Organizers of a protest this afternoon in Drayton Valley say they are going ahead with their event despite the cancelling of a public session for the Bighorn provincial park proposal.
Tom Hinderks with Drayton Valley-based Rally Canada says the province's decision to cancel town hall meetings this week regarding the proposal is a very poor one.
On Saturday, Environment and Parks Minister Shannon Phillips cancelled meetings in Drayton Valley, Rocky Mountain House, Sundre and Red Deer citing inflamed rhetoric, bullying and fear for a lack of safety.
"It paints people in the rural regions in a very bad light. It is tremendously undeserved," Hinderks says. "If there were security concerns based on stories, they should've been addressed using the RCMP and private security."
Hinderks says the province needs to find a way to provide in-person feedback sessions, rather than a telephone town hall which he believes won't be sufficient.
He feels the internet survey which has been available – and has been extended to Feb. 15 – is not ideal for those who live in rural areas because internet access isn't as good as it is in more urban locales.
"Everything around the tourism portfolio is unclear, and that's my day job," says Hinderks, who is the executive director of the Drayton Valley Hospitality and Tourism Authority. "I have had a very difficult time digging up information and nothing's been provided.
"Beyond that, what we've been looking at since prior to the release of this proposal is misinformation coming from both the advocates and the opponents," Hinderks continues. "Clear and concise information has not been provided by the government, and they should've been reaching out to especially residents of the region who are directly impacted, providing that information, and not forcing people to go dig for details."
The rally is going ahead at 5 p.m. at the OmniPlex.
Meantime, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) says a recent survey it commissioned shows overwhelming support for the government’s proposal.
The survey was conducted between Dec. 10 – 19 by Edmonton-based social research firm Advanis. It included a sample size of 1077 randomly selected respondents from around the province.
In the north region, 65 per cent voiced support, while 75 per cent from Edmonton were in favour, and 70 per cent from central Alberta showed support. Just 16 per cent were against the proposal, CPAWS says, while 11 per cent were unsure.
CPAWS also says the survey found a majority of decided voters support the proposal, regardless of preferred party, while 81 per cent of undecided voters expressed support.
“Conservation isn’t partisan and Albertans, no matter which party they support, also support the outdoors, they support nature, they support protection, and it’s important we all understand that,” says Katie Morrison, Conservation Director, CPAWS Southern Alberta.
“What this poll shows is that people in central Alberta do strongly support the proposal. We do hear a lot from those who are opposed who claim to represent all locals, but we know both from this poll and from conversations that that is just not true,” Morrison continues.
“We need to make sure conservation proposals work for local people, but public and crown lands are held in trust for all Albertans. Things like water security, wildlife movement and outdoor recreation experiences are things that matter to all Albertans.”
Morrison added that while it’s unfortunate the town halls were cancelled, she couldn’t comment further because the exact nature of the alleged bullying hasn’t been made clear.
The survey, which Advanis notes has a margin error of +/- 3.0 per cent, 19 times out of 20, also asked respondents to rank the reasons why the area should be protected.
Top responses included protecting fish and wildlife, protecting headwaters, creating recreation opportunities, and diversifying the local economy.
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