Public Parks —Private Profit
Slowly but surely, Saskatchewan’s provincial parks are becoming a for-profit industry.
In 2011, SGEU ran a TV ad arguing that our parks should stay in public hands. In response, the Saskatchewan Party firmly denied that it was selling off park services. “The SGEU is using … attack ads in which they claim our government has an agenda to privatize. This is simply not true,” the party claimed in a June 2011 MLA report. “Our government will continue to own and manage all park land and operate basic park services.” But the Sask Party’s record says otherwise. Since it took power in 2007, the Wall government has handed off more and more of our provincial parks’ basic services to profit-seeking private businesses. What has been privatized?
Campsites The Sask Party saw that demand for campsites in Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park had outstripped supply — so in October 2008, it gave a private developer a 25-year lease to build a new 75-site RV park. Parks Minister Christine Tell called the deal “an example of how working with private operators in our parks can … improve facilities at no cost to the public.” The cost of letting the revenue from a much-needed new campground go to a private business, instead of to the parks system, apparently didn’t occur to her.
Rental Cabin In February 2010, the Sask Party sold off the last publicly-operated rental cabins in the parks system. Nicor Developments was granted a 25-year lease on Greenwater Lake’s 23 existing cabins (and given the go-ahead to build 10 more), completing the privatization of rental accommodations in Saskatchewan provincial parks. The new parks minister, Dustin Duncan, said that operating such accommodations did not “come under the core mandate of the province.” While rental cabins remain popular enough that new ones are still being built — such as the 12-cabin development announced for Blackstrap Provincial Park in 2013 — the province will have no hand in building or running them.
Boating Infrastructure When Blackstrap Provincial Park needed a new marina — partly to relieve pressure on existing public boat launches — the Sask Party was happy to let a private business take over. In November 2013, British Columbia-based BC Dock and Marina was contracted to build the new marina — and pocket the revenue from slip rentals and fuel sales. "It's a great idea, and we're looking for more and more of these kinds of opportunities in our provincial parks," Parks Minister Kevin Doherty declared at the time.
Law Enforcement In the summer of 2013, a private security company was hired to provide enforcement and compliance services in Saskatchewan Landing Provincial Park. Employees of Swift Current-based Ghost Security were given Special Constable status and assigned to patrol the park, enforcing The Parks Act, The Alcohol an Gamin Reglaion Act and other legislation. The Ministry of Parks’ final evaluation called the pilot project “very successful.”
All this raises the question: What exactly are the “basic park services” that the Saskatchewan Party government promises it will continue to provide? If it’s willing to let campsites, cabins, marinas and security patrols all be delivered by the private sector, just what is off the table when it comes to privatization? For all the Wall government denies its desire to privatize, there are fewer and fewer services left that it won’t sell off to companies looking to make a profit from park-goers. But Saskatchewan’s provincial parks aren’t cheap to run, and camping fees cover only 60% of operating costs — so why does the Sask Party insist on letting the revenue from park services go to private developers, instead of back into the parks system’s budget?
Provincial parks belong to us all, and shouldn’t be treated as a private-sector money-maker. The Sask Party said it would keep park services in public hands. It’s time for them to keep their word, and put the revenue from provincial parks where it belongs — in provincial coffers to support park services for the people of Saskatchewan and our visitors. .
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