With less than 15% of Parks Canada’s budget covered by internally generated revenue that may be reinvested directly into park services and facilities, the federal agency remains vulnerable to shifting political whims and objectives. This vulnerability to political influence has led to the ad hoc and opportunistic creation of new parks, even as old parks suffered neglect. [OAG, 1983; Nielsen, 1986; Doern and Conway, 1994: 171] These politics of park establishment were pointed out by Canada’s auditor general over a decade ago and persist to this day, in spite of Parks Canada’s incorporation in 1998 as an independent agency
[Grewell, 2004a] As PERC’s Bishop Grewall has noted, “recreation policy may not be the best avenue for addressing welfare concerns. Because poor people use the parks less, they might like to see the tax dollars spent elsewhere than on public lands.” [Grewell, 2004: 8] Indeed, in light of the fact that those with higher incomes generally use the parks more than the poor, addressing such welfare concerns through parks policy is actually regressive.
…Local decision-making and flexibility in land-use management, planning, and pricing is vital. As Terry Anderson and Holly Fretwell of the Property and Environment Research Center (PERC), an environmental think-tank based in Bozeman, Montana, have observed, many of the problems in government-run parks have arisen not because of, but in spite of, the best intentions of park managers. Indeed, “their ability to manage environmental assets is severely constrained because they are not free to consider the benefits that might come from shifting both budget priorities and uses of some park land.” [Anderson and Fretwell, 1999: 5] For this reason, user fees for various recreational opportunities and services should be determined locally and should reflect the real costs of providing services, public demand, and ecological values. The provision of a wide variety of services can also be a way to respond to equity concerns: while not everyone may be able to afford a weekend stay at the famous Banff Springs Hotel, nearby hotels, campgrounds, and RV hook-ups provide opportunities to enjoy the parks on a more limited budget.
…Almost 20 years ago, the Nielsen Report observed that, “Ironically, the protection of Parks Canada’s mandate can best be supported by integrating the parks, canals and historic sites into the economy of the region in which they are located.” [Nielsen, 1986: 36] As our study documents, this integrated, cooperative approach to conservation can be achieved by localizing management and decision-making processes, creating new efficiencies by experimenting with various privatization options, and managing parks towards self-sufficiency, preferably through trust and other voluntary means.