Golden Ears Provincial Park will see more campgrounds, regardless which party wins Saturday night’s provincial election.
That was the message as Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows candidates took part in a virtual debate on the environment on Tuesday evening. hosted by the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society.
Moderator Kate MacMillan said BC Parks have been “chronically underfunded since the early 2000s” but had record attendance past summer. Parking lots are already full by 9 a,.m. on weekends, and the campground booking website is crashing. Golden Ears is consistently at maximum capacity. How would your party revitalize parks, she asked.
BC Liberal candidate Cheryl Ashlie said “We would restore the NDP’s cuts to B.C. Parks, because we are actually very proud of our landscapes.”
She said her party would double the number of campsites in areas with growing demand, and provide parking and amenities in high-use areas.
“And improve the frustrating BC Parks camping reservation system, to provide short-notice camping options for local residents, and make the reservations process fair for all,” added Ashlie, saying that should be “a quick fix.”
NDP candidate Lisa Beare said as tourism minister she knows how many visitors come to the province for parks, and said they are critical to the economy.
“We know that our parks are integral to who we are as British Columbians,” said Beare. “They steward some of the most spectacular natural wonders on the planet really, and they are a way of life for us in B.C.”
She said the NDP has been creating new campsites, and would expand Golden Ears park.
The government has budgeted more than $25 million to be spent this year on park infrastructure and removing invasive species. She also committed to having same-day reservations for campers.
CPAWS-BC said it had survey results showing nearly 70 per cent of BC voters prioritize the environment and nature conservation in the upcoming provincial election. In addition, 94 percent of respondents valued a healthy ocean.
Moderator MacMillan asked “What priorities would you put forward to ensure that a green recovery prioritizes people, nature and climate?
Beare said the government has to tackle climate change, and called the Clean BC plan launched under NDP Leader John Horgan “The most ambitious climate plan on the continent.” She called it a both a climate action and an economic plan
“It’s all about putting B.C. on the path to a cleaner, better future, while protecting our air, our land and our water,” said Beare.
She said the NDP has a commitment to reach net zero emissions by 2050, would increase carbon price rebates for low and middle income families, provide electric vehicle and home efficiency upgrades, offer $105 million for incentives for industry to move to cleaner options, and funds $106 million over three years to help schools, hospitals and universities reduce energy consumption.
Ashlie said the Liberal platform makes the environment an overarching priority, and decisions in every ministry across government will be made with environmental improvement as a goal.
Ashlie said there is an opportunity to switch to a green economy during economic recovery from the pandemic.
“We need government to step in and really trigger changes to consumer behaviour, because we have an opportunity right now,” said Ashlie. “People are going to start looking at the economy differently. So we have an opportunity to insert that green economy in that recovery piece…”
The candidates were asked if they support development on the flood plain along the Alouette River?
“No,” said Ashlie. “We need to stay out of the flood plain. We need to not be building along the riverfront.”
Ashlie has been actively protesting a 240th street residential development, and said there is no room for give and take when it comes to building along the river.
“This Maple Ridge council knows how I feel about that, and I’ve always stood firm on that.”
Bear also opposed such development, saying government needs to protect salmon habitat, and “our government has commited to doing that.” She said the NDP, alongside the federal government, developed a $143 million BC Salmon Restoration Fund. “And we have committed to doubling that moving forward.”
The moderator said B.C. has 1,807 species of animals and plants at risk of extinction, but that can be avoided with strong recovery plans. A majority of Canadians support protecting at least 25 per cent of lands and oceans. If elected, she asked how would your government meet or exceed these targets to protect ecosystems and stabilize climate through nature conservation, and prioritize urgent habitat protection for species such as orca or caribou.
Ashlie was critical of an NDP review on the caribou issue, which she said “must be resolved.”
“There is a constant pressure between saving a species, and not at the same time losing a lot of rural resource jobs. There is definitely a lot of work that needs to be done in that,” said Ashlie.
She said the Liberal platform provides tools to protect the orca and other aquatic species.
Beare said protecting ecosystems is key to protecting endangered species. The 2020 NDP platform “details a comprehensive approach that is based in reconciliation and built on the work that we’ve done over the past three years.”
She said her party would work with First Nations and others to create a watershed protection strategy, continue “groundbreaking work” to protect wild salmon with a coastal conservation strategy, and continue ecosystem protection.
The full online debate can be found on Facebook.