'Too late' for national park

Dozens of anti-national park demonstrators gathered in front of Osoyoos Town Hall Monday demanding council support a referendum on the issue, but Osoyoos Mayor Sue McKortoff says council has made up its mind and it's "too late" to go back to square one.

Last month, Osoyoos council declined to send a letter of support to local MLA Linda Larson asking the federal government for an official vote on the issue of whether the controversial South Okanagan national park should move forward. 

McKortoff said the demonstrators outside yesterday's council meeting  were all peaceful, though the subject of their protest was a little frustrating given that the national park issue has been going on for 17 years in the region and Osoyoos council has always been clear where they stand. 

"Ever since I've been on council we've supported the national park," she said, adding that the area boasts a unique ecosystem to Canada, and considering Osoyoos is a resort town, she and council see an adjacent national park as a major draw.

A public response period with an online survey concluded last week which ran for three months, during which time 2,740 online submissions were received. Many in the anti-park camp do not feel the survey adequately addressed the issues they have with the potential park. 

Opponents are concerned about loss of access to the backcountry as well as hunting and grazing rights.

McKortoff said she has been fielding calls and emails from people both for and against the park all week. She expressed frustration that the Town of Osoyoos council has ended up a target. 

"If these people feel very strongly about this, they don't feel they've had as much of a say as they wanted in what the park should like like or if there should be a park at all, they need to send that to Parks Canada and the federal government," McKortoff said "Why put the pressure on Osoyoos? It's a very odd situation." 

B.C. Premier John Horgan was in Okanagan Falls last week and expressed support for the park, and local Member of Parliament Richard Cannings has been vocal in his praise for the project since the beginning. McKortoff referenced both men to support her standpoint. 

She said threats from voters won't work to change her mind. 

"We voted unanimously to support a national park, I don't think we'd go back," McKortoff said. "Lots of people have said, well, if you don't change your mind on this, you just wait til the next election, we won't vote for you. But I can't base what I think is best for our town on whether someone will vote for me the next time. That isn't the way I deal with things."

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