People who love Alberta Parks will be able to donate to their provincial parks directly next year should the NDP win the next provincial election.
“When we announced our promise to remove the fees for using Kananaskis Country, I received countless emails of support but a number of them also came alongside some ideas for how we could use the love that Albertans have for their parks in different ways,” said MLA Marlin Schmidt, the NDP Critic for Environment and Parks, during a press announcement for the initiative on July 16.
“After many conversations with different Albertans, it’s become clear that they want an option to support our parks without a mandatory fee and with certainty that their support is actually helping to enhance our parks.”
Schmidt said that cutting the UCP’s $90 admission fee to Kananaskis Country was only the first step. The NDP proposed to institute a program where people could donate directly to support Alberta’s provincial parks to help in their management and conservation.
Those funds could be made either as one-time contributions, monthly subscriptions, or legacy donations or even sponsorships. A parks-themed license plate would also be made available.
All funding received would go directly into the parks system, Schmidt noted, rather than into general revenue like the Kananaskis pass.
“Albertans would be reassured that their generosity is directly benefiting Alberta’s parks.”
Similar funding models have been instituted in both British Columbia and Ontario in recent years, and both have seen strong support upwards of $10 million per year. The funding would be supplemental on top of Alberta Parks’ budget.
According to Alberta’s Budget 2022, the UCP government is investing approximately $130 million into Alberta Parks this year.
Taxes or toll booths?
Becky Best-Bertwistle, conservation programs manager with the southern Alberta chapter of Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) remarked on how the NDP’s plan contrasts with the national parks model where every guest must purchase a pass at the gate first.
“It’s a user fee that lots of people don’t have a problem paying,” Best-Bertwistle said, adding that the provincial parks system is in a state of chronic underfunding and is one of the first things to be cut in any tight provincial budget.
She noted that there’s an important element that’s missing out of these funding conversations: parks aren’t just for people. Alberta Parks is meant to protect natural ecosystems too.
“I think it’s important that no matter… what government is in charge, the ecological importance of our provincial parks is elevated just as much as visitation,” she said.
“I do understand, of course, visitation does impact some of these ecological concerns, but it’s important that the whole user fee and funding conversation isn’t just focused on how many people are visiting and how are we managing them, but it needs to think longer term in how we’re protecting these places.”
Still, Schmidt wants people to have the opportunity to contribute beyond provincial taxes to help keep Alberta’s parks strong and free.
“Our parks shouldn’t only be available to those who can afford a fee,” Schmidt said.
“They belong to each and every Albertan, and as such, Albertans should have the ability to contribute and give back to the land that gives so much joy, recreation, and beautiful memories to individuals and families across our province.”
Scott Hayes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Jasper Fitzhugh