Sunshine ski resort owner gets unfair offer he can’t refuse from feds

By Licia Corbella, Opinion Columnist- The Calgary Herald, 01/23/19.

The Collins dictionary defines extortion as “the crime of obtaining something from someone, especially money, by using force or threats.” Parks Canada, then, may have just become this country’s largest extortionist.

On Monday, Ralph Scurfield, president and CEO of Sunshine Village — the ski resort he and his family have built into a world-renowned destination for mountain sport enthusiasts — was forced to agree to new site guidelines for Sunshine or have his family’s business sold out from under him by Parks Canada and, by extension, Justin Trudeau’s federal Liberal government.

“Despite our disappointment and concerns . . . we accept the Site Guidelines as you have presented them,” Scurfield wrote to Sheila Luey, acting field superintendent for Banff National Park. Luey did not return Postmedia calls Tuesday.

“The alternative is to lose our family business since 1981 and my life’s work for the last 38 years,” he wrote in the letter dated Jan. 21.

In an undated letter that Scurfield received Dec. 18, the acting chief executive of Parks Canada, Michael Nadler, made Scurfield an offer he couldn’t refuse — in the worst sense of that phrase.

If by Jan. 21 Parks Canada “does not have your written, unconditional confirmation that you are prepared to conclude and execute a new lease with these site guidelines appended, the Agency will understand that to mean you do not wish to enter into the initialled lease with the site guidelines appended and proceed to seek a new operator through a public request for proposals.”

Scurfield has also been told by Parks Canada to choose one of two options — agree to a 42-year lease with an agreement to then give Sunshine Village Ski Resort to the Crown for $1, or sever and remove every facility and return the land to its natural state.

Hard place meet slightly harder rock.

There are several questions arising from this heavy-handed approach by the “authorities.”

If you’re getting a 42-year lease, why would you continue to improve a facility that you’re eventually going to give to the federal government with no compensation? As the saying goes, renters don’t fix the roof.

The new site guidelines, which will be released publicly by Parks Canada on Thursday, reduces the leasehold by 61 hectares — land that is currently zoned and previously approved and gives Sunshine no new parking. Parks Canada is urging Scurfield to build a 500-vehicle parking structure to be used 50 days a year, which Scurfield says will cost  about $50 million — an untenable option.

Even in downtown Calgary — where parking rates of $14 per hour are the norm and stalls are used year round — many surface lots will not invest in a parking structure owing to the cost. Yet, Parks Canada wants a seasonal business to do so to make up for a shortfall of 450 spaces. Also, a parking garage is not as pristine looking come spring and summer as a grassy field, nor as ecologically friendly for wildlife.

Everything that Sunshine has suggested to Parks Canada has been rejected and the thousands of people who supported Sunshine’s plans were ignored, suggesting the public consultation by governments and agencies is only farcical window dressing.

Parks Canada held public consultation meetings about the draft site guidelines for Sunshine Village from June 21 to Aug. 19 last year. Here’s a fun little quiz: What strikes you about those dates? If you said a lot of people would be away on holidays during that time, you’re right. Despite that tactic, the Parks Canada report called: What We Heard (which is not yet available online) says at the end of the 60-day review period, “over 4,000 public comments” were received, mostly from locals but also from all around North America and Europe.

While the vast majority of the respondents favoured increasing parking for the resort, those who didn’t “noted that the site guidelines understated the potential of transit, passenger rail and other transportation strategies to reduce parking demand in ways that do not involve development of additional parking space or structures.”

So someone actually suggested building a railway to take skiers to the base of Sunshine mountain, and that’s considered a legitimate suggestion worthy of publishing? We can’t find anyone to fund building a rail line between Calgary and Edmonton, and some genius wants to build a railway in a national park from Banff to Sunshine?

With Canada’s only heated ski lift, Scurfield says he has constantly upgraded and improved the visitor experience to the park while always ensuring the least amount of disruption to the environment as possible. That’s evident to those who ski this wilderness wonderland.

In September, Sunshine was rated one of the top-10 resorts for snow, overall satisfaction and lifts in the west of North America by SKI Magazine, with the comment: “Best snow, best terrain, the lifts are worlds ahead of any other resort, you feel like you actually get value for your money here and never have a bad day.”

To that, all a dejected Scurfield can say is: “I guess we must be doing something right.”

Scurfield and his team have clearly done much right. Canada is better for his family’s vision and hard work. It’s Parks Canada that is in the wrong here. After all, extortion — no matter how wrapped in legalese — is always a mountainous crime.

Original Article Here