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NDP renews calls to revoke Kananaskis Conservation Pass

“This is a much-needed step towards making the outdoors the accessible and affordable experience.”

The NDP is again calling upon Alberta’s government to revoke the Kananaskis Conservation Pass.

Banff-Kananaskis MLA Sarah Elmeligi is criticizing the UCP for what she describes as a lack of transparency around the allocation of pass revenue and the high costs associated with accessing Alberta’s parks and natural areas. She argues that removing the pass is necessary.

“This is a much-needed step towards making the outdoors the accessible and affordable experience Albertans deserve,” she said at a press conference on Friday (May 17).

Elmeligi further cited ongoing resource development plans in Kananaskis conflicting with recreation interests and recent UCP-led investments from pass revenue into volunteer-based trail organizations to build and maintain trail networks in some of the same areas planned for logging, such as West Bragg Creek and Moose Mountain.

Bragg Creek Trails receives a yearly grant of $300,000 from Alberta Forestry and Parks.

“This has created a mess of user conflict, upset communities, upset recreationists, and the UCP has just walked away from the mess that they’ve created,” Elmeligi said, adding that she’s received “hundreds” of emails from concerned constituents.

She noted Alberta had the highest inflation rate in the country over the last year at 4.2 per cent, according to the Consumer Price Index, raising the cost of groceries, gas and other necessities.

In 2021, the UCP also introduced a $30 annual fee, or $20 three-day fee, for random camping on Alberta Crown lands. In 2022, it doubled reservation fees from $5 to $10 at Alberta Parks campgrounds to recover lost revenue from no-shows and last-minute cancellations.

The province announced in a statement that as of May 1, 68,429 Alberta Parks campsite reservations have been made in 2024, representing 231,151 nights of camping.

Elmeligi suggested that instead of raising the costs of camping and enforcing the Kananaskis Conservation Pass, the province should revert to the practice of covering park maintenance and improvements through the provincial budget.

The pass earned about $12 million in its first year in 2021-22 and $11 million in 2022-23, to which 100 per cent of its earnings are intended to offset costs of conservation efforts, search and rescue and infrastructure.

The Outlook reached out to Alberta Parks for comment and for information on how much the pass earned in its 2023-24 fiscal year and will update this story when a response is received.

Elmeligi also brought up enforcement costs of the pass, which the province is currently paying St. Albert-based contractor Global Traffic Group Ltd. about $166,000 per month to impose, on a three-year contract worth $2 million annually. An invoice in 2022 showed the cost was made public through a FOIP request and released by CTV News.

In the leadup to the 2023 provincial election, the NDP vowed to remove the Kananaskis pass and replace it with a donation program outside of general revenues, which would allow donors to receive a special licence plate showing they contributed to provincial parks. The program would have mimicked British Columbia's licence plate program, which raises about $5 million annually.

“If we get rid of the Kananaskis pass and parks are publicly funded, as they should be, we inherently have a little bit more accountability and transparency with those funds,” Elmeligi said.

In a June, 2022 ‘ask me anything’ video in her election run for premier, Danielle Smith called Kananaskis a place that “was always supposed to be that open-access space for Albertans.”

“The idea that we’re somehow going to improve things and improve the access by charging … what is it, a $90 park pass? That impacts families at a time when everything is going up for families,” she said at the time.

Elmeligi is urging the premier to own up to her statement and scrap the pass as the cost of living continues to rise.

“I am calling on Danielle Smith and the UCP to finally revoke the K-pass and properly plan and fund the conservation and land use development for this area,” she said.

The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada. The position covers Îyârhe (Stoney) Nakoda First Nation and Kananaskis Country.

About the Author: Jessica Lee, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

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