Alberta’s environment minister says his government’s plan to unload 164 provincial parks and recreation areas, along with partially or fully closing another 20, doesn’t involve the “sale” of parks, adding that was never the government’s intention.
The government announced last week it plans to close or partially close 20 parks and hand off the management of another 164 to outside groups in an attempt to save taxpayers money, calling it a “financially struggling system.”
The reaction turned to confusion this week because of conflicting messaging about the selling of Crown land.
In its original news release about the restructuring, issued Feb. 29, the government said it would be refocusing its energy “through the prospective sale or transfer to First Nations, or entities such as a municipality or non-profit.”
However, an information page on the government’s website didn’t include the word “sale.”
In a Facebook post published Wednesday evening, Environment Minister Jason Nixon said “the Alberta government is not selling Crown land as part of the parks restructuring. That is a false statement.” He reiterated that statement on Thursday.
“There’s never been an intention to sell the parks. It was never an intention to sell the Crown land — let’s continue to move around partnerships,” Nixon told reporters at the legislature.
“Some of the confusion is that when we deal with leases on Crown land, the word ‘sell’ can be around selling assets and infrastructure in place.”
Nixon said in his Facebook post that “Albertans will always have access to Crown land.”
His office said Thursday afternoon that aside from areas where aging infrastructure could be unsafe for users, even parks slated for “full closure” will still be accessible.
Press secretary Jess Sinclair said teams have not yet been able to conduct a full audit of the infrastructure, like stairs, to determine whether they are “in such a state of disrepair that they present a safety hazard,” adding that will take some time.
NDP Environment Critic Marlin Schmidt said the government isn’t being honest about its plans.
‘Once they’re gone, they’re gone.’
“Whether we are using the words ‘sale’ or ‘transfer,’ it has the same impact,” she said.
“These are areas in our public trust that should be managed by government. Private operators are not accountable to Albertans.”
One group of park users is taking a unique approach to trying to get the government to reverse its decision.
Samantha Chrysanthou, a Cochrane-based photographer, organized a campaign to have people send photos of their favourite Alberta park to the environment minister.
“We thought maybe what we’d do is an outpouring of love for these spaces and let the government know we need to have a conversation and not make unilateral decisions,” Chrysanthou said.
“Once they’re gone, they’re gone.”
Fellow photographer Darwin Wiggett said they “don’t want to be fatalistic and not try.”