As summer rolls around and members of our fair city flee for the weekends, they will most likely venture to one of the many provincial parks and sole national park in the area; parks like Riding Mountain National Park which, like many of its struggling partners, will be hard-pressed to meet the budget constrictions and cutbacks from the Harper government over the past couple of years.
The national parks service in this country is woven deeply into the fabric that is our collective Canadian psyche and parks like Riding Mountain hold many fond memories for countless locals throughout Westman. Few entities in Canada are truly considered sacred, but decisions by the Harper government to limit funding to a handful of entities like the parks system feels disingenuous to say the least and frankly un-Canadian.
Officially, the prime minister and his party started off gangbusters in bolstering support for the parks system, something that silenced critics and was praised by various user groups and institutions that interacted with the parks on a regular basis. But 2008 would signal a turn in fortunes as the economic downturn laid cause for a close to $30-million cut to the parks system nationwide. Further to this, the opportunity for exploration companies to creep onto national park land had many within the NDP and elsewhere seeing red.
Now there is no doubt in times of economic uncertainty that spending must remain close to the vest, so to speak, but there are some institutions in this country that should remain just that — an institution. Most of the local economy in the surrounding area of national parks is bolstered as a result of tourism dollars flowing into the region. One look no further than Clear Lake to see the driver that is tourism to that region and all who fall along Highway 10 North as a result. More down days and lack of staff is not good for the park, or the region, and the cutbacks — now a couple years in the works — are truly being seen as the park is allowed to be under-maintained, while the hope is it will be overutilized by patrons and businesses alike.
If anything, this government has proven during its time in office that a starve-out method of cuts is the most inhumane way to deal with an issue created by that same government. Cuts do come and they inevitably affect one element of the population more than others, but much like the gutting of the CBC recording and concert series programming, they become issues of a greater national good.
Now this is not to say that belt-tightening need not take place at all, as restraint is a positive in forcing governments to work together for projects benefiting the greater good of Canadians. But an element of nostalgia and opportunity to showcase Canada’s raw beauty should win out in scenarios like this. Possibly one less round of action plan or attack ads need not air in place of putting the money where Canadians may reap the benefits as opposed to being forced into the world of fear-mongering for votes. This style of government, however effective, leaves something to be desired when rammed down the throat of the average voter. Perhaps a time of government proving its effectiveness to voters as opposed to the shortcomings of other parties may actually garner some support.
But I digress.
National parks are good for this country; their upkeep benefits many through the effective return of dollars flowing into the park through tourism and specialty retail, restaurants or other tourist-based opportunities. Not all decisions of government need to be solely based on a return on investment scenario. As much as many within the rank and file of the Conservative party feel a country must be run like a business, there is a need for balance and projects benefiting the social good, projects like the maintenance of beautiful tracts of land such as Riding Mountain.
All the blame for the downturn in support does not rest solely on the government as usage numbers play a role in the allocation of funding, and if the numbers dwindle, then the choice becomes more obvious.
The best way for any Canadian to show support for the parks system is to get out and use them, and if that experience is subpar or not what a person feels it could have been, then a greater opportunity exists to make the loudest statement of all on the issue — at the ballot box.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition June 7, 2014