January 5, 2017 6:11 pm
Updated: January 6, 2017 1:59 pm

‘Free’ Parks Canada passes actually costing taxpayers $5.7 million

WATCH ABOVE: They may be free at the gate but national park passes are still coming with a price tag. Global News has learned $5.7 million is being budgeted to make and mail out entry permits even though they are free for 2017. As Jayme Doll reports, taxpayers feel it's a waste of money.

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As an initiative to celebrate Canada’s 150 birthday in 2017, Parks Canada announced it will be offering free annual Parks passes to anyone who asks.

As of Jan. 5, 2017 Parks Canada said they had already received two million orders for the free 2017 Discovery Pass.

READ MORE: Parks Canada preps for tourists during free Canada 150 year, conservationists concerned

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In an email Jan. 4, Audrey Champagne said Parks Canada is receiving $83.3 million as a part of Budget 2016 to encourage more people to use the national parks. Part of that money, $5.7 million, will be used to issue the free Discovery Passes for 2017. The rest of the money will be used to allow free admission for anyone under the age of 18 to enter the parks after 2018.

Natalie Fay, Chief of Media Relations at Parks Canada, defended the decision to still have people order a pass despite the cost even though there are no repercussions for visitors without one.

“It’s really that connection. When people order that pass, when people come to pick up that pass, it gives us an opportunity to connect with them that we may not have had before.”

READ MORE: Parks Canada hoping visitors will get a free 2017 pass, even though they don’t need one

Fay said that interaction still happens even when people order a pass online, because Parks Canada will follow-up with an email or sometimes a phone call.

Critics are worried about whether this is money well spent.

“This raises a concern about the administrative ability of this government. There seems to be an approach where it’s just spend out of control on anything,” Peter Van Loan, the official opposition critic for Canadian Heritage said.

“Cost is no object and nobody’s looking out for the taxpayer’s interest.”

Aaron Wudrick with the Canadian Taxpayers Federation is worried the $5.7 million may be an underestimation.

“This sounds like another case of an idea that was very good on paper and is now starting to cost a lot more than anyone anticipated in the first place,” he said.

Fay said the government will still stand to make money from visitors in the parks.

“So while admission is free, and we’re very happy to be able to offer this, there are still programs and activities that will have a cost associated with them,” she said.

According to Parks Canada, entry fees to Canada’s national parks generated $67.3 million in 2015 and 2016.

No one seems to be arguing how worthy Canada is for a vacation destination. In a New York Times article from Jan. 4, Canada was listed as the number one place to visit in 2017, in part because of the free admission to Canada’s 200 national parks to celebrate Canada’s 150th.

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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