Parks Canada’s capital budget plummets as agency works on new plan for crumbling assets – Mission City Record

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The capital budget for Canada’s national parks and historic sites is being cut by more than two-thirds this year, even though more than 30% of the agency’s assets remain in poor or very poor condition.

Parks Canada has also just experienced a second year of lost revenue due to the effect of COVID-19 on visitor numbers.

The government’s Main Estimates released this spring allocate a capital budget of $138 million, down from $448 million spent last year and $556 million in 2020-21.

Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault told the House of Commons Environment Committee last week that a “time-limited” infrastructure program allowing the agency to upgrade its assets was over.

“The agency is developing a long-term plan for the management and sustainability of its infrastructure,” he said.

A 2021 Parks Canada report on the state of its assets says the agency has a portfolio of $26.6 billion in assets, including everything from historic buildings and structures to highways, bridges, canals and lighthouses. .

A 2012 assessment identified that more than half of the agency’s assets were in poor or very poor condition. A second assessment, completed in 2018, said it had improved, but 40% were still in poor or very poor condition. The remaining 60% were rated in fair or good condition.

Guilbeault said last week that the pass or good number is now at 69%. That leaves 31 percent in poor or very poor condition.

In 2020, Parks Canada reported that 274 heritage assets, including 145 buildings, were in poor or very poor condition. Another 1,697 contemporary assets, including 198 bridges, 47 roads, 685 buildings, and 149 roads, were in poor or very poor condition.

Parks Canada said in a statement that it has spent $4.2 billion since 2015 on 1,000 projects to repair 5,000 of its assets. Projects include $91.8 million to completely renovate Province House in Charlottetown, $57.3 million to repair and stabilize lockstations, canal walls, wharfs and buildings along the Rideau Canal, and $5.9 million to repair walls, buildings and the water and sewer system in Lower Fort Garry, Manitoba.

The 2018 report, by a New Zealand consulting firm, suggested Parks Canada needed to invest $9.5 billion to repair its assets, and also needed $1.6-3.3 billion to prepare its assets. parks and sites to withstand increased rainwater, flooding, fires and other damage expected due to climate change.

The agency said in its 2021 statement on its assets that it had completed a climate change risk assessment. Its parks have been hit hard by extreme weather in recent years, including 19,303 hectares of Waterton Lakes National Park burned by a wildfire in 2017, or nearly 38% of the park.

The fire damaged roads, bridges, picnic and parking areas, affected 80% of the hiking trail network, and destroyed campgrounds, stables, staff quarters, and systems. water and electricity.

In 2019, Post-Tropical Storm Dorian destroyed 80% of the trees at Cavendish Campground in Prince Edward Island National Park and eroded two to four meters of its shoreline. The same storm damaged 97 km of cross-country trails in Kejimkujik National Park and National Historic Site in Nova Scotia.

Prior to the pandemic, Parks Canada averaged more than 24 million visitors per year, not counting the record year of 2017-2018 when free admission to the celebration of Canada’s 150th anniversary drew more than 27 million tourists to the parks and historic sites.

In 2020, when Canada closed the border to most international visitors and some provinces rolled up their welcome mats even for tourists from other provinces, park attendance dropped 27% and visitors to historic sites by 39%. Parks were closed for two months in 2020, and many historic sites were closed year-round.

Attendance rebounded last year, but remains well below pre-pandemic levels with 21.5 million total visitors.

The 2020 decline means revenue from admissions, lodging, tours, rentals and retail fell 37% to just over $100 million. Earnings for 2021-22 have yet to be reported.

Parks Canada President Ron Hallman says it’s hard to predict what will happen this summer because international tourism is still a big unknown.

“We look forward to a good year ahead,” he said last week. “It’s hard to predict what will happen to international travel, but domestic usage has been strong.”

International travelers to Canada have increased from 31.6 million the year before the pandemic to 1.5 million in 2020-2021 and about five million in 2021-2022. The border is now open to fully vaccinated visitors and travel is starting to rebound.

—Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press

Federal PolicyParks Canada

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