Over the past week, Kootenay-Columbia MP David Wilks announced a series of new investments for National Parks in his riding, including both Yoho and Glacier National Parks.
The investment for Yoho will total more than $62 million, including extensive paving, guardrail replacement and slope stabilization work along the Park’s portion of the Trans-Canada Highway. It will also include the re-paving of Emerald Lake Road and new signage leading to Takkakaw Falls.
The July 17 Yoho announcement came one day after the federal government announced investments totalling $156 million for Glacier and Mount Revelstoke National Parks. That figure includes money set aside for paving, bridge rehabilitation and avalanche mitigations on the Trans-Canada.
The Kootenay-Columbia riding comprises Canada’s largest concentration of National Parks, making these upgrades an important realization for Wilks.
“All of the improvements within the National Parks provide for a better experience and that’s what we’re trying to work on and it improves safety as well,” Wilks said.
If he has his way, this will be just the start of investment into the Parks in this region, with Wilks having submitted a $5 billion proposal earlier this year in order to twin Highway 1 through Yoho, Mt. Revelstoke and Glacier National Parks.
“I try every year to ensure that I put in a budget submission for the Parks. My heart, my passion is to try and get the Trans-Canada twinned but it’s a big ticket item,” Wilks said.
“($5 billion) is a big pill to swallow when any Minister of Finance looks at it…but that’s the cost…as long as I’m still the member of parliament, my number one goal is to continually push to get the Trans-Canada twinned.”
For local NDP candidate Wayne Stetski, however, the latest investments from the Conservatives are a case of too little, too late.
“It’s been a series of cuts…funding cuts, staffing cuts and service cuts for a number of years now under the Harper Conservative government,” he said. “The figures speak for themselves really.”
In 2012, the federal government announced it would cut the $631 million Parks Canada budget by $29.2 million over three years. However, earlier this year, Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq told the House of Commons that Parks Canada’s overall budget had actually increased by 26 per cent since the Conservatives took office in 2006. Taking inflation into account, that figure is closer to 8.4 per cent according to the CBC and doesn’t account for expensive new projects, including the development of Toronto’s Rouge National Urban Park, which will eat up $14 million annually until 2022.
Parks Canada has also said that of its buildings, valued at $15 billion, half are in poor to very poor condition.