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Report of the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development

(Abridged for relevance to mountain parks)

Author: Deborah Schulte Chair

Recommendation # 28: The Committee recommends that Parks Canada Agency adhere to existing limits placed on development as outlined in legislation or in management plans, guidelines and policy. Development proposals as well as any changes to existing limits should be subject to a transparent and publicly inclusive decision-making process. Municipalities within park boundaries should have more flexibility to make certain decisions – such as allocate business licences – within their existing footprints and limits.

Ensuring Ecological Integrity in National Parks

As the Committee heard, large core protected areas in all ecoregions are the anchor of protected area networks.344 As such, Canada’s large national parks are essential to protecting Canada’s biodiversity. Ecological integrity of national parks is therefore critical. However, Mr. Bates also pointed out that another “important role of protected areas is … to share these great areas with Canadians as a way to maintain support for ongoing work to meet protected areas objectives.”345 The Committee was told that deep public support is an important factor in maintaining political will to establish new protected areas and prioritizing conservation in general.346 As the Committee was told, these two distinct but important roles are outlined in the Canada National Parks Act. Under section 8(2) of the Act, maintenance or restoration of ecological integrity347 is the minister’s first management priority for national parks.348 However, section 4(1) of the Act dedicates the national parks “to the people of Canada for their benefit, education and enjoyment.” The provision goes on to stipulate that the parks must be “maintained and made use of so as to leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”349 These two roles are important; however, their interpretation and implementation are varied. Many perceive a conflict between the two. Through testimony and its site visits to Banff National Park and Jasper National Park, the Committee became acutely aware of the differing points of view. Essentially, one person’s use and enjoyment of a park can be another person’s impairment. Parks Canada sees increased visitation as “a wonderful opportunity … to be able to share stories about the importance of national parks, and protection, and conservation.”

The agency quoted Sir David Attenborough to the Committee: “No one will protect what they don’t care about. And no one will care about what they have never experienced.”351 As the Committee learned during its site visits to Banff and Jasper national parks, maintaining visitation to national parks by different generations is an issue for Parks Canada. To maintain visitation of those who have grown up visiting parks, accessibility is becoming an issue. Infrastructure and new attractions need to be accessible to people who have mobility issues. On the other hand, to attract youth to parks, the old model of offering camping, trails and opportunities for photographs may not suffice. Other attractions may have to be developed or actively maintained to be relevant to youth who increasingly want to experience a range of activities. The Committee visited a number of current attractions, such as the Banff gondola, Lake Louise Ski Resort, the Glacier Skywalk and Glacier Adventure and the Jasper SkyTram, which offer visitors a range of accessible new experiences. However, many stakeholders, including the Bow Valley Naturalists and CPAWS regarded increased visitation and its associated development in national parks as incompatible with maintaining or restoring ecological integrity.

In fact, some witnesses felt that planned increases in visitation will impair not just ecological integrity, but also the role of parks in connecting Canadians with nature as overcrowding at attractions diminishes visitor experience.

On the other hand, developers of park attractions all follow guidelines to minimize the impact on ecological integrity.354 The Committee heard that developers have a vested interest in maintaining nature, as this is the main attraction that draws so many visitors, offsetting the extra costs and limitations of operating in a national park. The issue of what is an appropriate level of development in Banff and Jasper is not new. Development threats in the 1990s led to the Banff-Bow Valley Study, “which then resulted at the end of the day in a suite of measures that were designed to limit and cap development in the mountain parks, recognizing that they cannot sustain endless development.”355 In the face of what witnesses including CPAWS saw as an increased focusby Parks Canada on tourism and visitation over conservation.

