‘Parks are not for sale’

Environmental groups push against privatization of provincial parks

Eric Reder, campaigner for the Wilderness Committee

Photo by Keeley Braunstein-Black

The Manitoba government has received fierce opposition from environmental groups for a recent motion that suggested a move toward privatizing provincial parks. 

As a response to the Request for Proposal put forth by the Manitoba government, the Manitoba field office of the Wilderness Committee launched a letter-writing campaign against applying a business model to provincial parks. 

“The mandate letter from the premier of Mar. 3, 2020 explicitly says private investment in provincial parks,” Wilderness Committee campaigner Eric Reder says. 

“We are in a biodiversity crisis,” Reder says. “One of our only tools for combatting the biodiversity crisis in this province is through parks and protected areas.”

Sarah Guillemard, the Minister of Conservation and Climate, did not provide a direct response to a request from The Uniter as to why the Request for Proposal was being forwarded.

A provincial spokesperson said the “primary objective of the study is to develop a business case for a new Manitoba Provincial Parks organizational model,” looking into ways to “modernize funding mechanisms” and “enhance visitor experience.”

However, Ron Thiessen, the executive director of the Manitoba chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS), says parks are not meant to be mechanisms of profit. 

“In Manitoba law, there are only three purposes for provincial parks,” Thiessen says. “The first one is to conserve ecosystems and maintain biodiversity. The second is to preserve unique and representative natural, cultural and heritage resources. The third is to provide outdoor recreational and educational opportunities and experiences in a natural setting.” He stresses that none of these include anything about financial revenue. 

Beyond being protected lands, Thiessen says parks are an investment in the health of Manitobans, and therefore should continue to be publicly owned and preserved for future generations. 

Reder adds that this isn’t the first time the current provincial government has acted against the interests of environmental causes. He cites the Manitoba government “very quietly” pulling out of the Protected Areas Initiative in 2019, which looked at areas to promote biodiversity and preservation of lands. 

“They very explicitly refused to protect more of Manitoba,” he says. He also notes that all provincial parks are on traditional Indigenous territory, and that privatization could have dramatically adverse effects on Indigenous biodiversity efforts. 

“We can’t allow the government to continue to make cuts to nature,” Reder says. “It’s time to hear a vision from our elected officials about what a parks province looks like.” He urges the public, and especially the opposition, to continue to push against the corporatization of parks. 

Above all, Thiessen emphasizes that provincial parks belong to the people of Manitoba. 

“Parks are not for sale,” Thiessen says. 

Published in Volume 75, Number 08 of The Uniter (November 5, 2020)

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