief, maybe a direction of the B.C. Liberal government, that we need to approve private-industry activities,” Sterk told the Straight by phone from the Malahat Highway. “They don’t seem to have a belief that the public has a right to say things about these public spaces.”
Tonight (April 19) at 7 p.m., the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District will hold a public hearing on the rezoning for the gondola’s top terminal. The SLRD board of directors is expected to consider giving the bylaws third reading on May 28.
As environment minister, Cashore launched the Protected Areas Strategy in 1993. The Chief park arose from that policy—which doubled the size of B.C.’s protected areas to 12 percent of the province’s land base—and enjoys the highest level of protection available to provincial parks.
Cashore agrees with environmentalists from the Wilderness Committee and Sierra Club B.C. who have argued that removing land from the Chief park could put other parks at risk.
“Ultimately, it could lead to the erosion of that fundamental value that lies behind the designation of a Class A park,” Cashore said.