A screen shot of the website in question.
Paul Clarke for the Fitzhugh, April 27, 2017
A federally registered lobbying organization with ties to some of the biggest businesses and organizations in Banff National Park recently launched a slick new website in support of the proposed Icefields Trail project.
The website claims to be backed by a group called the “Icefields Trail North Support Coalition,” however the Banff Lake Louise Hospitality Association (BLLHA) confirmed it is behind the website.
The BLLHA is a federally registered lobbying organization with 76 regular members and 31 associate members including hotels, restaurants and commercial operators in Banff National Park.
In a background document provided to the media, but not available online, BLLHA states the coalition includes seven members including Tourism Jasper, the Tourism Industry Association of Canada, the Association for Mountain Parks Protection and Enjoyment, Banff and Lake Louise Tourism, the Tour of Alberta and the Canada West Ski Areas Association as well as BLLHA.
None of this information is available on the website.
According to BLLHA, the coalition is a collaborative communication effort of tourism partners/associations, user groups and recreational enthusiasts aimed at ensuring Canadians are aware of and have an opportunity to lend their voice to the proposed project.
“Given that some individuals and organizations have come out to publicly oppose the Icefields Trail project, the coalition believes it is important that there is a voice for those who support the project,” the background document states.
“The coalition’s aim is simple: to help engage Canadians to become familiar with and ‘support’ the Icefields Trail project by amplifying the message and project details as presented by Parks Canada.”
Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) , which is also a federally registered lobbying organization, said people should be aware that the website is coming from a group that has an agenda.
“I would like to see more information about who is creating this website,” said Alison Ronson, executive director of the northern Alberta chapter of CPAWS.
“My feeling about this website is that they are putting it forward as though it is a great thing for all Canadians without disclosing the fact that they actually work for a minority of private interests.”
She acknowledged CPAWS has its own agenda, which is to protect Canada’s national parks for both current and future generations, but said her organization is open and transparent about their activities.
“We make sure all of our public information links back to CPAW’s website and our mission, vision and mandate,” said Ronson.
The website in question includes links to contact the Minister of the Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna and the CEO of Parks Canada Daniel Watson. There is also a link to complete Parks Canada’s public consultation survey, which ended on April 24.
Scrolling through the website users can also find background information about the project as well as a “fact-checker” countering CPAWS’ statements about the trail.
“All of the information is true, but I don’t necessarily think it’s informing the Canadian public 100 per cent about the impacts of this trail,” Ronson said about the website.
“In fact they state several times that it is ‘environmentally friendly’ but to flat out call it environmentally friendly before the detailed impact assessment comes out is misleading.”
She also said it fails to mention that the trail would go through an important wildlife corridor.
“There is a limited number of valleys in the Rocky Mountain national parks that allow wildlife to actually move through the parks, a lot of our parks are high alpine environment, so even though this trail might take a way a small portion of our parks overall it’s still going to have a very high impact on ecological integrity.”
The website states 99.99 per cent of Jasper National Park will not be affected by the proposed trail and that it will run parallel to the Icefields Parkway making use of existing disturbed areas to mitigate environmental impacts.
On April 4, Darren Reeder, the executive director of BLLHA and a registered lobbyist, sent a letter in support of the Icefields Trail to the minister.
The five-page letter explains why the minister should approve the trail and includes legislative context.
“In principle this project is consistent with our national park’s objectives for environmental protection while promoting the health and well-being of residents and tourists within both Banff and Jasper,” the letter states.
Marie-Pascale Des Rosiers, the press secretary for the minister, said the proposed Icefields Trail is currently in the conceptual phase and no decisions have been made.
“Strict development limits are in place to ensure the protection of ecological integrity in Canada’s national parks. Parks Canada remains committed to rigorous development review and environmental assessment process that ensures all development proposals comply with these limits and that a park’s ecological integrity is maintained.”
Lobbying public office holders is a legitimate activity which is regulated by the Lobbying Act.