Parks Canada capital budget falls as agency works on new plan for crumbling assets

Ottawa — Canada’s national park and historic site capital budgets have been cut by more than two-thirds this year, even though more than 30% of government assets are in poor or very poor condition.

Ottawa — Canada’s national park and historic site capital budgets have been cut by more than two-thirds this year, even though more than 30% of government assets are in poor or very poor condition.

Parks Canada is also getting out of its second year of revenue losses, thanks to the impact of COVID-19 on the number of visitors.

The government’s main estimates released this spring have allocated a capital budget of $ 138 million, up from $ 448 million last year and $ 556 million in 2020-21.

Environment Minister Stephen Gilbo told the House Environment Committee last week that a “time-limited” infrastructure program for government agencies to raise assets to standards has ended.

“This agency has a long-term plan for infrastructure management and sustainability,” he said.

According to the 2021 Parks Canada Report on Asset Status, the agency has a $ 26.6 billion asset portfolio, from historic buildings and structures to highways, bridges, canals and lighthouses.

A 2012 assessment confirmed that more than half of the agency’s assets were in poor or very poor condition. A second assessment, completed in 2018, states that although improved, 40% were still in poor or very poor condition. The remaining 60% was considered good or in good condition.

Gilbo said last week that fair or good numbers are currently up to 69 percent. This leaves 31% in a bad or very bad state.

In 2020, Parks Canada reported that 274 heritage assets, including 145 buildings, were in poor or very poor condition. Another 1,697 modern property, including 198 bridges, 47 roads, 685 buildings, and 149 roads, was in poor or very bad condition.

Parks Canada said in a statement that it has spent $ 4.2 billion on 1,000 projects to fix 5,000 assets since 2015. The project includes $ 91.8 million for a complete overhaul of Charlottetown’s Provincial House, $ 57.3 million for repair and stabilization of rock stations along the Rideau Canal, canal walls, piers, and buildings, of Lower Fort Garry. Includes $ 5.9 million for repairs of walls, buildings and water and sewage systems. Manitoba.

Parks Canada needs to invest $ 9.5 billion to repair assets, as well as expected due to increasing rainwater, floods, fires and climate change, according to a 2018 report produced by a New Zealand consultancy. Damage.

The agency said in a 2021 statement on its assets that it had conducted a climate change risk assessment. The park has been hit hard by recent extreme weather events, including 19,303 hectares of Waterton Lake National Park, which was destroyed by a wildfire in 2017. This represents almost 38 percent of the park.

The fire damaged roads, bridges, picnics and parking lots, affected 80% of the hiking trail network and destroyed campgrounds, stables, staff housing, water and electrical systems.

In 2019, after the tropical low pressure, Durian destroyed 80% of the trees at the Cavendish campsite in Prince Edward Island National Park and eroded 2-4 meters of the coastline. The same storm damaged the Kezim Kujik National Park in Nova Scotia and the 97km background trail of the National Historic Site.

Prior to the pandemic, Parks Canada had an average of more than 24 million visitors annually. However, it does not include the record 2017-18, with free admission to Canada’s 150th birthday celebration and more than 27 million tourist visits to parks and historic sites.

Park attendance decreased by 27% in 2020 when Canada closed borders with most foreign visitors and some states rolled up welcome mats for tourists from other states as well. However, the number of visitors to historic sites has decreased by 39%. The park was closed for two months in 2020, and many historic sites were closed all year round.

Although attendance recovered last year, it is still well below pre-pandemic levels, with a total of 21.5 million visitors.

The 2020 drop-off means revenue from admission, accommodation, guided tours, rentals and retail sales fell 37% to just over $ 100 million. Revenues for 2021-22 have not yet been reported.

Parks Canada President Ron Hallman said international tourism is still a big unknown and it is difficult to predict what will happen this summer.

“I’m looking forward to a good year,” he said last week. “It’s hard to predict what will happen when traveling abroad, but domestic use is strong.”

The number of overseas travelers to Canada decreased from 31.6 million in the previous year of the pandemic to 1.5 million in 2020-21 and about 5 million in 2021-22. The border is now open to fully vaccinated visitors and travel is beginning to recover.

This report by Canadian Press was first published on May 13, 2022.

Mia Labson, Canadian Press

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