Exceptions are not an option
Policies exist for a reason. They are there to shape what is and is not acceptable. They are there to guide governments through tough decisions. And they are there to ensure fairness and due process.
Of course, as with all other things, policies must also be revisited and amended from time to time to keep up with the ever changing times, but those changes are not to be made lightly.
Making an exception or wide sweeping amendment can have far-reaching effects.
And that’s something that Jasper could see in the not-so-distant future, if Parks Canada approves Maligne Tours’ proposal to construct a three-storey, 66-room heritage lodge on its existing leasehold.
That decision would be an exception to a longstanding policy that states no new outlying commercial accommodations will be considered within the park.
That policy can be found in the 2007 Redevelopment Guidelines for Outlying Commercial Accommodations and Hostels in the Mountain National Parks (OCA Guidelines).
During Maligne Tours’ public consultation last week, Amber Stewart of Parks Canada said that the agency is considering the proposal because it meets other park objectives.
Those include visitor experience, as well as cultural and environmental stewardship, opportunities.
The question, though, is do those benefits outweigh the risks of approving overnight accommodation at Maligne Lake?
The precedent that Parks would set by making such an exception could easily result in proposals from other businesses and corporations looking to profit from the park. Jasperites have seen that already—it only took Maligne Tours a year after the Glacier Skywalk was approved to announce its own intentions for a development proposal.
Parks’ policies are in place to limit the growth of our town and park to ensure the protection of our wild spaces and wildlife. If the agency is planning to hold true to its mandate of protection and maintenance of ecological integrity, exceptions to longstanding policies on limited development are not an option.
Kevin Van Tighem
December 5, 2013 at 3:09 pm
Well said. There is no visitor experience rationale for allowing a tour boat rental outfit to privatize one of Jasper’s most popular destinations. Visitor satisfaction is already exceptionally high based on surveys. A private resort would actually reduce visitor satisfaction by restricting access for the public – the people whose taxes and park entry fees sustain the park. Fancy language in their promotional materials notwithstanding, this is simply a real estate profit play by a few investors hoping to undo the achievements of principled Canadians who had the vision to protect Jasper in the first place and the determination to protect it against profiteering subsequently. There is no legitimate policy argument for allowing a new resort development at Maligne Lake no matter how creatively one might try to interpret the idea of visitor experience or pretend that a private resort would improve it. Let’s never forget who owns Maligne Lake. Not Maligne Tours. Not Parks Canada. We Canadians do. Leave it be.
Maligne Tours put on the spot
When given the opportunity to publicly question the proposal to develop a 66-room hotel at Maligne Lake, Nov. 27, Jasperites didn’t shy away. The 10 people who spoke up expressed their concerns with Maligne Tours’ conceptual proposal loudly and clearly, while about 40 others watched and listened.
Those apprehensions, voiced during the company’s second public consultation, ranged from concern over breaking Parks Canada policies to how construction could affect the wildlife that live in the Maligne Valley.
“If you’re going to do it in the summer time or the spring,” said Jeff Wilson of construction, “you’ve got calving, all sorts of birds in that area, the ducks looking to procreate. In the winter it’s out of the question … it’s a disruption for them in the winter time when they’re just trying to survive.”
Brad Kennedy, an architect hired by Maligne Tours, responded by saying, the company doesn’t yet know when it would undertake construction because it hasn’t reached that stage in the process. “Exactly when that timeframe will be, I don’t know. I think that’s where the environmental experts would have to help us.”
The Maligne Valley is home to a number of sensitive species, including woodland caribou, grizzly bears and harlequin ducks.
If Maligne Tours’ proposal makes it past the conceptual stage, Parks will call on the company to do an environmental assessment that will consider the affect redevelopment and overnight accommodation could have on wildlife in the area.
Jill Seaton of the Jasper Environmental Association said that assurance gives her little comfort.
“[These developments] have a way of going through. They get gently pushed through by Parks and that’s it,” she said, referencing the Glacier Skywalk—a controversial development that was approved by Parks despite large-scale opposition. “The whole process is wrong and the environmental assessments are wrong too; they’re a farce.”
The Skywalk, built by Brewster Travel Canada and set to open next May, was referenced numerous times throughout the public consultation as the reason for the public’s cynicism and distrust of Parks.
“I think if you were to canvas the public here and generally, there is no faith in Parks Canada,” said Wilson. “They have given us no reason to view them as the protector of our national parks system.”
