5 urban parks lose $540K in provincial money, Meewasin and Wascana under review

Five of Saskatchewan's urban parks are having their grants cut, the provincial government announced Wednesday in the budget.

Cuts needed to deal with tough financial times, government says

Wakamow Valley Park is one of five urban parks having their provincial grants cuts, the Saskatchewan government announced Wednesday. (Wakamow Valley Park)

An advocate for urban parks says tears ran down her face after hearing about the Saskatchewan government's plan to cut funding to five urban parks.

"I spoke to the minister and told him it would've been nice to hear this before because … I know it's going to be very difficult for these parks to come up with this money and maybe the cities will help, maybe they won't," said Nancy Styles, president of the Association of Saskatchewan Urban Parks and Conservation.
Nancy Styles says she was shocked to hear the provincial government suspending funding to five urban parks in Saskatchewan. (CBC)

On budget day the province announced five of Saskatchewan's urban parks — Wakamow in Moose Jaw, Chinook Parkway in Swift Current, Pehonan in Prince Albert, River Valley in Battlefords and Tatagwa in Weyburn — are having their grants cut, translating into $540,000 in savings for the province.

The Minister of Parks, Culture and Sport, Mark Docherty, told reporters shortly after the budget that tough decisions were made across many departments in this budget, adding the government is also reviewing its funding of the Meewasin Valley Authority in Saskatoon and Wascana Centre Park in Regina.

"Both parks are being reviewed in terms of expenses so we're in that process right now, but right now their funding is stable," Docherty said.

However, according to Finance Minister Kevin Doherty, that's not guaranteed in future years as the cash-strapped province undergoes "transformational change."

City governments can look after urban parks

As for the parks that won't see funding this year, Docherty said civic governments, which are receiving a record high in revenue-sharing, can use that money toward their urban parks.

"We trust and believe that municipalities are in the best position to make those decisions on behalf of their own municipalities," Docherty said.

But Styles, who is a city councillor in Weyburn, said municipalities such as Moose Jaw haven't funded urban parks in the past, so what's to say they will fund them now? She also worried about the condition and upkeep of Weyburn's Tatagwa park.

"We may get one per cent of the PST but I'm sorry it only goes so far, and all of the municipalities are facing other funding issues," Styles said. "So what's going to happen is, those parks are going to be scrambling for money. And if times are tough, how do you think things will roll out? They go downhill."
Minister of Park, Culture and Sport Mark Docherty says this was a tough budget. (CBC)

Meewasin worried about future funding

Lloyd Isaak, the CEO of Meewasin Valley Authority in Saskatoon, said this is the first he's heard about potential financial cuts to Meewasin, but he acknowledged that the province has been reviewing the organization's statutory funding model since December 2014.

"So today, hearing that all those options are on the table is a bit of a surprise and certainly something we'll have to try and work through over the course of the next while," Isaak told CBC News.

Right now the province pays approximately 20 per cent of Meewasin's budget to the tune of about $909,000 per year. Isaak said the board may have to start canvassing its other two funding partners, the City of Saskatoon and the University of Saskatchewan, to cover a potential provincial shortfall.

"I don't know what the future holds in terms of the funding model and the work Meewasin does, but certainly it's something I believe has a great deal of value and the river valley is our biggest identifier for the quality of life in Saskatoon," he said.
The Meewasin Valley Authority trails were along Spadina Crescent East. (CBC News)

Isaak added Meewasin has already let its partners know about the authority's steady decline in purchasing power.

"Our funding has been frozen for the last 30 years."

Isaak added Meewasin just finished up the Building Communities provincial grant and has hit a financial wall.  

"So even though we have a status quo budget this year, that will result in some impact to projects."

The Meewasin Valley Authority looks after Saskatoon's river valley trails including building trails to meet the demands in new communities with a particular focus on existing trail infrastructure.

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story stated the Saskatchewan government covers 45 per cent of the Meewasin Valley Authority's budget with $2.2 million a year. In fact, the Saskatchewan government covers about 20 per cent of Meewasin's budget with $909,000 a year.
    Jun 03, 2016 11:12 AM CT