We were amused by yet another announcement of major expenditures to improve Manitoba's parks system. The minister may announce often; let's hope he only spends once.
A close look at Conservation Minister Gord Mackintosh's figures for the "historic" Whiteshell development, as reported in the July 20 Free Press, prompts some salient observations.
First, much of the money targeted for these projects has already been spent. Second, all of the projects have been publicized by the ministry before. Third, by far the bulk of the projects have no benefit for cottagers. Finally (and ironically), the minister has plans to pick the pockets of cottagers to cover much of the remaining costs for Whiteshell development.
It makes no sense for cottagers to pick up the tab for "infrastructure" they will never use. For example, new washrooms, showers, Wi-Fi service and water and sewage treatment for campgrounds will be wonderful for campers, but cottagers already pay for their own water services and telecommunications.
Similarly, cottagers are not the primary beneficiaries of the "downtown development" at West Hawk Lake, nor of many of the other big ideas of the government for parkland development.
In the case of services of value to cottagers, for example, the new dock at MacDougall's landing at West Hawk Lake was completed two years ago, yet it is still being counted in the new infrastructure category.
In reality, the old dock should have been condemned as a safety hazard years before. To add insult to injury, parks didn't bother to consult with users over the design and capacity of the new dock so, in the end, money was squandered on rebuilding an inadequately sized launch and boat-port facility.
It is also notable this same inadequate docking facility and a garbage-collection cage are the only two tangible services provided by parks to more than 60 cottages at the north end of West Hawk Lake. These cottagers already pay an annual service fee of about $400 for boat docking and garbage collection, both for four months per year. The minister wants to triple this already outlandish service fee.
While the minister threatens to raise the cottager fees to cover all kinds of general services, he also keeps promising an even-handed user-pay system for the parks. Cottagers agree they should pay for the services they receive, but their problem is the ministry systematically fails to follow the very rules of transparency required by the Parks Act. While parks services decline visibly, the ministry keeps the details of its revenues and expenses secret. The only way the ministry can stake a claim to fairness is by opening the books, as required by law. One can only guess they would be embarrassed by the truth.
Whiteshell cottagers have waited five years for parks to live up to obligations of the Parks Act to provide park stakeholders with full accounting of actual revenues and expenses and a forward-looking budget. Their failure to do so casts serious doubt on both the integrity and capability of the minister and his department.
Tom Walker is president and Daniel Klass is president elect of the Whiteshell Cottagers Association Inc., which represents about 5,000 cottagers in the Whiteshell.