Expand Alberta Parks to Provide Future Opportunities

Our Shadow Minister – Tourism, Culture, Parks, and Recreation writes about the critical role Alberta's parks system has in rebuilding a vibrant economy.

Originally published in the Rocky Mountain Outlook on September 10, 2020.

Jason Kenney promised jobs.

While the pandemic and world economy play a role in our current unemployment rate, it has been exacerbated by decisions of this government. It appears this government is hell-bent on eliminating our parks, forever damaging our fragile eco-systems.

While some resource extraction companies are Alberta owned, many are foreign-owned corporations that come to our Alberta small towns, spending locally – whether it be a new hockey rink or soccer pitch – and offering much needed jobs until markets shift and corporations disappear leaving hardworking Albertans unemployed, with a scarred landscape, broken eco-systems, and fractured communities.

There is an export industry that is far more sustainable than resource extraction.

The tourism industry is an export industry that brings market to the product. Members of the visitor economy often bring investment in other industries to the host region.

Globally, tourism is often the primary economic driver in resource extraction communities when the resource is either over-extracted or markets change. In Alberta, Canmore is a prime example. Canmore was a little mining town until 1979 and is now a haven for recreationists from across the province, country and globe.

Alberta has an opportunity to use tourism as a primary economic driver now – before markets disappear through resource extraction.

The Kenney government has stated that tourism is important to them, yet every policy change indicates the opposite. It is vital that Alberta not only maintains the current protected lands within the parks system, but actually extends it.

Pre-COVID-19, over four million visitors were entering Banff National Park with tourism representing close to a $9-billion industry across the province.

Banff National Park and areas of Kananaskis are starting to experience maximum carrying capacity on popular trails and at popular sites. The visitor experience is beginning to deteriorate.

There is a need for more designated, protected areas for recreationists; providing opportunities for Alberta entrepreneurs to create new sustainable enterprises serving the visitor economy.

Beyond looking at the economic benefits of the visitor economy, we must recognize that values-based investing (or socially responsible investing) is on an upward trend.

If Alberta puts a focus on sustainability – ensuring the pillars of the environment, economy, and social needs are in balance – it stands to reason that it will attract those companies that recognize the upward trend of values-based investing.  

Alberta has been blessed with one of the most diverse landscapes imaginable. We must be stewards of this landscape and protect our environment while using it for our long-term economic growth. 

There is a balance to be struck to ensure that future generations of Albertans have jobs, entrepreneurial opportunities, and pristine landscapes.  

Brenda Stanton is a Canmore resident and tourism specialist. She is the Alberta Party shadow cabinet minister for tourism, recreation and parks. 

The Alberta Party