Friday, November 17, 2017

Letter: Waterton visitor centre debate "definitely not over"

Jerry Kovacs - I have read Catherine McKenna's press release (Minister of Environment and Climate Change and Minister responsible for Parks Canada Catherine McKenna) and (Parliamentary Secretary and MP) Jonathon Wilkinson's 6 page letter numerous times.

Catherine McKenna is on another overseas trip promoting climate change. Mr. Wilkinson's office returned my phone call this morning because I requested a meeting with him in Ottawa.

Catherine McKenna's press release was probably written by Parks Canada or her Ministerial staff, because she is in Bonn, Germany all this week.

I found it interesting to note that the press release never mentioned Park residents, business people, leaseholders, Parks Canada staff, or animals. She is a Minister in a Liberal Government with a Mandate Letter from Prime Minister Trudeau instructing her to listen to people and engage them, but she continues to listen to Parks Canada staff, but only the ones that want the visitor centre to be built on Block 39. Dissenting opinions and viewpoints supported by facts are irrelevant.

Regarding Jonathan Wilkinson's letter, I have the following initial observations and comments:
  • He obtained information from Parks Canada staff, and makes no mention of obtaining a legal opinion
  • A Visitor's Centre is not recreational, unless skate boarding and street hockey permitted in the parking lot
  • Wilkinson skates around a few issues, such as internal dissent by Parks Canada staff, and input from aboriginal peoples by saying it was allowed and valued but does not provide any details
  • The quality of the visitor experience is not defined
  • The emphasis is on visitors, money (value), parks objectives and Waterton townsite as the centre
  • There is a difference between a "visitor services centre" and "centre for visitor services". The former can be placed anywhere at 4 other suitable locations. The latter involves motels, hotels, campgrounds, restaurants, shops, tourist services, etc., that are not part of a visitor information centre.
  • Block 39 is zoned as recreational. Unless the visitor information centre includes an indoor racquetball court, basketball court, tennis court, swimming pool, etc., it's not recreational
  • At present, Block 39 has an outdoor playground, spray park, basketball court, tennis courts and open field for picnics, catch football, catch ball, frisbee, etc., which unless I am wrong (and I'm not trying to be sarcastic here) are recreational.
  • His letter does not provide details that support his response. We've never seen a traffic movement and safety studies, an emergency evacuation plan
  • We disagree with his interpretation of the 2010 Management Plan and Community Plan
  • He dismisses the litigation. The case was never judged on its merits. It was dismissed because the 30 day time limit was missed
  • He provides no evidence that the limited public consultations in 2015 did not support Block 39
  • Of what meaningful value are consultations AFTER the decision was made in 2016?
  • He dismisses alternative sites. This was done on the basis of information provided to him by Parks Canada staff, who I am told allowed him restricted and controled access to sites during his visit to Waterton Park
  • He says that 98% of visitors go into the townsite. Well, there's only one road into town. Duh? And that's our point entirely, there will be too much traffic congestion and not enough parking
  • He states that people will walk to the new visitor information centre numerous times during their stay. This is pure speculation
  • He does not give a time line, nor does he say how much it will cost to demolish the playground, spray park, tennis courts, basket ball court or new outdoor toilets installed by Parks Canada.
  • When you tear the only playground in town out of the ground, you tear the heart out of the community
  • Finally, and this is where he kinda shoots himself in the foot regarding Block 39 recreational land use, he states that it is also a good location for the Parks Administration Building. So what's evident here, is that Parks Canada wants to combine administrative functions in the same location, creating more people and vehicular traffic
It's clearly evident that by visiting Waterton last August he was simply going through the motions in a public relations exercise to create the impression that concerned individuals and groups were being listened to. Mr. Wilkinson was clearly persuaded by Parks Canada to agree with their decision and forge ahead now that the old visitor information centre was destroyed in the forest fire.

It's ironic that Parks Canada made no visible attempts to preserve and protect the old visitor information centre from burning to the ground. How convenient. 

This could have turned out differently and been a win win outcome for Parks Canada, residents, stakeholders, leaseholders, Catherine McKenna and Jonathon Wilkinson. She has never visited Waterton Park. Whether he ever returns for a visit remains to be seen. Why should he jeopardize his political career over a small park that he never visits again? Neither of them live nor work in Waterton, so they don't have to personally experience or deal with issues and problems there.

There are at least three legal and other alternatives that can be pursued. We are considering the options.

This is definitely not over. 

Thanks for reading.
Yours truly,
Jerry Kovacs
Barrister, Solicitor & Notary Public


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