by Simone Hengen and PPPI members
The success story at White Butte is one of democracy in action: a group of people ready to express their views about a place they care about, a political party in opposition ready to question and a political party in power ready to listen.
Even before the public consultation came to bear, the swell of public support took the wind out of the sails of a proposal for a golf course at White Butte recreational area near Regina. Why did the public respond so quickly to conserve White Butte? In the 1.1 million acre ocean of cultivated lands, farmyards, city roads and utility right-of-ways of the Regina plains, White Butte is a tiny island of native prairie. Among its many biodiversity elements, two stand out: populations of the increasingly rare Plains Rough Fescue grass and Sharp-tailed Grouse dancing leks. Skiers, dog walkers, bikers, horse-back riders, bird watchers, nature lovers use White Butte extensively. And, ideal for outdoor pursuits and nature study, it is an established asset for school divisions around Regina. Supporters may not have known all of the statistics about the area or its multiple uses, but were motivated to voice their opinion for the individual reasons that White Butte was important to them.
How was success achieved? Public opposition to the golf course proposal began with a letter sent to the Minister of Parks, Culture and Sport, Mark Docherty, by the Saskatchewan Wildlife Federation in December 2014. Next, Simone Hengen of PPPI proposed a resolution at the Regina Ski Club’s March 2015 Annual General Meeting, opposing the conversion of White Butte into a golf course and supporting keeping it as a natural area. The resolution passed unanimously. Then, on March 29, Trevor Herriot, PPPI Co-Chair and well-known Saskatchewan author and naturalist, took two important steps – posting a blog with thoughtful and relevant arguments in his website Grassnotes, and creating a Facebook page: “Don’t be mute. Save White Butte”. Both went viral -with 2100 likes within a few hours of the posting and provoked a whirlwind of media attention. From Monday, March 30th to Wednesday, April 1st, the story received media coverage from CBC Radio, CTV, Global TV, the Leader-Post and the online National Post.
Also on Tuesday, March 31, as more people opposing the golf course gathered at Atlantis Coffee for a letter writing event quickly-organized by Karen Herriot, Trent Wotherspoon, NDP MLA and Deputy Leader of the Official Opposition, raised the issue with Minister Docherty during Question Period in the Legislative Assembly. Minister Docherty, realizing the valid arguments for preserving White Butte and sensing a public typhoon of opposition to this golf course, listened to the arguments and announced to media that there would be no government support for the golf course. On April 1 Trevor Herriot spoke to Minister Docherty’s Chief of Staff who stated that the Minister had confirmed that in spite of previous statements saying there would be a public consultation, no consultations would be held, since the golf course proposal would not be proceeding,
And that’s democracy in action: people expressing their views, the opposition party questioning and the party in power listening. On behalf of supporters of White Butte conservation, PPPI thanks the Minister for his thoughtful and direct response to our campaign and the public for taking the time to make their opinions known. We also consider that we will walk (ourselves and our dogs), ride, bike, bird-watch, etc. as a more knowledgeable and appreciative community for our efforts.