Parks Canada cuts hurting tourism, visitors say
Tourism operators, history buffs fear staff reductions will impact end-of-year school trips
Tourism operators and historians fear students and other visitors to national parks will soon feel the impact of cuts announced last year to Parks Canada.
Parks Canada plans to cut back on staffing levels at many of its national parks and historic sites after its budget was reduced by $29 million.
The Public Service Alliance of Canada says 432 Parks Canada positions in the Atlantic region were either cut or the employees' hours were reduced.
Jim Turk, an official with the Canadian Association of University Teachers, said the organization has just launched a campaign called, "Canada's Past Matters," to fight federal cuts to history programs, including the maintenance of Canada's historic sites.
Turk said he is upset about the reductions because staffing those sites doesn't cost the Canadian government a lot of money.
"The total amount cut for this coming year is equivalent to one one-thousandth of the cost of one of the jet fighters we're buying," he said.
Interpretive staff at many national historic sites in the region will not begin their work until July — a week or two after school ends.
Ellen Tucker, the owner of Freedom Tours, a travel agency in Saint John, said Parks Canada has been unable to provide basic information about its summer operations.
Tucker said children in the Maritime provinces may get short-changed this year and tourists will find their experience less rewarding.
"They get the full story from the interpreters," she said.
"If we don't know if those programs are going to be available or not, it really changes the whole flavour of what we're doing."
Tucker said she needs to know interpretive staff will be available to handle large groups.
She also can't book hotels or print itineraries for motor coach tours this summer until she can be assured staff will be there to accommodate them. To date, she said, she has received no guarantees.
"We have incredible treasures that we want to show these people," Tucker said.
"But we need answers."
Parks Canada said in a statement that it can provide interpretive staff for shoulder season visits by school and tour groups, however, they may have to be pre-arranged.
A spokesperson for Parks Canada says staff have contacted Freedom Tours, offering to provide information about programs and staffing levels at the parks and sites tour groups will visit.
PSAC anticipates 'public outcry' over cuts
Eddie Kennedy, the national vice president of PSAC, the union that represents Parks Canada employees, said he is not surprised to hear there will be no interpretive staff to greet students and other visitors in June or September.
He said he hopes "there will be a public outcry" over the cuts.
"It's inevitable that with the current cuts there will not be school groups or tour buses or cruise ships that find that the service they received in the past will not be the same," Kennedy said.
"It's going to make a huge difference."