Group protests in Banff over hot springs privatization
Consultations between Parks Canada and local First Nations has delayed bidding
A group of people gathered in Banff Central Park Saturday to voice their concerns about the privatization of local hot springs.
The federal government announced its plan last year but bidding has yet to begin because consultations between Parks Canada and local First Nations are still ongoing.
"The concern is that once private, the cost to visit the hot springs would skyrocket," says Anita Mergl, a Cree woman attending the protest in solidarity with the Stoney people living in Morley. "It should be for everybody."
The privatization would impact hot springs in Banff, Jasper and Radium, B.C.
More than 300,000 people come to the Banff hot springs every year to soak in the water, which is kept at 38 degrees Celsius.
Admission to the Upper Banff Hot Springs, run through Parks Canada, currently costs $7.30 for an adult.
Protestors say that they are concerned privatization would turn the hot springs into an expensive health spa.
"It won't be affordable to the average Canadian," says M.A. Mackenzie, a local resident. "It'll turn into a health spa for people who visit Banff Springs or Chateau Lake Louise, people who can afford it."
Parks Canada says that it is hopeful privatization would not make the hot springs financially inaccessible.
"We're really excited about their ideas, the approach they're going to take to protect their existing market and attract new visitors," says Parks Canada spokesperson Tracy Thiessen.
The request for proposals won't be released until Parks Canada finishes consultations with all interested First Nations groups.
There are 20 who consider the three hot springs to be on their lands.