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Defend Canada’s national parks, part of the commons

With another Canadian summer in full swing, many Council of Canadians members across the country will no doubt be heading to one of our national parks in the coming weeks to enjoy this critically important part of our collective commons.

In recent weeks a number of members have contacted the Council with concerns about the direction Parks Canada is moving in — a direction some have called the “disneyfication” of our national parks — which would see Parks Canada’s historical focus on “ecological integrity, through the protection of natural resources and natural processes” eroded in a market-driven push for more commercial and recreational development to attract additional visitors to our parks.

The threat, and questionable assumptions, of this new direction is described in a May 2011 article by the Edmonton Journal’s Ed Stuzik, who writes, “Parks Canada is pushing the limits on what it thinks are appropriate activities in national parks. Earlier this year, it added canopy walks, zip lines, aerial parks and via ferrata (a system of bolted ladders and cables) to its list of approved activities.” Earlier this year, one private company operating in Jasper National Park proposed the construction of what it calls the “Glacier Discovery Walk” on the Coumbia Icefield.

It’s a direction Parks Canada knows doesn’t have public support. In a December 2009 letter written by Banff Parks Superintendent Kevin Van Tighem about public consultations on the Banff Management Plan, which was obtained through a freedom of information request, he writes, “I should flag to your attention that we have received virtually no support for, or expressions of interest in, new recreational activites. … Mostly we are hearing concerns about crowding and commercialization, plus predictions that these sorts of initiatives risk pushing some of our ecological integrity accomplishments backwards. The key point to me is not so much the negative feedback as it is the absence of positive feedback … nobody is pushing for new activities except for individual proponents.”

Many conservation organizations, including the Alberta Wilderness Association, the Bow Valley Naturalists, the Jasper Environmental Association and the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, as well as former Parks Canada Wardens have expressed concerns about this market-driven direction and the impact it will have on the ecological integrity of the parks. Council of Canadians chair Maude Barlow has also added her voice, today sending a letter of concern to Environment Minister Peter Kent and Parks Canada CEO Alan Latourelle.

So enjoy our parks this summer, but before you go consider writing to Environment Minister Kent and CEO Latourelle and telling them that you expect ecological integrity and conservation, not development and commercialization, to remain at the heart of Canada’s national parks.

The Honourable Peter Kent,
Minister of the Environment
Les Terrasses de la Chaudière
10 Wellington Street, 28th Floor
Gatineau, QC K1A 0H3

Alan Latourelle
Chief Executive Officer, Parks Canada Agency
Parks Canada National Office
25-7-N Eddy Street
Gatineau, Quebec K1A 0M5