The United Conservative Party (UCP) and Minister of Environment and Parks Jason Nixon has come under fire recently for the lack of public consultation on the planned changes to Alberta’s parks, with the NDP calling it “hypocritical.”
According to documents obtained by the Canadian Press through freedom of information legislation, Nixon told his staff there would be no public consultation on changes to Alberta’s parks.
When asked about public consultation in an interview on July 29, Nixon, who is also the MLA for Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre, answered that the modernization of parks was part of the UCP’s election campaign.
“That was a clear part of our platform,” he said.
It was announced in March that the UCP government plans to fully or partially close 20 provincial parks and transfer another 164 to third-party managers.
Although there was no set timeline for the closing of the 20 parks or the potential 164 other parks, the pandemic has “slowed down conversations.” However, the UCP remain committed to the plan, says Nixon.
“COVID has obviously caused delays in many aspects of our society.”
He added that only 17 facilities have been designated for closure and the remaining 164 remain have only been identified as potentials for handing off and they are still fully funded.
Nixon says Albertans would still have “complete access” to all the parks and nature areas.
Within the Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House- Sundre riding, two examples of third parties taking over public lands that Nixon says have “worked well” include Sylvan Lake and the Bighorn campground.
The lake and waterfront park area in Sylvan Lake has been changed from being designated a provincial park, then back to the town of Sylvan Lake, several times, but was transferred back to the town and renamed Sylvan Lake Park in 2018.
The area of Sylvan Lake Park is within Nixon’s riding and Innisfail-Sylvan Lake.
Bighorn Campground, located on the Parks Canada Ya Ha Tinda Ranch, was taken over by the Friends of the Eastern Slopes Association in 1994.
Nixon says NDP’s Bighorn parks proposal, the area of which stretches from B.C. to Rimbey, was soundly rejected by several municipalities and all of the affected First Nations, so the UCP stopped the NDP’s plan.
“We stand with the community and the First Nations.”
As for the swarms of Alberta campers overwhelming the campgrounds of backcountry of the province, Nixon says it’s not a problem unique to his riding.
Although the area of almost 5,000 square kilometres from Nordegg to the Jasper-Banff Hwy. referred to as “The Bighorn” has been in the news lately for the damage and garbage campers are leaving behind, it is not alone.
Camping over capacity has been a problem all over the province, not just west of Rocky Mountain House.
“It’s not unique to that area.”
The provincial parks closest to Rimbey — Aspen Beach, Medicine Lake and Crimson Lake — aren’t on the list of park closures, but other areas within the riding may be being considered for partnerships, says Nixon.
The NDP have launched a “Don’t go breaking my parks” campaign.
A large number of the impacted parks (51, according to a recent NDP press release), are in Kananaskis Country.
”As Albertans, parks are part of our lifeblood,” said NDP leader Rachel Notley in the release.
“Jason Kenney and the UCP are selling them right out from under Albertans and we’re going to do everything we can to stop them.”
The NDP report that over 10,000 Albertans have signed their petition to save the parks on their website, www.dontgobreakingmyparks.ca.