Lease of St. Ambroise provincial park touted in Manitoba briefing note as 'template' for things to come
Government looking to explore additional public-private partnerships at provincial parks
Manitoba's decision to turn over the running of a provincial park to a private operator may be a sign of things to come.
A government briefing note, obtained by the Opposition New Democrats through a freedom of information request, describes the commercial leasing of St. Ambroise Beach Provincial Park as a "template for future potential partnerships in parks."
The 2020 document gives one example as a P3 partnership, in which the government and private sector collaborate to run public infrastructure and/or deliver services.
In question period on Thursday, NDP environment critic Lisa Naylor argued the leasing of St. Ambroise Beach Provincial Park, 80 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg, isn't a model worth following.
Naylor said the St. Ambroise lease is a step toward the privatization of provincial parks. The government has argued against that at every turn.
Always the plan: NDP
"The operator privately operates the campground, sets their own rates to rent campsites and day permits," Naylor said, after the NDP presented the internal briefing note during question period.
"And as we have just heard in this House, of course, this was the game plan; it was always the game plan."
The lease agreement took effect this year.
There was an uproar in spring when some people visiting St. Ambroise were told their provincial park passes were invalid for entry. The government said any confusion has been cleared up and those passes indeed work.
The park has not been sold, as Manitoba continues to own the public park. The government has defended its decision to lease it, saying a local operator is upgrading a park that suffered extensive flood damage a decade ago.
"The province's partnership with this service provider is enabling St. Ambroise Beach Provincial Park to be revitalized and to recover from the previous damage, and ensures Manitobans have access to nature there while enjoying its services and facilities and supporting economic development as part of Manitoba's pandemic recovery efforts," said a previous government statement.
A spokesperson for Conservation and Climate Minister Sarah Guillemard said the 2020 briefing note refers to potential partnerships for "parks that need significant investments in order to be functional. It is an option to provide services sooner for specific areas, but this is not a template for all parks."
Other provincial parks have arrangements where a service provider charges camping fees, the province said.