It would be hard to live where we do and not consider yourself some level of an environmentalist. Few people in the world are fortunate enough to live in a place surrounded by towering mountains with glacial lakes, curious wildlife, and adventure around every corner. As the MLA for Banff-Kananaskis I may be biased, but I believe we truly live in the most beautiful place in the entire country, if not the entire world.
Demand to experience our great outdoors has always remained steady, especially as urbanization increases . It is because of the nature surrounding us that our people remain healthy and our tourism communities have remained resilient in the face of downward economic trends across the rest of our province. Even I love exploring the Rockies, despite my embarrassing proneness to injury. Two dislocated shoulders and a broken elbow, all from separate hiking accidents over the summer, couldn’t even keep me away from hiking trails and summiting peaks this year.
I know that protecting our beautiful provincial parks while maintaining opportunities to enjoy them is incredibly important. It is important for our tourism economies, and it is important for the physical and mental health of everyone living in our province. That is why I was happy to work with our Minister of Environment and Parks, Jason Nixon, to announce a $43 million Alberta Parks infrastructure investment. This investment included a $15 million investment directly into Kananaskis Country for upgrades to trails, the Barrier Lake area, and the William Watson Lodge. I am also pleased to say that our Government has invested over $10 million to conserve 22,000 hectares of environmentally sensitive land since taking office last Spring, and $25 million to install wildlife fencing and a new wildlife overpass along the TransCanada highway. Still, there is a significant amount of misinformation circling about our Government’s management of Provincial Park lands, so I’d like to take the opportunity to clear the air.
Absolutely no park lands are being sold in Alberta. Zilch. Zero. Not in Kananaskis Country, and not anywhere else. Even if a government - past, present, or future - wished to sell off lands in Kananaskis Country, they would be legally unable to do so as per the Kananaskis Recreation Policy legislation.
Our Government will be removing the Park designation from 164 spaces across the province, however, this accounts for only 0.3% of Provincial Park land in Alberta. 99.7% of Provincial Park land in our province will remain as such and will continue to be highly protected. The 0.3% of lands losing their Park designation will never be privatized nor sold off and will still remain protected as Crown Land. We will be seeking management partnerships for these lands and facilities on them to ensure that they remain in healthy condition and accessible to Albertans, however in partners we will specifically be looking for municipalities, Indigenous communities, or not-for-profit organizations. Such a model of co-managing public lands has proven tremendously successful for decades in our province, with Fish Creek Provincial Park being a prime example. I am optimistic that all new partnerships formed will be just as strong.
Approximately 20 campgrounds across the province will cease to be Government operated. These campgrounds were collectively operating at an annual loss to the taxpayer between $4-5 million and had visitation of less than 50 campers per season. The “Defend Alberta Parks” campaign’s claim that we are closing 4,493 campsites and shutting Albertans out from accessing the outdoors is hyperbole at best. I can confidently say that these temporary campground closures will have no detrimental effect on our Government’s commitment to double tourism in Alberta by 2030, as any venture that loses millions of dollars a year is significantly detracting from growth, not enabling it. Regardless, we are actively considering partnerships for these campgrounds as well which will ensure that many of those slated for closure can remain operational for years to come. I’ve already spoken with numerous entrepreneurs from our communities interested in taking over the operations.
Alberta’s Provincial Parks have always been some of the only in Canada without a user fee which has continually put a strain on their funding capabilities. The unfortunate truth is that our Provincial Park system lost the taxpayer $52 million last year. I do not believe our Parks should be profiteering ventures, but I do believe that as stewards of taxpayer money, our Government should find better ways to manage these lands. As taxpayers in this province you should demand no less from us.
Our Government’s decisions have never been about limiting Albertans’ access to recreational opportunities, but rather the opposite. We are doing our best to better manage these lands, the facilities on them, and their funding model in an effort to guarantee that the recreation opportunities we enjoy today can continue to be enjoyed by many generations to follow.
That is an initiative I can be proud of.