Murray Beach Provincial Park not being privatized — yet
Tourism Department says storm damage and uncertainty over union contract stalled decision to privatize
The Department of Tourism, Culture and Heritage will not follow through on its plan to privatize the operation of Murray Beach Provincial Park this spring.
Last spring, the province said it would call for tenders in the fall of 2019, looking for a person or group to run the park, about a 75-kilometre drive east of Moncton on the Northumberland Strait. The park would continue to have provincial park status.
Local residents organized and held rallies, hoping to reverse the decision. They worried that jobs would be lost and that a private operator would try to fit more people into the park, aggravating existing water quality issues.
Robert Duguay, directors of communications for the Tourism Department, said people hoping the province will continue to run the park are getting what they want but not because of their efforts.
"Due to uncertainty around negotiations with CUPE 1190 and after significant damages sustained during Hurricane Dorian, the department decided to continue operating the park for the 2020 season," Duguay said in a written statement.
CUPE Local 1190 said its members have been without a contract since 2017.
Post-tropical storm Dorian hit the park hard in Septmber 2019, toppling more than 150 trees and forcing the park to close early.
Duguay said the department will "review the status" of the park at the end of the 2020 season to decide what happens next.
Stephen Robb, who lives in Murray Corner and visits the park regularly, said that when he first heard the government's intentions last year, he and others in the community formed a group called Murray Beach Action.
The group organized rallies and managed to get a meeting last September with Robert Gauvin, the minister of tourism at the time.
"The meeting went very well, they listened very carefully to our to our positions on this issue," Robb said.
He said Gauvin then called him to say the province would continue to operate the park.
"However, it was still their intention to turn it over to private operation at some point," he said.
The group has made itself known to the new minister, Bruce Fitch, but has not yet spoken to him directly.
"We are giving them a little bit of time to get his feet wet," said Robb.
Megan Mitton, MLA for Memramcook-Tantramar, said she's glad the province isn't enacting changes yet, and she hopes it never does.
"It's important that we maintain things like our parks in public hands. Then we have more accountability and transparency and we can maintain this sort of community ownership.
Mitton said Murray Beach Provincial Park earns more than it costs to run.
"The park, in fact, had a surplus in 2018, and so I don't understand the the rationale for privatizing the operations," she said.
"If there's the idea that it could be run a bit better or that there's money to be made, then why doesn't the government do that."
Mitton said there is also the question of employment. She wonders what will happen to the approximately 12 seasonal jobs the park supplies each year.
CUPE Local 1190 has eight members working at the park, seven of whom are casual employees who earn 80 per cent of a permanent worker's pay. They also don't receive medical benefits, pensions or job security.
"They barely get enough weeks for unemployment," said Brent Wiggins, president of the union. "I mean we're talking folks there that have 10, 12, 15 years" of experience.
But even with conditions as they are, Wiggins said every job counts, especially in a rural economy.
The area also saw the closure of the tourist information centre in Aulac last year. The tourism centre in Cape Jourimain closed four years ago.
The cutbacks and closures have spurred people in the community to work toward activating four local service districts: Murray Corner, Bayfield, Botsford and Cape Tormentine.
Robb hopes this will give residents more bargaining power with the province.
"We have no voice."