Posted on Jun 3, 2020
UCP MUST HOLD PUBLIC HEARINGS BEFORE SELLING, CLOSING PARKS
EDMONTON — The NDP Official Opposition is calling on the government to hold open virtual public hearings, so regular Albertans and experts can have their say on the future of Alberta’s public parks system. The NDP is also calling on the government to suspend the parks privatization and closures until the public hearings are complete.
Following the February announcement by the UCP that they would privatize 164 provincial parks and recreation areas, and close or partially close another 20, tens of thousands of Albertans pushed back and large public demonstrations were planned. Because of the COVID19 pandemic, however, Albertans voices were silenced.
“Alberta’s public parks are a treasure and part of our heritage,” said Marlin Schmidt, NDP Environment and Parks Critic. “The public deserves to have input, and it is undemocratic for the UCP government to move forward with such an unpopular agenda while public opposition is suppressed because of public health orders.
“The UCP Government is forcing Albertans to do more with less. They claim that we have to accept the sale and closure of public land to save money while at the same time holding their hand out for Justin Trudeau’s bail out money to pay off United Conservative Party political debts. The hypocrisy is astounding.”
The announcement to remove the parks sparked an outcry from Albertans concerned about the changes. Multiple petitions opposing the move appeared online with tens of thousands of signatures and a poll commissioned by Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society found that seven-in-10 Albertans oppose the closure or removal of these parks from the parks system.
“Early in the pandemic, the public health orders created a challenge to hold public hearings,” said Schmidt. “The good news is we’ve adapted. The Legislative Assembly of Alberta has successfully launched new systems trialed at the Public Accounts Committee, and we are now confident that we can hold open, virtual, public hearings on issues of critical importance to Albertans. The Kenney government must provide a venue for Albertans to legitimately have their voices heard.”
Lethbridge teacher Wendy Urquhart said the decision to sell the parks makes no sense, especially in an era of social distancing.
“Albertan families rely on these parks as an affordable summer vacation,” she said. “It's hard enough these days with our province's campgrounds at half-capacity. Now, there are 20 parks either fully or partially closed and 164 being sold off to third parties — what about our quality of life as Albertans?
“Once this protected land which has always been available for us to enjoy is out of the province's hands, Albertans will have no say in the matter.”
MLA Schmidt noted there is a Bill before the Legislature currently that will allow consumption of alcohol in the parks. He said it’s hypocritical for Jason Kenney to be selling some of them off at the same time.
“I have no problem with moves to expand the fun in Alberta’s parks,” Schmidt said. “But if the government has the time to debate drinking in parks, they have the time to talk to Albertans about their plans to turn them over to private enterprises.”