I commended Ontario’s Liberal government for putting participatory democracy into action when crafting the Lake Simcoe Protection Act & Plan. However, this same government has become acutely non-participatory, seemingly deaf to entreaties to save Springwater Provincial Park.
Representative government should administer public lands on our behalf, acting as if we were making the decisions ourselves. Sometimes this means trade-offs, where local groups must accept measures favouring the greater good. But in Springwater, no greater good mandates ignoring the very strong local desire for this Park to thrive.
The sole justification for closing this park is budgetary: costs exceed revenues. Yet the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) itself is a prime culprit, having failed to repair the automatic payment machine for years, costing them unknown amounts of potential revenue, and in general failing to promote the park’s charms. Running the park is estimated to cost between $59,000 and $300,000 per year; repairing facilities is floated as around a million dollars.
But as C. D. Howe first explained in 1945 and Dr. Evil confirmed when thawed out in 1997, a million dollars is a drop in government’s budgetary bucket. Tourism in Simcoe County is a $570-million-a-year industry; surely local governments and industry can produce a business plan to save and expand the Park? I’m confident they can, but the government is hearing none of it. Rather than working with local partners to step up and boost park revenue, last fall MNR arbitrarily announced park closure within six months. Since then, despite a huge groundswell of support at all levels from citizens, local business, local municipalities and even provincial and federal parliamentarians, the Ministry’s shown little interest in plans to keep the park operational, or even delay closure to give time to establish a new plan, instead sticking with the original deadline.
This park is a unique gem where people can see the native wildlife living near or sometimes in our sprawling communities. With this area targeted for heavy growth in coming decades, that valuable link with nature only becomes more important.
Valiant members of citizen’s groups including Friends of Springwater Provincial Park and the Springwater Park Citizens’ Coalition have been lobbying hard and keeping the issue in the local spotlight with demonstrations, marches, and meetings, but so far to no avail. Now, once again, our downtrodden First Nations are putting their own lives on hold to protect what is of value to us all. Park occupation may finally force the government to give a meaningful response to our community’s concerns. I commend these bold women, because not only do they face arrest and conviction, they now must withstand the racist backlash I already see on news comment pages. No Johnny-come-latelies, Idle No More has enjoined this struggle from the start, hosting teach-ins and protests, and have now put forward their bodies as a last resort where sensible words have failed. I hope that with the 41 and Mega-Quarry victories already on the board, together we can help Nature score a hat trick.
Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner under the title "First Nations protest can only help park situation".
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation.
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