Outdoor enthusiast cries foul over B.C. Parks licence plates

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A Vancouver man is calling out the province for what he says is misleading information about how much of the $50 fee for specialty B.C. Parks licence plates actually goes to enhance parks. 

Blogger and outdoor enthusiast Steven Jones says he was surprised to recently discover that only $15 of that fee is put towards the province's Park Enhancement Fund. 

"There's a bigger question here of transparency and the way that they're running the park system," Jones said.

The province announced the new licence plates in January, explaining that "all net proceeds from the sale and ongoing renewals of B.C. Parks licence plates will be re-invested back into provincial parks."

It described the fund as "a transparent account where revenues enhance programs or services in provincial parks."

Jones says he emailed the province shortly after the announcement to ask exactly how much of the $50 fee would go towards supporting the parks.

"I asked in a very clear direct manner to the Ministry of Environment and received an unequivocal response that ... $33 would go towards the fund," he said.

CBC News obtained the email sent by the ministry's communications manager.

"Can you clarify on that $33? How much of that will go directly into the Park Enhancement Fund?" wrote Jones.

"The entire $33 will go into the park enhancement fund," the communications manager replied. 

Similarly, at the time of the announcement, an ICBC spokesman told CBC, "For every new B.C. Parks plate sold, $33 of the initial purchase price will go to B.C. Parks and the provincial government."

Messages posted on the Discover B.C. Parks Facebook page used the exact same language.

Ministry, ICBC explain discrepancy

But when Jones crunched the most recent numbers from the province about the licence plates, he discovered only $15 of the fee is contributed to the fund — a difference of about $200,000 given how many people have bought the plates so far. 

"I think that some of the 11,000 people that stepped forward and put forward this $50 with the intention of making a donation to the B.C. parks fund are going to be a little bit upset that only $15 made it into the B.C. Parks system," Jones said.

A spokesman with the ministry said the province's announcements always made it clear that it is only the net proceeds, or profits, from the licence plate sales that are contributed to the fund. 

The spokesman said he couldn't speak to the email Jones received or to the $33 figure posted to the Facebook page. 

The breakdown the ministry gave for the $50 fee is as follows:

- $18: new licence plate fee to provincial government. 

- $15: directly to B.C. Parks.

- $5: ICBC for cost recovery.

- $7: plate manufacturing, shipping and handling.

- $5: broker commission.

An ICBC spokesman similarly explained the discrepancy by breaking down the $33 as $15 towards the park fund and $18 towards the province as its standard plate fee cost.

But Jones says those responses don't explain the initial answer he was given about how much of the fee goes towards the park.

"I think that they knew what the net proceeds would be when they launched the program, and if it was only going to be $15 of every $50 that should have been announced up front," he said. 

As an avid outdoorsman who often frequents the province's parks, Jones says he wants to see more done to maintain them. 

"The government spends a lot of money to attract huge amounts of people to our parks from around the world and it fuels a $16-billion tourism industry," he said.

"The trails are being degraded, the signs are falling over, facilities are falling apart.

"Even if the $200,000 is not a lot in the scheme of the system, it would certainly make a meaningful impact to a trail, to signs and to facilities in the park system."