In light of comments targeted at the agency, Amber Stewart, a land use planner for Jasper National Park, joined Kennedy and Pat Crowley, general manager of Maligne Tours, at the front of the room to field questions.
One of those inquiries was how Parks can even consider a proposal for overnight accommodation at Maligne Lake when its management plan states no new outlying commercial accommodations (OCA) will be considered.
“How does it come to be where we are today?” asked Terry Winkler, a former park warden. “There is a policy that said no new outlying commercial accommodations, so wouldn’t the answer be no right off the bat?”
Stewart said, if Maligne Tours’ proposal is approved, it will be an exception to the existing OCA guidelines, and noted that sometimes there are good reasons to revisit existing policies.
“It happens frequently that circumstances change and then we take a look at our policies because we have proposals that come along that might meet our objectives, whether it’s visitor experience or environmental stewardship or cultural stewardship. That’s the situation here.”
In response, Rocky Notnes, of Hinton, asked Stewart what makes Maligne Tours’ proposal so “special” that it deserves an exception to a long-standing policy.
“There are probably a few reasons, but again one would be the potential visitor experience benefits,” said Stewart. “I think the fact that there’s already a lease area there and a structure—a day lodge—that needs to be renovated or improved somehow, and the potential for improved environmental stewardship and cultural stewardship. There are a number of different reasons.”
Beyond the hotel, the potential visitor experiences outlined in Maligne Tours’ conceptual proposal include a low impact wildlife-themed maze, voyageur canoe excursions, earth-caching, The History of the Wardens exhibit, free twice-daily Wildlife in the Valley storytelling experiences, Aboriginal-themed storytelling experiences and themed food and beverage experiences, just to name a few of the 14 “experiential highlights.”
There is also a proposal to erect 15 tent cabins off the company’s existing leasehold on the footprints of the tent cabins that existed there in the past.
Speaking of the tent cabins, Monika Schaefer reminded those in attendance that the accommodations were there before Maligne Lake Road was constructed.
“That was when it took two days to get there by horse and boat and what not. There has not been accommodation there since access has been easy.
“This should not go ahead. I’m sure it would be beautiful, but not there,” she said.
The public consultation, Nov. 27, was one of two forums held last week. The other was at Fort Edmonton Park in Edmonton.
According to an Edmonton Journal story published the following day, 60 people attended the meeting and “many … took issue with a private, for-profit company making the public park experience exclusive to ‘high yield tourists.’”
With the first round of consultations complete, Maligne Tours will now make adjustments to its conceptual proposal and resubmit it to Parks Canada.
If that proposal is approved—a decision is expected in early 2014—the company will then undertake the work to complete a detailed proposal, including an environmental assessment. That proposal and assessment would then be subject to public review and comment.
To find Maligne Tours’ conceptual proposal, visit malignelake.com and click “Renewal at Maligne Lake” on the left hand side.
To provide feedback on the proposal, email it to email@example.com.
‘They’ve paved paradise and put up a parking lot’
The Brewster Glacier Skywalk went through despite all the opposition to it. It is up and it will be open to a fee-paying public within months. That project planted the seed of cynicism in my mind.
I now question whether my government and its institutions are actually protecting our national parks and the animals within their boundaries. The pursuit of money appears to be winning out over the preservation of our last wild spaces. Our special sanctuaries, our national parks, are not being protected.
This week I attended a Maligne Tours presentation at the Lobstick Lodge. About 70 people attended. Maligne Tours is proposing a 66-bed cabin/hotel complex at the head of pristine Maligne Lake.
Parks Canada is seriously entertaining the idea! I am gob-smacked! An architect has been hired. The money is waiting to be spent. Shareholders rub their hands together gleefully.
My growing cynicism tells me some back room deal has already been struck…these presentations are just a charade.
Pioneers from the past; Mary Schaeffer, Curly Phillips and Bill Ruddy are having their names woven into the magical reasons for erecting such a structure. I wish I could raise them from the grave and hear what they really would have to say about this! The presenters say it has something to do with enhancing the tourist experience.
Today I have attended my first ever Jasper Environmental Association meeting. I felt compelled to do so. I doubt my ability to be heard. Perhaps by joining forces with other like-minded people we can stop this mad proposal from actually going through.
Will our voices register with those in positions to stop this? I will be giving it my ALL. Corny though it may sound, I have an obligation to the earth, its animals and my children’s children’s children to register my opposition to further development within our national parks.
“You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone,” Joni Mitchell.
Newest member of the Jasper Environmental Association