KANANASKIS, Alta – With one year to go before Alberta heads to its 31st election, the NDP has announced that if elected it would remove the K-country pass put in place by the UCP last June.
NDP leader Rachel Notley announced the party's plans Friday (June 3) at Bowness Park in Calgary with MLA Marlin Schmidt – the NDP's environment critic – and Banff-Kananaskis NDP candidate Sarah Elmeligi.
“The UCP has shown they can’t be trusted to protect our environment. They refuse to take climate change seriously.” Schmidt said. “They have opened the door to coal mining in the eastern Rockies and at a time when Albertans can least afford it, they started charging families $90 just to spend time exploring Kananaskis Country.”
Notley highlighted the fact that $40 million went into Kananaskis Country during the party’s time in power, without imposing a fee to access the park.
“These parks belong to all Albertans, and we won’t put up barriers for Albertans regardless of their income,” Notley said. “If [Albertans] elect an NDP government, we will repeal the Kananaskis pass and make sure K-country is open and accessible to all.”
In the year it was launched, the UCP has said it has raised $13.3 million in revenue through 110,000 visitation permits.
In its 2022 budget, the UCP set aside $17.5 million for infrastructure upgrades to the Canmore Nordic Centre. It also had more than $4 million in infrastructure repairs for Grassi Lakes and Goat Creek day-use areas that will see those areas closed for the 2022 season.
The province also chipped in nearly $1 million to help fund a free transit route to the Canmore Nordic Centre, Grassi Lakes day-use areas, Bow Valley Trail and Quarry Lake in Canmore to be in service by 2024.
Jason Nixon, the Minister of Environment and Parks, said earlier this year that money from the pass helped created 19 new conservation officer positions. However, only six of those will be in Kananaskis Country. The UCP stated the money for those six positions came from the K-Country pass, but it lead to controversy with it being unclear where money from the pass was specifically going.
The ministry said the 21 K-Country conservation officers are $2.1 million in the region, not including enforcement vehicles and other operational costs.
Nixon also reiterated that under Alberta law by the treasury board, 100 per cent of money received by the pass has to go back to Kananaskis Country.
The pass costs personal vehicles $15 a day, while annual admittance is $90. Both are subject to a $5 transaction fee. Not having the pass can result in a $180 fine that started this year.
Notley criticized what she called a lack of transparency by the UCP over where the money raised from the fee is going.
“Since the UCP turned K-Country into pay-country, we have seen that the use of that money has not been remotely transparent,” Notley said. “They claim the revenues would go to Kananaskis but then they turned around and rejected our attempts to guarantee that in legislation.”
Asked how the NDP would provide upkeep and new services for the park without the fee, Notley stated it would come from the taxes Albertans pay each year.
“Our view is that these parks should be used by all Albertans and should be available to all Albertans regardless of the money they have,” Notley said. “The funding would come from general revenue and people would pay taxes and that would allow us to continue what has been a decades-long principle since the inception of the park.”
Elmeligi reiterated the NDP promise to continue funding projects without the pass.
“Even when we repeal the Kananaskis pass, all current projects will remain funded,” she said.
The UCP Minister of the Environment and Parks Jason Nixon said in a statement from his press secretary Paul Hamnett that the pass will help subsidize the regional operations of the park.
"Prior to the introduction of the Kananaskis Conservation Pass, taxpayers were, on average, paying $12 to $14 million annually to subsidize operations in the region regardless of whether or not they visited the area," Nixon's statement read. "Now, users are directly supporting regional operations. Moving forward, we anticipate the Kananaskis Conservation Pass will generate 75 per cent of regional operations, taking the burden off of taxpayers and providing the government with an opportunity to redistribute funds across the provincial parks system."
Kananaskis Country is among the most visited parks in the province. In 2020, there were roughly 5.4 million visitors and just over five million last year.
Notley also raised the original decision of Premier Peter Lougheed to create the park after he apparently saw the area from a helicopter. Kananaskis Country would be created in 1978 under his Progressive Conservative government.
“What I know is that Kananaskis Park was developed by the people of Alberta for the people of Alberta so that everyone could have access to it,” Notley said. “It has functioned that way successfully since it was first opened in line with the vision Premier Peter Lougheed had. It has worked well for decades and there was no need to change that vision.”
Estimated number of visits to Kananaskis Country
- 2015: 3,597,678
- 2016: 3,706,633
- 2017: 3,733,772
- 2018: 3,793,782
- 2019: 4,111,942
- 2020: 5,412,443
- 2021: 5,015,423