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What you need to know about COVID-19: August 12, 2020
One of the best tools to help Islanders and all Canadians to remain healthy has been pushed to the side. While I strongly believe that there is merit to removing fees on a longer-term basis, I believe the arguments are particularly compelling in 2020 in the context of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. I am requesting that all Canadians join our community in asking Parks Canada to reconsider the decision to continue to charge fees to enter National Parks in 2020.
Parks Canada maintains and manages some of the most important tourism attractions and natural areas across our country. In addition to pursuing the goal of protecting Canada’s natural and cultural heritage, a key component of Parks Canada’s mandate is to allow people to connect with and experience Canada’s natural and cultural heritage in ways that are meaningful to them. For generations, Canada’s National Parks have inspired a close connection between Canadians and natural places. In a year when many Canadians have spent more time than usual indoors, were isolated from loved ones, and unable to do many of the things they love, Parks Canada and the Government of Canada have an opportunity to give back by encouraging them to venture outdoors into wide open spaces for recreation and rejuvenation.
Not only would a decision to suspend fees provide a chance for Canadians to improve their physical and mental health, it would also provide an economic boost to neighbouring communities that are facing significant financial hardship due to the lack of tourism arising from COVID-19. The relationship between Parks Canada and its neighbouring communities is one of shared interests. Strong communities will help create strong parks, and vice versa. In this time of need, it is essential that Parks Canada takes a crucial step to support their neighbours with the backing of the federal government.
It is increasingly apparent that international travel to Canada will be severely limited this year because of COVID-19. This, combined with current restrictions within Canada, means that Parks Canada will receive less money in entrance fees than budgeted for 2020. In fact, the expected decrease, combined with measures needed to collect fees safely, could mean that the cost of collection in 2020 approaches the revenue received, while at the same time discouraging Canadians from experiencing their own parks and being active.
In 2017, the federal government suspended entrance fees for Canadians to explore their National Parks and Historic Sites. In that same year, many parks saw attendance increase by over 30 per cent. It is clear the current fee structure discourages Canadians from visiting the park and connecting with their natural surroundings. If rationing use is one objective of fees, there are other ways to ensure protection without creating financial barriers.
Ultimately, our system of National Parks provides a public good, maintaining ecological integrity and creating opportunities for people to connect with these special places. From an economic perspective, this is one the truest public goods provided by our Federal Government. Not only do they preserve these unique areas, foster physical activity, they create a connection with the natural environment that can assist the federal government in accomplishing its other objectives surrounding climate change and environmental protection. Not surprisingly, the cost to maintain these vast areas greatly exceeds the revenue recovery. According to the Future-Oriented Statement of Operations (unaudited 2020-21), entrance fees alone amounted to almost $72 million in 2019, or less than 50 per cent of all revenues. Expenditures totalled over $905 million, leaving a net cost of operations of over $755 million. In any year, I feel it is misguided to discourage exploration of these most Canadian of resources while only recouping a small portion of expenses — in the context of COVID-19 — it is especially egregious.
We are requesting that the federal government immediately suspend entrance fees for the 2020 season and immediately begin a dialogue about the appropriate level of federal funding to ensure our parks are sustainable and can meet their long term infrastructure needs without the need to impose entrance fees in the future.
Matthew Jelley is mayor of the Resort Municipality of Stanley Bridge, Hope River, Bayview, Cavendish and North Rustico.