When the provincial and federal governments unveiled caribou draft agreements, locals in Dawson with a stake in the equation were still digesting the information.
They announced agreements between with the West Moberly and Saulteau First Nations for caribou habitat conservation last week.
Kathleen Connolly, with the Concerned Citizens for Caribou Recovery, noted the group was still going through the documents filled with technical information, and were working on gaining a better understanding before setting formal positions. She noted, however, some concerns with the transparency.
“The public consultation period closes April 26, we’ve got barely over a month to respond,” she says.
“The other thing that worried us right off the hop was that the recreation part, those meetings don’t start until after the consultation period closes, so how would the public actually be able to respond if that’s been closed.
“That is not transparent at all, and that is certainly not giving the general public an opportunity to express concerns, or to accept it.”
She said the mapping provided is hard to make sense of, and that the timeline on socio-economic assessments is too short.
But she implores people to get involved, especially now that the information is out.
“We will be encouraging people to read it and start filling out those feedback forms.”
Peace River South MLA Mike Bernier criticized the timeline.
“This is something they’ve worked on for months and months behind the scenes, without giving anybody any information, and now they’re going to come out and expect the public, with basically a lot of technical information, to comment,” he said.
“They’re making it look like it’s a done deal. They’re making it look like the decisions have been made, and now it’s just basically window dressing to make them check the box of consultation. How can anyone consider a five, six week window, adequate consultation?
“When I asked on my conference call what certainty they’d be giving people in the region that it would not affect families or jobs, they weren’t able to do that. All they kept on saying is, ‘Well, we’ll come up and listen to the peoples concerns in the area.’ That doesn’t help me sleep better tonight, just because they’re going to listen. Does that mean they’re going to consider making changes, that’s what’s important.”
He noted the potential effects on industry.
“They say they won’t impact any existing mines, but we know there’s places around Chetwynd and definitely Tumbler Ridge that are trying to re-open or known areas that want to expand. For forestry, if we don’t have access to timber supply, what does that mean for Canfor and West Fraser in Chetwynd? I mean they’ve already told us they’re right on the edge, and any change to their business case might affect them staying open.”
He was also unhappy with the criticism made at the previous BC Liberal government during the announcement.
“That’s unfortunate that this government, this minister is trying to play politics with it, rather than taking ownership of the decisions that he is making,” he said.
“His decisions have nothing to do with what the last government did or didn’t do, we actually looked at doing some very meaningful science based approaches in the backcountry, whether that was changes to hunting allocations, working on regulations with industry to be careful with habitat of caribou, we were working on penning or culling, so there was definitely action taking place, truthfully, obviously, we never as a government, though, doing anything that was going to jeopardize the livelihoods of families in the area.”
Dawson Creek Mayor Dale Bumstead noted he was concerned with the tight timeline, but overall happy to finally be involved in the process.
“We have said right from the get go, we want to be at the table to understand what this is going to be and look like, and the impacts on our communities from a socio-economic component,” he explained.
“For me, on Thursday, just hearing they’re moving forward, they’ve got the partnership agreement in place, and they’re starting to engage with the communities, that’s a good step for us.”
Note: The print edition had indicated that public consultations would be two hours long. Since the press deadline, the schedules were released and the meetings are four hours long.