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Saturday 12 March 2011

When Policy Fails the Public Good

In this weekend's edition(March 12) of The Telegram, Randy Simms argues that the inability of the current Canadian Parliament to act on regular citizens behalf has led to voter and general citizen apathy.(His column is unfortunately not available for free on the web) He is absolutely correct but it's much worse then he indicates when it comes to rural citizens like those in Charlottetown.

The issue is about access to the surrounding environment through Terra Nova National Park, via snowmobile. On the surface one might think that the integrity of a National Park should trump all. However a deeper investigation reveals a much more complex issue. Here are a couple of facts to consider before making up your mind.

1. The residents are seeking one access path through the park so that they can drive snowmobiles to the area on the other side of Terra Nova. They don't want to drive all over the Park and by all accounts understand and respect the ecological integrity of the area. (this point may be in dispute by some but I have not seen evidence, only rhetoric to that end)

2. They have been making this argument to Park administration for many years and have indicated at past public consultations that it is an issues they want resolved. It's not new.

3. It's hardly unprecedented to allow snowmobiles in a National Park. On the island portion of NL we have two beautiful National Parks. Terra Nova, where no access in or through the park is possible via snowmobile, and Gros Morne, where the enclave communities not only have access to the backcountry through the park but there are huge areas open to public snowmobiling and a number of tourism businesses based around that very activity. Any agency attempting to argue against an access route based on ecological integrity has already made themselves the fool.

4. Have a look here for the specific resources for "residents" of Gros Morne regarding snowmobiling. And if you're not a resident then click here to find out that Parks Canada wishes "... you a safe and enjoyable snowmobiling experience".

Strong policy development is critical to all levels of government. But there's a signofocant difference in good policy development and practical policy application. This appears to be a case where the policy seems to make sense, despite differences with other National Parks, but yet it fails the people of Charlottetown on a practical level. Martin Luther King Jr. once said "One who breaks an unjust law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law." I think that this may indee be one of those cases.

And to those flying the environmental flag Let me be clear. I am an environmentalist, and I firmly believe in the importance of preserving our natural heritage, but not at the expense of our cultural heritage.

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