Ben Gadd’s letter to “the enemy”.

Updated December 12, 2013

 

From Parks Canada’s official website for Jasper National Park, December 11th, 2013:

To receive a copy of Maligne Tours’ proposal and information on their public engagement process please visit their website at: http://www.malignelake.com/renewal.html 

Comments on the proposal can be directed to comments@malignelake.com 
NOTE: Any comments about the Maligne Tours Redevelopment Proposal received by Parks Canada will be forwarded to Maligne Tours for their consideration. 

What? I’m supposed to send my comments about a major Maligne Tours development proposal to their website, not to Parks Canada, the decision-maker? In fact, “Any comments about the Maligne Tours Redevelopment Proposal received by Parks Canada will be forwarded to Maligne Tours for their consideration.”

Whoa. This is perverse. Parks Canada has slipped a long way down a dangerous slope.

Until 1975 Parks Canada held public hearings about controversial proposals, with the decision-makers in attendance and the press on hand. Everyone heard what everyone else had to say. Highlights were reported in the evening news. In some cases, such as the 1969 hearings about government plans to build new roads in the four mountain parks, or a 1971 scheme to expand the Lake Louise ski area, so many people were opposed and their arguments were so rational that Parks Canada saw the light and said no.

But not any longer. Times have changed. “Open houses” and “information sessions” are now the rule, not public hearings at which the government and the proponent could be taken to task by well-informed, articulate critics. We live in the age of the hidden agenda. Development decisions seem to be made in Ottawa even before the public knows what the proposed developments are.

Why the long downhill slide? My take is that Parks Canada reports to a minister of whatever government is in power, and since the 1980s we have had a string of right-wing governments that are overly beholding to business. Decisions are based on corporate political influence, not good research, good policy and good management. Public comment about some misguided commercial scheme can be overwhelmingly negative, as it was about Brewster’s recently proposed skywalk along the Icefields Parkway, for example, but the thing goes ahead anyway.

So I fully expect this to be the case at Maligne Lake. Public consultation has been biased and cursory. A lot of people have nonetheless participated in good faith, putting time and effort into voicing their objections. If past experience is any guide, they will be ignored. I’m guessing that Maligne Tours has already received the okay informally. Permission to build will be granted officially by the minister at a time chosen to ensure that few Canadians will notice.

My inclination is not to take part in this charade. Not to register my “nay” vote with Maligne Tours. However, if I fail to respond, then Maligne Tours and Parks Canada can say that I didn’t make my feelings known. That I didn’t care.

But I do care. I care a great deal. Maligne Valley was assigned to me to interpret back when I was a Parks Canada naturalist in the early 1980s, and I have loved the area ever since. This for-profit scheme to besmirch the lakeshore with a high-end hotel and glamour-camping tent-cabins — I think Maligne Tours is ramping up to entertain well-heeled Chinese tourists — is utterly evil, against everything that national parks stand for. Despite the slick and reassuring promotional material issued by Maligne Tours, overnight accommodation at Maligne Lake will hurt Jasper National Park terribly.

So I have spent several hours writing this letter and sending it to the enemy. I encourage anyone reading it to do the same, despite the foregone conclusion. Be sure to copy your thoughts to Parks Canada, too, which still has many employees who would do the right thing if they could without losing their jobs. It will be worthwhile to cc your friends and your political representatives and the media. The history of Parks Canada’s sorry excursion into industrial tourism will one day be written up as a case study in government corruption, and what was said at the time will matter.

Sincerely,

— Ben Gadd

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