VICTORIA -- The government's decision to declare Strathcona Park off limits to future logging and mineral exploration was about as good a piece of news as any rookie parks minister could possibly hope to announce.
Small wonder Terry Huberts looked confident, striding into the press theatre, a room in the basement of the Parliament Buildings, used by cabinet ministers and opposition critics for major announcements to the media.
He wasn't even rattled when I reminded him that it was in this room that Bob Skelly botched his election chances by choking on his words and saying, "can we start again?"
But then, anyone can afford to be confident when they're about to tell British Columbians that the government has listened to the people and has listened well.
Strathcona Park with all its beautiful 2.5 million hectares, west of Courtenay on Vancouver Island, will at long last be a real, honest©to©goodness Class A park.
Until now, the term park has been a bit misleading. All sorts of people have been cutting down trees in the socalled park or have been digging around in its soil in search for valuable minerals. The poor thing never knew whether it was a park, a logging camp or a mine pit. Successive provincial governments did nothing to relieve it of its schizophrenia.
Strathcona Park was first marked on provincial maps in 1911. Seventy©seven years later, the Strathcona Park Advisory Committee had this to say in its report to the government:
"The park now embraces a reservoir that once was a lake, logged-over forest land that has not been replanted, a number of mineral claims and an operating mine, a power line right-of-way, and a boundary that defies park principles.
"The parks agency pays the park scant attention. The park is not used for recreation as it might be. There is little effort to attract visitors to the park. Far from realizing the vision of its founders, the park, in a word, is a mess." And here is what the committee said about the government's contribution to this 77-year-old mess: "To put its mildly, the parks agency in particular and the government in general have long since lost credibility in their dealings with the public on the issues of Strathcona Park."
That's about the strongest language used by any committee advising any government I've ever come across. These advisors obviously decided that the time for diplomacy had passed. The four members of the advisory committee were chairman Peter Larkin, vice president, research at the University of B.C.; Jim Rutter, executive director of the Federation of Mountain Clubs of B.C.; Frances Jones of Qualicum and Roderick Naknakim, a lawyer and member of the Cape Mudge Band. To them must go most of the credit if, just for once, big business didn't get its way.
Big business was, of course, not amused. Tom Waterland, president of the Mining Association of B.C. and former member of the Bill Bennett cabinet, was shocked and outraged. No government, he said, had the right to alienate that much land from its potential as a provider of natural resources.
Energy Minister Jack Davis tried to soothe the industry's hurt feelings by saying that he remained firmly committed to "multiple use in recreation areas" elsewhere in the province. "With proper planning and reclamation there's no reason why mining and forestry and other resource uses cannot coexist with recreational interests," Davis said.
Seventy©seven years after Strathcona Park first appeared on maps of British Columbia, it will become what it always should have been ©© a special piece of paradise, protected from the insatiable appetite of the mining and logging industries. Accordingly, the final boundaries of the park will be set by legislation. Strathcona will be declared a Class A park. The park will no longer contain any socalled recreation areas, land that may also be used for commercial purposes.
As a fitting tribute to the members of the Strathcona Park Advisory Committee, who told the government not what it wanted to hear, but what the public thought it should hear, there should be a plaque somewhere in the park with four names engraved on it. Larkin, Rutter, Jones and Naknakim may not be the fathers of Strathcona Park, but they sure did a hell of a job as midwives at its rebirth.
And if there's still room on the plaque, I'm sure the Friends of Strathcona would be more than happy to provide a few names. They braved ridicule, harassment, arrest and conviction to draw attention to the plight of Strathcona Park. Best of all, they won.