Yellowhead candidates in the upcoming federal election agree on the severity of the mountain pine beetle infestation in Jasper National Park, but representatives from two of the major parties have varying opinions on why more hasn’t been done to this point.
Liberal Party candidate Ryan Maguhn took aim at the Conservative Party during a September 28 all-candidates debate in Hinton, saying that a systemic attack on the freedom of researchers and continued funding cuts to Parks Canada have left JNP less able to deal with the mountain pine beetle (MPB). “We see those same scientists that remain working for Parks Canada threatened, suppressed. An open letter from multiple former members of the Parks service [was recently] complaining about…intellectual freedom, Maguhn said. “Ultimately what we’ve seen is what this government wants to hear is more important to them than what they need to hear.” Maguhn added that the Liberal Party is committed to restoring Parks funding and providing additional money for research. During his turn at the microphone, Conservative Party candidate Jim Eglinski said that in his previous experience with MPB in British Columbia, park scientists refused to burn infested timber. He said that several partners, including the forestry industry, are doing an admirable job in trying to contain the problem around the region now, but that all stakeholders have to work together to encourage Parks Canada to take an active role in combatting the beetle in JNP. “We are working with Parks Canada to address this situation, but there are differences within Parks Canada,” he said in a 30-second rebuttal. Ken Kuzminski of the New Democratic Party told the gathering of around 75 people that climate change has led to the spread of MPB to the region and collaborative action was needed at all levels of government in response to the issue. The NDP has promised cap-and-trade measures to reduce carbon emissions and to punish emitters. “This is beyond a natural process,” Kuzminski said, adding that it isn’t getting cold enough during the winter to freeze the MPB out. The Hinton assembly, the first in a series of community forums across the constituency leading to the October 19 general election, featured all five Yellowhead candidates, including Maguhn, Eglinski, Kuzminski, Cory Lystang (Libertarian) and Sandra Wolf-Lange (Green). The MPB debate came on the same day that Rob Baron, general manager of Hinton Wood Products, told a full room at the Hinton and District Chamber of Commerce’s monthly meeting that the MPB situation in Jasper National Park is concerning. “It is a significant concern for us and there’s lots of people working hard on that,” he said. When asked if the mountain pine beetle had affected their harvest plans in the one-million acre forest management area, Baron said their cutting activity is definitely higher than normal. “Right now we’re experiencing what is an uplift cut to try and get ahead of mountain pine beetle, so we’re logging pine beetle-susceptible stands, “ said Baron, noting that around 1.5 million cubic metres of timber will be harvested this year. The Hinton All Candidates Forum was co-organized by the Hinton and District Chamber of Commerce, the Yellowhead Labour Council and The Hinton Voice. Jasper’s All-Candidates Forum is scheduled for October 5 at 7 p.m. at the Jasper Activity Centre, with a meet-and-greet slated for 6 p.m.
Tyler Waugh // Tyler Waugh is the publisher of The Hinton Voice