Liberals may have influenced BCWF access dispute fund vote, says Lali
Political maneuvering caused the B.C. Wildlife Federation to put off creating a fund to fight the Douglas Lake Cattle Co.’s claim to Pennask Lake Road, says Fraser-Nicola NDP MLA Harry Lali.
“The government has run the province with a dictatorial approach for the last 11 years and that’s no different here,” he said, noting a friend at the vote told him about the alleged corruption. “The vote was set up and then the Liberal troops were there to defeat the resolution.”
The road has been the subject of intense debate since the mid-1990s when Douglas Lake Cattle Co. installed and locked a gate on the road, blocking anglers from fishing Minnie Lake.
Tensions escalated when local anglers protested at the locked gate in March 2011.
The fight continues to grow, the gate remains locked and members of the same angling group even cut the lock to fish the lake this spring.
Now the anglers want to take the Douglas Lake Cattle Co. to court, but lack funding.
That’s where the BCWF comes in, and in the spring a resolution was drafted that would have called for a fund to be established by the Federation to pay for court costs for establishing public ownership of roads that are claimed to be private throughout B.C.
“There was a quiet campaign that went on to make sure the resolution was defeated, and the campaign was very well organized,” Lali said.
According to Rick McGowan, BCWF member and the man charging the fight for public access, several Liberal politicians were at the April 28 vote to influence members to vote against the resolution.
He said Premier Christy Clark, Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Minister Steve Thomson, and several MLA’s held private meetings just prior to the vote to convince members to vote in opposition of a resolution to set up a fund to take the access dispute to court.
An initial vote tallied 54 in support of the resolution and 52 against it, McGowan said.
“Then immediately after that vote, a member of [Kootenay East MLA Bill Bennett’s] riding stood up and asked for a recount and a delegate card recount,” he said. “When they counted the cards, it somehow came out to 110.”
That revote resulted in 55 for the resolution and 55 against.
But according to McGowan, two members didn’t vote, “so the most it could have been was 54-54.”
“After a whole bunch of whispering on the podium, they announced that it was a tie,” he said. “I’m finding this is completely politically motivated, and it’s supposed to be a conservation-based organization.”
The vote would have resulted in a $2 increase in each member’s fees to provide a fund to fight public access throughout the province, something McGowan said the Liberals don’t want because their financial contributors consist of many landowners, including the Douglas Lake Cattle Co.
But BCWF President Bill Bosch said he doubts politicians swayed any of the members to vote against the resolution to create the fund.
“We don’t give politicians a venue to speak on our resolutions,” he said.
Since the vote, the BCWF executive created an access plan on July 15. Membership dues were tabled to slightly increase for the establishment of a fund to settle access disputes on public land, possibly in court.
“This will encompass everything,” Bosch said.
“If it’s an access issue for our membership, it’s an access issue for anywhere in the province, including Douglas Lake.”
A final copy of the access plan is slated for release within the next six months.