A recent decision by Parks Canada regarding the national treasure that is Jasper National Park is cause for alarm. Given that Parks Canada is mandated to protect our landscapes and ensure ecological integrity for present and future generations, many Canadians are outraged by the possibility of a new ‘visitor experience’ development proposed for Jasper National Park.
The park, located in Alberta, is a UNESCO World Heritage site, admired for stunning mountainous landscapes and abundant wildlife. The proposed ‘Glacier Discovery Walk’ would see a roadside viewpoint along the Icefields Parkway (Highway 93) turned into a 400 metre interpretive boardwalk, complete with a glass-floored observation platform. The viewpoint, which overlooks the beautiful Sunwapta Canyon, would be built and operated by Brewster Canada, and thus effectively privatized. Visitors would arrive on site via shuttle bus, take a guided interpretive walk, and finally reach the vista point. In addition to the walkway and viewing platform, further amenities would be built, including washrooms, ticketing booths, and parking facilities.
If approved, many worry the project could set a perilous precedent of using our parks for profit. Instead of protecting Canada’s natural resources for present and future generations, Parks Canada’s focus could shift to visitor experience. Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party of Canada, stated, “Canada’s National Parks are not meant to be money-makers. They are primarily supposed to protect a range of ecosystems and to allow Canadians to appreciate the wonderful natural spaces and wildlife that we are so lucky to have in this country.” The beauty of Jasper National Park speaks for itself, and man-made intrusions should be kept to a minimum.
Worse yet, profits made from the Glacier Discovery Walk would not stay in Canadian hands – Brewster Canada, who would build and operate the project, is an American company. This begs the question– should American or other foreign private companies be profiting from Canada’s treasures? Ultimately Brewster Canada would value financial gain over ecological integrity, or the preservation of our unique heritage, which has potentially frightening possibilities. And once again, if approved, the project could set a dangerous precedent of allowing foreign companies to gain from Canada’s natural heritage.
Avaaz, a global civic organization, is campaigning to keep Canada’s parks in public hands. Their online petition (http://www.avaaz.org/en/jasper_development/?cl=1492650291&v=11853) has over 125,000 signatures, in an attempt to “save Jasper Park before it’s too late.” Thousands of other concerned citizens have written to Parks Canada and the Harper government in an attempt to have their voice heard. Stating they strongly value public input, Parks Canada will allegedly make a decision regarding the proposal late January.
“I just can’t believe we would have to pay an American company to see what is in our own backyard,” said Ottawa citizen Janet Robertson, 45. “It is just unbelievable that Parks Canada didn’t immediately act to say this is unacceptable.” Canada’s parks are a legacy truly worth celebrating – let’s keep it that way!