A letter to the editor I wrote, which was published in the Royal City Record on March 19, attracted a response (published March 30) from Bill Barisoff, Joyce Murray's successor as Minister of Water, Land, and Air Protection. You can read Barisoff's letter by clicking here (PDF); my original letter appears below.

Barisoff wrote that I "couldn't be more wrong". Well, Bill, I have to go with the information I have available, supplemented by common sense. This is the first time that I (or anyone else) have heard the words "modest hostels" used in connection with the Liberal initiative to put lodges in provincial parks.

When the government advertises for bids for these lodges, how many bids are they likely to get for "modest hostels"? Not very many, because of the overhead involved in providing running water, a septic tank, a road, parking, and housing for employees. And, if the government were to receive two competing bids, and one of the bids was a lodge for high-rollers, and the other was a "modest hostel", which bid do you think will win?

While I'm dubious about Barisoff's "modest hostels", I can tell you that what he wrote about "impact assessment and public and stakeholder consultation" is just plain nonsense. The same Ministry of Water, Land, and Air Protection is telling their employees that applications for development have to be turned around in 45 days. There is no way that factors such as impact on flora and fauna can be evaluated in this short a period of time.

Barisoff wrote, "British Columbians have indicated that they want more recreational services and opportunities and a greater range of accommodations when they visit provincial parks." Actually, British Columbians who have answered surveys have said that they want the provincial parks kept public, and they don't want them degraded with for-profit businesses.

Barisoff is correct in stating that "the number of people visiting British Columbia's parks has been on the decline since the late 1990's." What he didn't tell us that that the reason for the decline has been the removal of campsites, picnic tables, and toilets, and the increases in camping and parking fees. Once again, the Liberal government has created a problem, and now offers us a giveaway of public assets as a solution to the problem they created.

Now, here's the March 19 letter that Barisoff responded to:

Editor, The Record;

If you're still looking for a reason not to vote Liberal in the provincial election that's coming up in May, the recent disclosure of plans to put privately financed lodges into provincial parks is a reason that covers a lot of bases.

Like the BC Rail giveaway, the aborted Coquihalla Highway giveaway, and the scheme to privatize processing of medical records, putting private lodges in provincial parks is a policy that is the opposite of the best interests of British Columbians.

Why? Because when projects like this are put to tender, the most likely successful bidders will be multinationals like Marriott, Hyatt, and Four Seasons. Once they are established, they will take customers away from businesses in nearby communities, such as grocery stores, motels, restaurants, and RV parks. (These same local businesses have already been impacted by campground closures and increases in camping and parking fees. Park visits have decreased by 25% since the Liberals became government in 2001, and this decrease is a direct result of government policy.)

Access to provincial parks should be regarded as a valuable privilege of being a British Columbian. The Liberals have eroded this privilege already. They now propose to erode it further. It isn't enough for them to trade inexpensive campsites for expensive hotel rooms for high-rollers. They would also degrade the whole "great outdoors" experience with heli-pads, more roads, and more infrastructure for electric power, waste water, garbage disposal, and staff housing.

The punch line here is, this proposal started when New Westminster MLA Joyce Murray was the Minister of Water, Land, and Air Protection. When interviewed in this capacity by Rafe Mair, she said that the role of her government was to pave the way for economic development, instead of protecting wilderness from it. If you disagree with this ordering of priorities, you have an opportunity coming up to vote against it.

Robert Broughton
Green Party Candidate
New Westminster