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Let’s Celebrate Parks Day by Reconfirming Our Commitment to Nature

Ottawa – Saturday, July 15th is Parks Day across Canada – an annual celebration of the nature and wilderness protected in Canada’s national, provincial, and territorial parks. Parks have been a big part of Canada’s 150 celebrations, with the federal government offering free passes to all national parks in 2017. This has captured Canada’s collective imagination and encouraged Canadians across the country to get outside in their local national park or to travel across the country to the special places they’ve always wanted to see.

Nature defines our life in Canada. It provides the water, air, and food we need to survive, and from many cultural perspectives nature – and the life it sustains – brings us together. It captures our spirits – there is a magical quality to our rocky shores, beaches, lakes, plains, forests, mountains, tundra, and wildlife that is undeniable.
Our parks and the Parks Canada Agency, which manages our national parks, are meant to embody that spirit. However, “in the last decade we’ve seen a worrying shift in national park management away from conserving nature as the first priority and towards tourism, revenue generation, and infrastructure development,” says Éric Hébert-Daly, National Executive Director of CPAWS.

Hébert-Daly states, “we have seen this in the approval of massive infrastructure projects such as the expansion of the privately-owned, for-profit Lake Louise Ski Resort in Banff or the proposal for a new $86M paved corridor through Jasper – both at the expense of endangered species’ habitat. We have seen it in the substantial budget cuts to nature and wildlife conservation while at the same time increasing the budget for visitor experience and tourism… while failing to fully grasp that the very experience people visit the parks for is nature and wildlife.”

To her credit, the Minister responsible for the Parks Canada Agency has taken steps to reverse this trend. In January, she launched a nationwide “Minister’s Round Table” consultation on our national parks, encouraging people from coast to coast to coast to weigh in on how their parks are being managed and what Canada could be doing better. The Minister has a legal responsibility to manage our parks with nature conservation as the first priority and to ensure that collectively, as Canadians, we pass our parks along unimpaired to future generations. Currently 46% of Canada’s parks are in fair or poor condition. Currently we are receiving a failing grade on our responsibilities.

There are many actions that the federal government can take to improve our record. Most urgently, Parks Canada needs to refocus on nature conservation. They must act on their promise to limit development in our national parks and require the most stringent environmental assessments for new proposals – after all, these are supposed to be our most protected places. They need to restore open, transparent decision-making so that all Canadians are involved in decisions that impact our parks, not a select few. They must reinvest in park science and ecological monitoring, and encourage nature-based education, interpretation, and activities as a way of connecting Canadians with nature. 

Parks Canada also needs to ensure this work is embedded in a reconciliation framework. Canada is in the midst of long-overdue and difficult conversations about reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples, and while national parks have been created and managed in partnership with Indigenous peoples in recent years, we must not ignore the long and sad history of Canada displacing Indigenous people from national parks. There remains much work to do to resolve these past wrongs and move forward on a more positive path.

We expect the Minister’s response to the national roundtable on parks later this summer. As part of the roundtable, she heard from thousands of Canadians that they want nature put first in our parks.

Says Hébert-Daly, “we hope the Minister will heed the feedback she has received from Canadians and set us on the right course: one that embraces and respects the inherent worth – and magical quality – of our rocky shores, beaches, lakes, plains, forests, mountains, tundra, and wildlife.”


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