On Monday, the government is preparing to publish rules on partnerships between Alberta Parks and companies for the management of provincial parks, despite strong reactions to the announcement of this privatization in March.
“Albertans’ resistance to this idea is unprecedented,” said Katie Willis of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS). “The fact that the government ignores them is incredible. ”
The government’s intention announced by the provincial Minister of the Environment, Jason Nixon, is to close all or part of twenty provincial parks and to entrust the management of 164 other sites to third parties.
Those who do not find a buyer will lose their provincial park status and become mere crown assets that can be sold if needed.
In all, the province is thus seeking to review the administration of 16,000 hectares of land which, although smaller in comparison to other parks, accounts for one third of the number of parks managed by Alberta.
Jason Kenney’s troops hope to save about $5 million a year.
Petitions and letters of objection
While an online petition already has more than 8,000 signatures, at least 5,000 Albertans have written to Minister Nixon, supports SNAP.
Katie Willis adds that a few hundred people have also participated in information meetings and online demonstrations, COVID-19 obliges, including environmentalists, hunters and fishermen.
Outdoor equipment traders have also voiced their concerns. “Hundreds of Alberta businesses depend on the economic benefits of provincial parks and natural spaces,” they say in an open letter.
“We implore the government to reconsider this decision and to launch public consultations in good faith,” they continue.
As for rural municipalities in the province, the president of the association, Al Kemmere says he is reassured after a meeting with Minister Jason Nixon, but its members ask that they be guaranteed the absence of impact of this change on their budget.
“No sign” of change of idea
Although the government supports privatizing management to save money, allow the modernization of the parks and direct its investments towards parks that are most representative of Alberta’s nature, its critics deplore its refusal to discuss the project.
“I am unable to speak of collegiality here,” said the official opposition environmental critic, Marlin Schmidt.
The NDP member claims that, with the exception of the pandemic, no issue has aroused more reaction from Albertans than the change to the park system.
“And the government is showing no signs of thinking or redirecting,” he said. He believes that Albertans should be consulted.
According to Katie Willis, the government also softened its consultation rules for the parks in February.
If they do not want the change of regime to have a direct effect on their budget, some municipalities are still eyeing the assumption of parks if they report enough to, at least, operate at zero cost.
“It depends on the value the government places on them and whether it intends to invest in them. What we hope is that it does not become a way to send the bill from one level of government to another, “worries Al Kemmere.
Despite everything, managing in partnership can be beneficial, admits Katie Willis, who believes, however, that the public should have a say in the status of the parks.
Even if Minister Nixon says he does not want to sell the fallen parks after the call for tenders, Ms. Willis says she believes “only in the short term” because “this government has clearly indicated that it is ready to sell Crown land.”