As a Calgarian, an outdoorsman, and a father, I cherish Alberta's provincial parks and want to see them preserved and protected for generations to come. Unfortunately, my constituents have been fed a steady stream of misinformation on the future of Alberta parks.
Parks are not being sold. Parks are not closing. Alberta's parks belong to Albertans, and it's going to stay that way.
Albertans value and cherish their provincial parks. These precious public lands protect and preserve our rich natural beauty for people from across the province and the entire world to enjoy.
It should go without saying that Alberta's government also cherishes these parks. That's why it has invested $43 million this year alone in upgrading them. However, the NDP opposition and other special interest groups have waged a disinformation campaign trying to convince Albertans that parks will be closed or sold off and developed.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
The Alberta government is committed to protecting all current park sites, keeping them free from industrial development, and maintaining access for all Albertans. Alberta's parks will continue to be open and accessible for all to enjoy. All sites remain fully protected and owned by Alberta Environment and Parks.
But we are in a time of fiscal restraint, and Albertans elected the UCP government to make difficult decisions. In 2018-2019, Alberta Parks lost $52.7 million in revenue. That means the government must find ways of saving money without too much disruption to service delivery.
The Alberta government already eliminated costly practices, like delivering firewood by helicopter and having staff drive six hours to camp facilities that are not in use, and increased the base camping rate for most campgrounds by $3 and rates for water, power, showers and sewers by $1 are among such changes.
By diversifying Alberta's economy and growing our tourism industry through our Ten-Year Tourism Strategy, Alberta's government will expand visitor destinations and boost year-round visits to our province. The goal is to increase tourism spending in Alberta to $20 billion by 2030.
Ultimately, when it comes to how Albertans enjoy parks, the answer lies in teamwork.
Unlike some who believe the government should run every aspect of our parks – the UCP believes that grassroots organizations and Indigenous groups are just as, if not more, capable of helping to deliver park services as the government – and often at a much better value for taxpayers.
The Alberta government previously assessed all 473 sites in the Alberta Parks System, recommending 164 sites—accounting for 0.3 per cent of the Alberta Parks land base—for park partnerships.
Over the next year, Alberta Environment and Parks will enter into new partnership agreements to help manage park services. These partnerships will be like the one recently announced with Nordiq Alberta—a non-profit organization—to ensure the grooming of winter trails for skiers in Kananaskis Country.
Partnerships with organizations like Nordiq Alberta are crucial to preserving and maintaining our provincial parks. While partnerships also result in cost savings, that is not their primary purpose. It is important to note that Alberta's government has been partnering with community groups and grassroots organizations to help manage provincial parks and recreational areas since 1932.
Working with Indigenous groups will be particularly crucial in this effort. Indigenous peoples have been stewarding our land for thousands of years and understand how to protect and preserve it better than anyone. Alberta's government looks forward to entering into more partnership agreements with Indigenous groups, who can help manage our parks system's future.
Those concerned that these changes could impact their recreation opportunities can rest assured that they will not happen. Parks and public lands remain accessible for recreation and enjoyment. This is all good news for Albertans, who love their parks and the recreation opportunities they provide.
These changes to the province's parks model keep our commitment to finding efficiencies and creating partnership opportunities for Albertans and non-profits. This will keep costs low to put the province back on a path to fiscal balance.
Our UCP caucus just launched My Parks Will Go On, a campaign to counter the misinformation and outright lies from the NDP and other groups about our plan for Alberta's parks. This campaign will set the record straight and show how Alberta's government will protect parks for generations of Albertans to come.
Despite the false and misleading information being spread by some, your parks will go on. Alberta's parks belong to Albertans, and it's going to stay that way. I encourage you to visit www.MyParksWillGoOn.ca to find out more information about how the government is protecting parks for all Albertans.
Jeremy Nixon is a Canadian politician who was elected in the 2019 Alberta general election to represent the electoral district of Calgary-Klein in the 30th Alberta Legislature. He is a member of the United Conservative Party.