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Village decries cuts at Nahanni
Parks Canada says visitor experience won't be affected

Roxanna Thompson
Northern News Services
Published Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Village of Fort Simpson is calling on Prime Minister Stephen Harper to reexamine reductions made to the jobs of Nahanni National Park Reserve employees.

NNSL photo/graphic

The Village of Fort Simpson says reducing employee positions at the Nahanni National Park Reserve Prime Minister Stephen Harper is turning his back on promises that were made when he announced the expansion of the park in August 2007. - NNSL file photo

On Aug. 8, 2007 Harper visited the village to announce the expansion of the park from 4,766 square km to approximately 28,000 square km.

"He was glowing in the limelight of making this announcement," said Sean Whelly, the mayor of Fort Simpson.

That and the preservation of community-based jobs were among the first things Whelly said he thought about when he heard about the cuts that were being made to Parks Canada. Whelly said management at the park informed the village that up to the equivalent of 5.5 years of employment could be lost through cuts and shortened work seasons.

"It's a big negative on a small town," Whelly said.

Reductions are the opposite of what was promised

The reductions are the opposite of what was promised when the park was expanded, he said. The expansion was to create new park jobs that would have benefited the village and its tourism industry, said Whelly.

Whelly said he expects the reductions to do the opposite. Tourists who come to the park might have a less rich experience and that information will spread by word of mouth. The reductions could result in a decrease in tourist numbers or at least a slower increase than would have otherwise happened.

"Anyone who's ever visited the park, I think, would say this is not a good idea," he said.

Because the expanded park is relatively new and doesn't have a large bureaucratic overhead, most of the reductions will be borne by front-line park service providers who are local residents, said Whelly.

The overall effect and economic impact on the community has yet to be seen, he said.

Chuck Blyth, the former superintendent of the Nahanni National Park Reserve, said he is also concerned on a number of levels about the effect the cuts and reductions will have.

By speaking with park's staff, Blyth said he also concluded more than five years of employment will be lost through cuts or reductions to jobs in both Fort Simpson and Nahanni Butte including 2.5 years in positions related to visitor experience and 1.45 years in conservation.

National parks are dedicated to the benefit, use and enjoyment of all Canadians and the reductions will affect this, Blyth said. The front line people who serve the visitors and monitor the park are having the length of their positions cut in some cases from half a year to three months.

A three-month job doesn't give people enough time to put down roots in the community and also puts them on unemployment longer, which won't save the federal government money, said Blyth.

Park employees could also react in such a way as to make the park more expensive to run, Blyth said. Most of the park employees live on the job working in remote back-country positions where they only get paid for 7.5 or eight hours. They do this because they love the job, said Blyth.

The employees could, instead, choose to follow their collective agreement exactly. That would involve demanding overtime for helping visitors who arrived at the park after work hours. Employees could also refuse to do longer shifts in the park, which would mean Parks Canada would have to pay for more flights in and out, he said.

The ecological integrity of the park will also be affected, said Blyth. With fewer staff, the park will be hard pressed to report, monitor, permit and regulate the nearby mines and the roads to the mines that run through the park.

There are complications when you cut the people who work in the field, he said.

Rob Kent, the field unit superintendent for the southwest, Northwest Territories, said the changes at the park are not as extensive as people in the village believe.

Sixty-five Parks Canada employees across the three territories are being affected by job cuts or shortened work seasons. Of those positions, five are in the Nahanni National Park Reserve.

Kent said five positions will have shorter seasons resulting in the equivalent of a 1.75 year reduction, and not 5.5 years as the village believes. No jobs are being cut, he said. There are currently nine vacant positions at the park that are in the process of being filled.

Peak season in July and August

Kent said the federal government asked Parks Canada to align jobs with when demand in specific parks is at its highest. In the case of the Nahanni National Park Reserve, the peak season is primarily in July and August and a bit of June and staff resources have been concentrated on those periods.

"We aren't expected to see any impact in the level of service to the highest demands on the Nahanni National Park Reserve," Kent said.

Kent said Parks Canada and the federal government remain committed to the co-operative management agreement for the park with Dehcho First Nations and the expansion of the park.

Parks Canada also has a capital plan with more than $3 million slated for the expansion of staff and visitor reception facilities in both Nahanni Butte and Fort Simpson. Parks Canada is continuing to work with the bands in both communities to explore options on how to create those facilities, Kent said.

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