Two weeks after a local who wishes to remain anonymous reached out to MP Wayne Stetski with concerns about a secretive federal construction project about to take place in Lake Windermere, the work was placed on hold.
In conversations MP Stetski had with the District of Invermere (DOI), the Lake Windermere Ambassadors (LWA), and the Shuswap and Ktunaxa First Nations, he found that “nobody was aware of the project,” which would have placed 13 wooden beams in the rocky Lake Windermere groyne in the shallow area south of the Athalmer bridge.
“Once this project was being suggested, the first thing that should have happened after that was consultation with the local First Nations, with the District of Invermere and with locals. That is how you get at the right answer to any problem, in my view, is to make sure that you have local input before you start the project,” he said.
MP Stetski contacted three of his colleagues in the House of Commons representing the department of Fisheries and Oceans, Transport Canada and Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) and recommended that they put the project on pause until they consulted with locals.
“When you sit across from each other in the House of Commons, one of the advantages of doing that is that you develop a personal relationship with ministers,” he said. “They know that if I contact them about an issue it’s got nothing to do with politics and everything to do with doing the right thing.”
MP Stetski was particularly concerned about the lack of consultation with the local First Nations.
“Because of the cultural significance of the area, they were quite concerned,” he said. “The entire Columbia River system is of very high significance for First Nations people, and anything that happens in that system they want to know about it and have input.”
Not only do the Shuswap and Ktunaxa First Nations want to be involved, he said they have a moral right to be heard.
“I think potentially there’s a legal right, a legal obligation as well, that governments have to properly consult,” he said. “They think they’re doing the right thing, but without that local input they are at risk of doing something that is entirely inappropriate.”
In an email Jean-François Létourneau, a spokesperson for PSPC, told the Pioneer: “We understand that you contacted the Minister’s Office requesting an interview; unfortunately, we are not able to provide one at this time.”
The information he was prepared to share in lieu of an interview was that: “public consultation on this project was originally undertaken between 2008 and 2013. However, we recognize the need to gather more current public input. As such, we are actively exploring options for further consultation with First Nations and the community.”
What happened in the 2008 to 2013 consultations? Only the federal government seems to know but hasn’t been inclined to tell.
Presumably the DOI would have been one of the stakeholders invited to share its feedback, but Chris Prosser, chief administrative officer, said the DOI wasn’t consulted about the groyne and that all they got was an ultimatum.
“The only correspondence we had with them was asking if we wished to take over ownership or else they would remove it. We said ‘no’ due to the liability associated with it, unless there was funding to improve or enhance it. They never responded back about the funding,” he said. “There was never any discussion about wood piles for markers at that time.”
The LWA also said the federal government didn’t inform them about the groyne work until it was already scheduled to have started.
“Overall we are concerned about the lack of public consultation, have doubts about the efficacy of the project, and have not had adequate time to research the full effect,” said Shannon McGinty, LWA program coordinator.
After two weeks “phoning all the various players,” MP Stetski received an email from Minister Carla Qualtrough on behalf of PSPC on Wednesday, August 7th.
“Work has now stopped on this project, and we will undertake appropriate consultations,” she wrote. “I will advise when I have more specifics. Thank you for sharing your concerns. I appreciate and share your recognition of the cultural sensitivity of this area.”
MP Stetski was pleased with her response.
“I like stories with a happy ending, and I think this story is well on its way to having a happier ending,” he said. “Locals often have the best solutions to these problems. They live there, they see it year round so they’re not just coming in to try and fix something from afar.”