Over the years, I have noticed two ways that governments go about privatizing. Which way they choose depends upon whether they see a public asset or service as being of value, or not.
When governments view a public asset or service as more of a liability, they feel it necessary to pump up its value, usually with last-minute investments, making the public asset or service more attractive to private entities when government is ready to privatize. By contrast, for a valued public asset or service, governments usually undertake a series of moves, over time, to undermine the value of a public asset or service to convince the public that it needs to be better managed or sold to private entities.
These are two different approaches at getting to the same end of privatization — and this provincial government is all about privatization.
On Oct. 16, the Pallister government announced, via press release, that it is "investing approximately $16.6 million in a variety of projects that will improve visitors’ experiences and protect the environment at provincial parks, while working to minimize the effect on cottage owners as the province modernizes the cottage fee structure."
This investment in Manitoba parks is sorely needed, as many of our provincial parks have been severely neglected by successive governments for far too long. But the timing of this announcement by the Pallister government warrants a little more attention than it is currently receiving.
Like any astute home seller knows, it’s always a good idea to make the up-front investment to spruce up the house — repair things in the house that need fixing; give the house a fresh coat of paint inside and out before selling. Doing so makes it more attractive to buyers. This is precisely the approach the Pallister government seems to be taking with this $16.6-million announcement to invest in Manitoba parks. Pallister is using our money to spruce up our provincial parks before he moves to privatize them.
In the single-minded quest to reduce the size of government during these extremely trying times, Pallister, in his Ronald Reagan-style "get government off the backs of the people" wisdom, has put out a Request For Proposals (RFP) that was posted to MERX on Oct. 13 by Travel Manitoba. The RFP is titled "For the Provision of Evaluating Manitoba’s Provincial Parks," and acknowledges that the province’s parks infrastructure hasn’t seen improvements for many decades.
Careful reading of the RFP reveals that it is obviously designed to determine which provincial parks are best suited to be privatized. The RFP seeks to "identify partnerships and P3 investment opportunities with the private sector ... to improve park infrastructure/services or decommission/transition parks to other models (i.e. other groups operate or own parks to service their local community)."
The RFP also asks what is required to generate more revenues from our parks, including assessing "options for existing and potential revenue streams including cottage fees, business fees, park passes, campground fees, service fees, special events, etc."
This much-needed $16.6-million investment of taxpayers’ money in our publicly owned parks appears to be nothing more than a sinister move on the part of the Pallister government to spruce up the parks to make them more attractive before offloading them to private entities that will then find creative ways to financially stick it to all varieties of park users.
I abhor the thought that we taxpayers should have to foot the bill to spruce up our parks, just so Pallister can then turn around and privatize the best of the bunch. Some things need to remain in the public domain, never to be run as a business. Our provincial parks are certainly in that category.
Parks are special places that give all Manitobans, whatever their socio-economic or demographic status, the ability to affordably enjoy the experience of nature, via a number of activities. But equally and perhaps even more importantly, our parks protect important habitat for flora and fauna.
The cost of privatizing our parks will be far too high, and not just monetarily.
Don Sullivan the former director of the Boreal Forest Network. He served as special adviser to the government of Manitoba on the Pimachiowin Aki UNESCO World Heritage site portfolio, and is a research affiliate with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives – Manitoba.