July 23, 2020
Calgary, AB – Documents recently obtained by the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) Alberta Chapters through a Freedom of Information and Privacy (FOIP) request have offered a closer look at the decision making process behind the recent cuts to Alberta’s parks system. The documents, which include internal communications, briefings to the Minister and a briefing to cabinet, outline the development of the government’s ‘Optimizing Alberta Parks’ plan announced in spring 2020.
“These documents highlight the fact that the Minister of Environment and Parks and the Government of Alberta have not been transparent about their rationale for dismantling our parks system. They have also communicated misleading information regarding their intent for the future of our parks system.” said Katie Morrison, Conservation Director for CPAWS Southern Alberta.
Despite claims from the Minister and staff that “We are not selling any Crown or public land – period”, internal documents show that parks within the White Zone (settled portions of the province) were being considered for sale after their protections under parks legislation are removed. This includes up to 30% of all park sites under consideration for removal. Conversion to private land could mean that conservation and recreation values would not be prioritized, or even that sites could become inaccessible to the public in the future.
The documents also reveal that the justifications offered to the public for the cuts were not a major part of the discussion happening behind closed doors. “Albertans have been told by the Minister and their MLAs that these cuts were made out of budget considerations and would only impact ‘underutilized sites’. However, the documents state that there is a lack of financial data to sufficiently understand the financial impacts of the decision,“ said Morrison. The documents state that the government was also aware that potential divestments to third party operators could require subsidies and grants that could end up costing the taxpayers money.
She adds that, “While no visitation data was included, there is no evidence that the government collects statistics on day-use to make the claim that all of these sites are ‘underused’.”
“There has been a major public outcry regarding this issue over the last few months. We are seriously concerned that even before this decision was made the Minister chose to unilaterally exclude Albertans from decisions impacting places that are so dear to all of us.” said Chris Smith, Parks Coordinator for CPAWS Northern Alberta. The documents obtained outline internal government recommendations to engage in broad, high level consultation & engagement first, followed up with site-specific consultation at a later date. However, these recommendations were overridden by the Minister’s office with a decision not to engage the public in consultation.
It is clear that the concerns raised by thousands of Albertans since the government’s parks announcement were flagged by their own department, and that the government has not been completely honest with the public about their plan for Alberta’s parks. We urge the government to take a step back, halt this plan, and consult with Albertans on what they want to see for the future of Alberta Parks.
Smith adds “We are urging the Government of Alberta to listen to the thousands of Albertans who have spoken up against these changes, and keep all of Alberta’s parks protected, public, and open.”