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Our national parks are a public good - not a cash cow


The new year has brought forth a number of news articles highlighting Parks Canada's impetus to find new funding sources. While I'm not oppposed to creative ways to help offset costs, I am quite concerned with a trend that would obligate Parks Canada to finance itself as a for-profit corporation.

Our national parks are a public good -- like schools, hospitals, roads and the army. We hold our national parks in trust for all Canadians, and for the world, as part of our responsibility as a global citizen to protect our environment.

We need to be very careful that our national parks do not become viewed as cash cows, in the same light as privately operated facilities such as golf courses or Disneyworld, where users are expected to pay the full operating costs.

While park guides and interpreters are important service-providers, so are the scientists and those who measure the health of these protected ecosystems. They may not be in the front lines and their work may not be visible to us as visitors to the parks. Who will pay for the scientists if our parks become user-funded services?

Even from a purely economic standpoint, our parks are a huge benefit to all Canadians. A recent study showed that our national parks contribute more than $3 billion to Canada's economy. Is this not worth a small public investment?

And our parks do more than serve as campsites and look-off points for Canadians and tourists from other countries. They provide us with clean water and air - ecosystem services that would cost us millions to replace. They keep wildlife populations healthy and maintain the sensitive balance that is so crucial if we are to succeed in keeping nature in it's natural state. Natural spaces outside of our parks are often public lands with free access - but they are not protected for future generations the way our national parks are maintained. Is this not a public service that our society should value through our tax dollars?  

Canada's national parks protect spectacular landscapes and marine environments - offering a haven for wildlife that are under increasing pressure from human threats such as industrial development and global warming. The priority in managing our national parks must continue to be to protect their ecological integrity. Any revenue-generating activities within our parks must be respectful of that mandate.