Alberta likely headed into “Park-gate” with overhaul of the parks legislation

Calgary -  Breaking news!  The Stelmach government has introduced a new parks Act that conservation groups expect will undermine more than four decades of protection for Alberta’s provincial network of parks, if the likely changes are not defeated by a public outcry now.  Concepts that the new Act is based on were put out last summer for public input through a question and answer form on the government’s website.  Those include col­lapsing Natural Areas, Wilderness Areas, Wildland Parks, Ecological Reserves, Provincial Recreation Areas and Provincial Parks into only one kind of park, where the new parks Act would entrench dis­cretion for the Minister to approve commercial tourism development in any park.  The Tourism, Parks and Recreation Minister has not released a synthesis of the input they got on their concepts for the new Act, nor has she or her department held any technical briefings or meetings with the concerned public.  Other concepts included removing protection provisions from the strength of being in the current Acts, to the discretion of some unknown future regulations to be developed by the government after they pass the new Act.

“Protection only through the discretion of the Minister instead of assurances in the Act is what it’s looking like,” sums up Sarah Elmeligi, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, Southern Alberta.  “All provinces and territories, except Saskatchewan and the Maritime provinces, have stipulated in their Acts that the first priority is to protect or conserve natural areas and their ecological integrity.”

If the government’s concepts become entrenched in the new Act or by what it leaves out, Alberta will no longer have any legislated land-use designation that sets aside public land to preserve natural land­scapes from degradation and harm for this generation, our children and grandchildren.  Sixty percent of Alberta is public land.  Citizens have a struggle ahead of them for their parks, with the Stelmach gov­ernment holding 68 of the 83 seats in the Legislature where the new Act could be pushed through within a week or two.

“It’s clearly been an in-house agenda of the Minister and her Deputy to pull the teeth from the current parks Acts and dismantle the types of parks,” observes Dianne Pachal, Sierra Club Canada.  “Two years ago they used various approaches to consult Albertans about a new policy, but for the new Act, which will be pretty much written in stone when passed, there was no comparable consultation.  Any­one can see from their surveys on the policy that Albertan’s number one priority is setting aside more parks.  Albertans didn’t ask for dismantling the types of parks or weakening the existing provisions in the Acts that preserve them from harm or degradation.”  The surveys were only release after Cabinet approved the policy, Alberta’s Plan for Parks.

A similar overhaul of the parks legislation came forward from Ty Lund, MLA for Rocky Mountain House, in the Klien Government.  That proposed Natural Heritage Act was defeated in 1999 by sus­tained, public outcry.  Only national parks, Willmore Wilderness Park and Heritage Rangelands, which are parks established with the agreement of grazing lease holders, will be left unscathed by the pro­posed change, with their legislation continuing to state their purpose of preserving the natural land­scape.

For more information:

  • Dianne Pachal, 403 234-7368, Alberta Wild Director, Sierra Club Canada
  • Sarah Elmeligi, 403 688-8641(cel), Senior Conservation Planner, CPAWS-Southern Alberta