UCP caucus launches campaign to counter 'misinformation' about Alberta parks

The United Conservative caucus launched a website Monday aimed at countering the "misinformation" about a plan to remove parks and recreation areas from the Alberta Parks system.

MyParksWillGoOn.ca is UCP MLAs' answer to the NDP Opposition's Don't Go Breaking My Parks campaign. Both campaigns play on the names of popular songs.

Jeremy Nixon, the UCP MLA for Calgary-Klein and brother of Environment and Parks Minister Jason Nixon, said he and other caucus members have heard from constituents concerned about the government's plan for parks.

"I think there's been very large misinformation campaign that has been gaining some steam," Nixon said.

"We felt that there was a need to improve communications and get information out to our constituents so we collaborated in our efforts to make sure that we do so."

In February, the government announced a plan to optimize the parks system in a bid to save $5 million. It included fully or partially closing 20 parks or recreation areas, and delisting another 164 sites in hopes of third parties like non-profit groups, Indigenous organizations or municipalities could take over management.

In addition to the campaign launched by the Alberta NDP, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) and Alberta Environmental Network partnered for the Defend Alberta Parks campaign. So far the effort has distributed 15,000 lawn signs and spurred a letter-writing campaign.

The government has insisted they aren't selling any parks and that the areas will still remain open to Albertans for recreational use.

Alberta Environment and Parks quietly removed the list of parks and recreational areas slated for closure and delisting from its website and has largely been silent on who has signalled an interest in parks partnerships or what rules they will have to follow.

Chris Smith, parks coordinator for CPAWS Northern Alberta, said Defend Alberta Parks relied on the government's own news releases, statements and documents for the information on its site.

He said the government needs to be more forthright if the situation has truly changed.

"It seems a bit weird that they keep saying these things aren't true, but they haven't really provided any evidence showing that it isn't," Smith said.

Domain name oversight

Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley scoffed at the name of the UCP's campaign, which plays on the "My Heart Will Go On" song by Celine Dion from the 1997 movie Titanic.

"I find it rather amusing that they somehow thought it was effective to make a song that was written for the film Titanic as a means of somehow suggesting Alberta parks are safe," she said.

"The Titanic was not safe, nor are Alberta parks from the irresponsible decisions of Jason Kenney and Jason Nixon to convert these parks back to basic crown land so that they can be leased for profit to industry and limit the access to those parks by Albertans across the province."

The UCP site features a two-question survey that asks for users' names, emails and postal codes.

The survey asks "Do you believe that all parks and public lands need to be operated by the government in all circumstances?" and "Do you believe that partnering with community groups to operate parks and public lands is a reasonable way for the government to save money?"

The UCP caucus site launch hit a pothole on Monday after someone took advantage of its failure to buy up all the relevant domain names.

The UCP site is MyParksWillGoOn.ca. But the MyParksWillGoOn.com domain was purchased by someone anonymously who redirected traffic to the Defend Alberta Parks site.

"It looks like it's unfortunately being used to continue to mislead Albertans in regards to what the government's intent is with parks," Jeremy Nixon said. "I think that's disappointing."