Peter J. Poole, a Banff businessman, and Ms. Woodley noted the importance of sticking to the established caps.357 Parks Canada is aware of the need to manage visitation. In Prince Edward Island National Park, visitation is concentrated in areas of the park where active management is possible. Degraded areas, such as dunes, are closed off for a period to build back up.358 In Banff and Jasper as well it was noted that most visits are concentrated in a small portion of the parks. As the Committee heard during its site visits, 92% of visitors get their park experience on hardened surfaces in the developed 1-4% of the park area. The fact that the large numbers of visitors to Banff and Jasper spend most of their time in the town sites and at a few popular attractions puts a great deal of pressure on the towns. They need infrastructure and services to receive visitors in numbers which far exceed their resident populations and which strain their municipal tax bases. Compounding this problem in the Town of Jasper is the federal land lease bill, which accounts for 9% of the municipal tax levy and is not returned to the town. As well, land-use planning in Jasper is within the exclusive jurisdiction of the federal government. The town would like a transfer of this jurisdiction to allow it to make land-use plans locally, subject to the minister’s approval, as is the case in Banff.359 Jasper would like to be treated equally to Banff with the same municipal powers and responsibilities. Managing traffic also is a major challenge in Banff and Jasper, more so even than managing people. Various ideas were discussed for vehicle management, including a Bow Valley–wide transit plan. It was also noted that Parks Canada’s innovative over- and under-passes for wildlife has earned the agency a reputation as being a global leader in reducing traffic conflict with wildlife. Parks Canada also manages development through “planning and consultation with the public, Indigenous Peoples and stakeholders [in] a robust and efficient impact assessment program.”360 However, a number of stakeholders, including the Bow Valley Naturalists and various other environmental groups felt that Parks Canada’s planning has not been sufficiently public.361 According to CPAWS: 356 Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, Protecting Canada’s National Parks – A Call for Renewed Commitment to Nature Conservation, 2016 Parks Report, p. 5. 357 ENVI, Evidence, 1st Session, 42nd Parliament, 5 May 2016 (Alison Woodley).; Peter J. Poole, Owner, Arctos & Bird Management, Banff National Park: A Business Perspective on Regulating Business and Managing Visitor Use in the Anthropocene, Brief, 12 September 2016, p. 4. 358 ENVI, Evidence, 1st Session, 42nd Parliament, 20 October 2016 (Karen Jans). 359 This information was heard during the Committee’s site visits to Banff and Jasper in September, 2016. 360 Parks Canada Agency, Response to the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development – Question 3, Brief, n.d., pp. 3-4. Also see: Lake Louise Ski Area, Supplementary Materials for the House of Commons Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development, Brief, September 2016, pp. 29–30. 361 Bow Valley Naturalists, Brief, 11 September 2016, p. 2; “CEOs of Canada’s largest environmental groups issue statement on national park management,” Written statement, 4 October 2016, p. 2; and Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, Protecting Canada’s National Parks – A Call for Renewed Commitment to Nature Conservation, 2016 Parks Report, p. 5. 74

Public consultations on development proposals have become limited to a few weeks of geographically restricted consultations, often after years of behind-closed-door discussions with private developers, and often after decisions have already been made internally. In many cases, like the Lake Louise Ski Resort expansion and the Glacier Skywalk, proposals have been approved in spite of strong public opposition. Public accountability measures like the Minister’s Round Table, which is legally required every two years under the Parks Canada Agency Act, have become tightly scripted events, focused almost entirely on how to increase park visitation, with no attention paid to nature conservation in recent years.362 While there will always be people who disagree with some development decisions, the Committee itself discovered that it is difficult to understand the decision-making process. For example, despite repeated questions to numerous witnesses, the Committee was unable to determine what process led up to the announcement in Budget 2016 of a $65.9 million investment for a new biking and walking trail in Jasper National Park.363 More transparency in decision making is required. At the same time that significant investments are being made in new infrastructure for the national parks, funding to maintain existing infrastructure has been insufficient in the past. Such infrastructure, which includes assets such as roads, bridges, dams, buildings, and water and wastewater treatment facilities is essential for both safety and visitor experience. The Committee notes that investments are being made “to address the backlog of deferred work and improve the conditions of assets administered by the Agency.”364 It is essential that future levels of funding are sufficient to maintain capital assets and that any shortfall in such funding not present a barrier to establishing new parks.

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