Manitobans could lose access to nature under a proposal to run provincial parks like a business and to shed unprofitable ‘assets.’
Privatization of park services has already begun.
Campsite fees are three times higher at St. Ambroise Provincial Park after a private company was awarded a 21-year contract to manage what used to be a public service.
The provincial government is also looking to potentially decommission provincial parks while also seeking greater “financial sustainability" for the parks that remain.
And it is considering expanding user fees as part of a new trails strategy.
The Manitoba government released the Evaluating of the Tourism Potential of Manitoba’s Provincial Parks in 2023. It focuses on cost recovery to make our parks more financially sustainable, expanding parks services, and growing tourism numbers. The evaluation does not speak to the absolute need to establish new parks and protected areas to keep up with the projected increase in demand from out-of-province tourists.
We need your help to remind the government that parks are for people - not for profit.
An uproar from citizens of Alberta succeeded in forcing the government to reverse plans to shed 175 parks.
Together, we can ensure Manitoba’s government increases its investments in our park services and safeguards our wilderness with new parks and protected areas for nature.
Manitobans Need Parks More Than Ever Before
Parks became a refuge for people seeking safe spaces to escape the stress of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The healthy forests, lakes and wetlands which help bolster our mental health are also working to protect our physical health. They clean our air, filter our water and act as a protective shield against the worsening impacts of climate change.
We need more parks and protected spaces for nature - not less.
The federal government vowed in September’s throne speech to protect 30 percent of Canada’s lands and waters by 2030.
More than 8 in 10 Manitobans want to see a dramatic expansion of protected areas in our province, according to a recent poll which found significant support for conserving half our wild spaces.
Tell the premier it’s time for Manitoba to step up and match the federal government’s commitment to conserve 30 percent of our lands and waters by 2030.
A powerful part of the solution to ensuring nature is conserved is for the province to support Indigenous Nations who are presently working to establish and manage Indigenous and Conserved Protected Areas.
Greatly accelerating the slow pace of the Manitoba Protected Areas Initiative is needed.
What Do We Know About the Province’s Plans?
The province has not yet fully responded to concerns raised about a controversial request for proposals to evaluate Manitoba’s parks.
The proposal is highly concerning for three main reasons:
- It is looking to identify “which assets should be divested”
- It is seeking opportunities to “decommission/transition parks to other models (i.e. other groups operate or own parks to service their local community).”
- A primary aim is to “achieve greater financial sustainability.”
We need more parks and protected areas, not less.
An Earth Day announcement showed that the government recognizes the importance of our parks and the need for additional investment in park services.
Former premier Brian Pallister said “parks are not for sale or development” and called himself a “conservationist” who is committed to “leave things better than you found them.”
We were glad to hear Minister of Conservation and Climate Sarah Guillemard tell CBC News last fall that “the province will always maintain jurisdictional control over all provincial parks.”
However, this comment does not address concerns that some parks could be decommissioned, nor does it mean that these parks would maintain their protected status.
We are also concerned by the Minister’s assertion that “it's necessary for Manitoba's provincial parks to become financially sustainable.”
Like healthcare, parks are a public good and as such don’t need to make a profit or break even financially.
Parks Are Not For Profit
The Manitoba Provincial Parks Act has it right. In Manitoba law, there are only 3 purposes for provincial parks:
1) conserve ecosystems and maintain biodiversity
2) preserve unique and representative natural, cultural and heritage resources
3) provide outdoor recreational and educational opportunities and experiences in a natural setting.
Manitoba’s parks are a core government service that require investment.
The gap between park revenues and operating expenses is rightfully adopted by Manitoba’s provincial budget because the social, cultural, and environmental values parks hold are critical to our well-being.
Parks Should Be Accessible to All Manitobans
Excessive park fees harm working families by pricing people out of cherished traditions like camping, hiking and taking kids to the beach.
Expecting park visitors to shoulder the financial burden of park management is bad policy. We saw a drastic loss of services in national parks - including well-loved cross country trails in Riding Mountain National Park - when the Harper government made revenue generation a priority in national parks.
Seeking “financial sustainability” also ignores the huge contributions parks make to local and regional economies through recreation and tourism. Every dollar invested in parks returns $6 to the Canadian economy, a study by the Canadian Parks Council found.
We Welcome Provincial Investment in Our Parks
The government’s proposal acknowledges that Manitoba’s aging park infrastructure is not meeting the needs of visitors.
Trails are poorly marked and overgrown. Toilets can be hard to find and rather grim. Nearly every campsite within a three hour drive of Winnipeg was booked on summer weekends in 2020. Demand remains high.
We welcome the government’s October 2020 $16.6 million investment in park infrastructure projects which includes new play structures, new beach mobility mats to provide accessible access to the water, road improvements and water treatment upgrades.
A $7 million investment in trails announced in October 2020 was also welcome news for Manitoba.
The $20 million endowment fund for provincial parks announced in April 2021 is further welcome news as it will support parks infrastructure and services, which is desperately needed. We’re pleased to hear that the endowment fund will not replace funding from the provincial budget. As our parks are greatly under-resourced, we hope the inadequate provincial budget allocation for parks will be increased in concert with this new endowment fund. CPAWS will keep a close eye and report on provincial parks budgets over the coming years
The Manitoba Provincial Parks Infrastructure Renewal Strategy that was announced by the province in 2023 is set to make much needed investments in our parks over a ten year period.
Manitoba Provincial Park Facts
93 Provincial Parkswith +40,000 square kilometers of lands and waters set aside for Manitobans.
+ 50 Campgroundswith nearly 4,500 campsites ranging from backcountry hideaways to fully serviced pads suitable for large recreational vehicles
+ 1,700 Kilometers of TrailsThere are more than 1,700 kilometres of active transportation trails throughout Manitoba. Some are managed by the province, others by municipalities and some are maintained by volunteers.
83 Provincial Park Beaches
+ 6,200 public-lease cottageslocated in Manitoba provincial parks.