And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed – if all records told the same tale – then the lie passed into history and became truth.
George Orwell, 1984
Imagine that this country has national parks, administered by a taxpayer-funded agency of the federal government.
Imagine that this agency has a mandate to protect the ecological integrity of the national parks under its care.
Imagine that the federal Minister responsible for the agency that manages those national parks has a legal responsibility to ensure that the protection of ecological integrity is considered foremost in any decision that he makes regarding national park lands.
Imagine that the federal agency receives a proposal to develop an area of a national park. Imagine that the proponent wants to begin construction within six months. Imagine that the proponent is a subsidiary of a company based in another country.
Imagine that the federal agency goes on the record as endorsing the project before any environmental assessment of the project is even tendered or any public comment is sought or received.
Imagine that there does not exist a single study of sensitive wildlife species in the project's area - no population estimates or trends for mountain goats, bighorn sheep, wolverines, wolves or grizzly bears. Imagine that mountain caribou, a threatened species, are routinely sighted within 10 km of the project area.
Imagine that the first wave of public response to the proposal is an overwhelming "No!"
Imagine the proponent and the federal agency back-pedalling to regroup. Imagine the amount of money that they spend on spin-doctors and the now obligatory environmental assessment. Imagine that the lines of communication with the concerned public fall ominously quiet.
Imagine that a 169-page environmental assessment for the project surfaces nine months later for public comment, just in time for the typical pre-Christmas lull in everyday affairs.
Imagine that the environmental assessment clearly indicates that the project is to help compensate for a 50 percent decline in visitation to a nearby lease operated by the same proponent. Imagine that the proponent's figures indicate that it could generate between $1,875,000 and $3,750,000 annually from the project.
Imagine that the wildlife data included in the environmental assessment is based on one, 17-week study, heavily supplemented by anecdotal evidence, some of it trusting recollections that go back more than 30 years. Imagine that there is absolutely no solid data on winter use of the area by wildlife. Imagine that the federal agency takes this kind of "science" seriously and accepts it for distribution and comment.
Imagine that the public unleashes its concern, dismay, and displeasure in a manner that has never before been seen concerning a national park in the country involved. The government agency receives 2116 submissions on the environmental assessment during the comment period, and 4474 written submissions after the comment period closes. More than 181,000 people around the world sign an online petition expressing opposition to the proposal.
Imagine the federal agency quibbling over some wording in that petition, rather than admitting to the body blow that the petition delivered.
Imagine the national park superintendent involved, who is the person charged with making the decision, asking for more time as the decision deadline passes.
Imagine the federal Minister responsible quickly stepping in and approving the project, touting its economic benefits, while stating: "As a world leader in conservation, Parks Canada would not approve this project if it were to cause significant adverse environmental effects."
Welcome to Canada. Welcome to Jasper National Park. Welcome to the "public consultation process" of the Parks Canada Agency. Welcome to another indication that the Harper government will sell every stick, rock, and drop in this country to make a dollar.
Imagine.... Turning this reality around to have it be more in line with what, time and again, the majority of Canadians have said they expect from the Parks Canada Agency. Imagine... Being able to trust that agency to truly protect the iconic landscapes for which this country is celebrated. Imagine... Employing politicians, bureaucrats, and park managers within that agency who can flat-out say "no" when a proponent pitches an outlandish, money-grabbing proposal for a national park. Imagine... The ensuing flood of outraged phone calls and lobbyist visits to Ottawa producing another "no", not a reversal of the opinion of field staff.
That transformation may be slow in coming. People on both sides of the Berlin Wall lived with the lie for 28 years before the lie could no longer hide from itself. All employees of the Parks Canada Agency are bound by a code of ethics that requires them to report truthfully on all aspects of every element of their work.
Let's begin this transformation with a call for some truth from the top of the pile.
That call is to Peter Kent, federal Minister of the Environment, to explain how his decision to approve the proposed Glacier Discovery Walk conforms with his legal responsibility to protect the natural resources and natural processes of Jasper National Park. If you are interested in engaging with Mr. Kent, e-mail him. Ask some questions for which he will not be able to provide answers that justify his decision. For example: How may mountain goats typically use the project area in January? (Truthful answer: The Tangle Ridge mountain goat population has never been studied in winter.) What is the population trend for mountain goats in the project area? (Truthful answer: There exists no sub-population estimate, let alone any assessment of a population trend.) If and when you receive a reply and you would like to share it, e-mail this website with the reply, and it will be posted.
You may want to quote the following to Mr. Kent, from the guiding document regarding Canada's national parks.
This document is law in Canada.
"Maintenance or restoration of ecological integrity, through the protection of natural resources and natural processes, shall be the first priority of the Minister when considering all aspects of the management of parks."
Canada National Parks Act, 2000 [c. 32, Section 8 (2)]