By Peter Zimmerman
CPAWS Southern Alberta
Outside my CPAWS office window at Canada Olympic Park is a small forest of flagpoles, each flying the flag of a different nation, all of whom are participating in the Olympic winter games. My personal reminder about this Quadrennial event. Flip to any TV sports channel and you will be able to watch coverage at almost any time of day of the games now underway in Pyeongchang.
While the endless doping scandals, huge cost overruns and dubious claims of “sustainability” have tarnished the Olympic sheen over the last several decades, the Games still retains much gravitas, and are considered by many the pinnacle of human athletic endeavour and performance.
At the moment, Calgary is the only North American city still considering a bid for the 2026 games; all the others have dropped out. Part of that bid may be a proposal to hold the ski events at our historic ski hills in Banff National Park. At first blush many would think this is a logical, reasonable, and prudent thing to do; another carrot for the IOC to grant the games to Calgary.
But we have been here before. As early as the 1960’s Canadians rejected an Olympic bid that included Lake Louise as a venue. The original Olympic bid for the 1988 games also proposed to have the skiing at Lake Louise. Public outcry lead CPAWS, among other groups, to successfully make the case that the increased development and enormous additional human presence was simply not compatible with the purpose of a National Park, where the first priority is maintaining ecological integrity. This resulted in the ski venue moving to the newly created Nakiska ski area at Mount Allen in Kananaskis Country.
Calgary’s looming potential bid once again raises the issue of what activities are appropriate in our National Parks. Is this a discussion that needs to be revisited again and again? Or, is the purpose, definition, and intention of legal protection afforded our National Parks not sufficiently clear? Certainly there is little question holding downhill events in Banff National Park would necessitate an expanded infrastructure along with the associated impacts from such development as well as managing the tens of thousands of additional visitors, media, and athletes.
Regardless of whether the Federal government supports any Olympic bid per se, it should be relatively straight forward for them to state clearly that such a mega-project type event is simply incompatible with the Parks Act, and therefore a non-starter inside our National Parks system.