By Ron Thiessen, Executive Director of CPAWS Manitoba
An Earth Day announcement showed that the government recognizes the importance of our parks.
The $20 million endowment fund for provincial parks announced in April 2021 is 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 insufficient 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.
We need far bolder investments in nature in order to advance a green recovery recommended by experts, the general public and over 230 Canadian organizations.
This strangely comes at a time when many Manitobans are worried about the provincial government commissioning a study to assess our provincial parks.
This assessment presently underway 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.
We were pleased to hear Premier Brian Pallister say “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 also 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 alarmed by the minister’s assertion that “it’s necessary for Manitoba’s provincial parks to become financially sustainable.” This seems to ignore evidence that public investments in parks generate significant positive economic impacts, including job creation and significant savings in health costs.
The gap between park revenues and operating expenses is rightfully filled by Manitoba’s provincial budget because the social, economic and environmental values parks hold are essential services for people.