Kootenay-Columbia MP Wayne Stetski has worked with parks, both nationally and provincially, for much of his working life. With that in mind, it seemed like a no-brainer to make him the critic for National Parks in the NDP’s shadow cabinet, an appointment that the party officially announced on Nov. 12.
Stetski began his career in government working as a seasonal park naturalist in Pacific Rim National Park while he was attending university. He later worked as the assistant chief of interpretation for Manitoba Parks after graduating and as manager of visitor services for provincial parks in the Lower Mainaland and Vancouver Island regions of the province. Finally, Stetski moved to Cranbrook and served as the manager for East Kootenay parks, which was later amalgamated to encompass all of the Kootenays.
“I spent 35 years working with and for parks, so it’s very much a personal interest and a professional interest,” Stetski said.
Stetski had requested that NDP leader Thomas Mulcair appoint him to this portfolio two weeks ago.
“(It) was number one on my list,” Stetski said.
Stetski was critical of how the Conservative Party had dealt with National Parks during their nearly 10 years in office, specifically their cuts to Parks Canada in the 2012 budget.
“In 2013 the Environment Commissioner warned that Conservative cuts were jeopardizing the environmental health of National Parks. Fifty per cent were determined to be not in good ecological health and more than a third were in serious decline,” Stetski said.
He also cited a 2014 report that said that more than half of Park assets across Canada are in poor or very poor condition. Yoho National Park has also had cuts to its winter services in recent years, a detriment to local businesses, Stetski says.
“There’s been a lot of decline in both ecological integrity and visitor services opportunities over the last 10 years in particular,” Stetski said.
The Parks remain an important part of the Canadian fabric, Stetski argues, referring to a survey that he recently saw that listed the Canadian National Parks system as one of three primary sources of pride for the public, along with the anthem and the flag.
The rookie MP is hopeful that things will be different under the Liberal government of Justin Trudeau, stating that it is his job to ensure that they are held accountable for the promises they made in their election platform. Notably, the Liberals have said they will invest $25 million each year to protect Parks ecosystems and species at risk, protect National Parks by limiting development within them and reverse cuts under the Conservative government.
The Liberals have also promised free visitation to all National Parks in 2017 to coincide with Canada’s 150th anniversary.
“Those are some of the promises that they made and I certainly intend to remind them of those on a regular basis,” Stetski said.
One of the roles of the National Parks is to represent Canada’s various ecosystems. The former Cranbrook mayor believes that there is one glaring omission to that mandate here in B.C.
“One of the ones currently missing from the National Parks system are the ecosystems from the South Okanagan so I’m certainly going to be working on getting a South Okanagan National Park created,” he said.
Parliament is expected to resume on Dec. 3.