Internal Parks Canada report looks for ways to make money by selling, transferring assets

Parks Canada hired KPMG to advise it on whether it should sell or transfer some of its non-core assets. CBC News obtained a draft copy of KPMG's report, which says highway tolls could be lucrative but are not viable given existing federal policy. Dams and bridges, however, are prime targets for sale or transfer.

Tolls on highways could net $85M a year for Parks Canada, but policy prevents it: consultant

The Bank Street Bridge over the Rideau Canal in Ottawa. A Parks Canada consultant says bridges and dams are prime targets for divestment. (Supplied)

Putting tolls on highways that run through Parks Canada sites in Western Canada could net the federal agency about $85 million a year, says a consultant's report on how to manage the parks' roads, bridges and dams.

But that revenue-generating measure is likely "off the table" because of a federal policy that requires alternate free routes through national parks.

On the other hand, the report identified 183 dams and bridges worth almost $1.3 billion as prime targets for disposal, whether through sales or transfers to other levels of government.

The aftermath of a mudslide on Highway One through Glacier National Park. Parks Canada is looking at how to better manage its non-core assets, such as highways, through possible sales or transfers. (Parks Canada)

"There are no apparent legal show-stoppers in terms of ability to transfer land under the dams and bridges to another entity," says the August 2018 report. "This should be examined more closely by PCA [Parks Canada Agency].

"Transfer to another entity is very likely to achieve the outcomes desired by PCA."

The findings are part of a $204,187 assessment by KPMG LLP of the potential divestiture of "non-core" Parks Canada assets — infrastructure items owned by the agency that are not seen as having heritage or cultural value and therefore fall outside its core mandate.

The 59-page draft report was obtained by CBC News under the Access to Information Act.

Parks Canada owns about 15,000 infrastructure assets — buildings, roads, dams, etc. — worth $17.5 billion; about $8.3 billion of that asset pool is considered non-core. About half the entire inventory is considered to be in poor or very poor condition, requiring up to $2.9 billion in deferred repairs.

The Liberal government asked the agency last year to prepare medium- and long-term plans for its asset portfolio. Parks Canada hired KPMG to start the process.

Five stretches

The KPMG report examined five stretches of the Trans-Canada highway in Western Canada that have the potential for road tolls. About 186 kilometres of the coast-to-coast highway run through Banff (which has two sections), Yoho, Glacier and Mount Revelstoke national parks.

The consultants reviewed 2017 traffic volumes and assumed a one-way toll of $2.50 per vehicle. Costs to build toll booths, staff them and cover overhead administrative costs were also calculated.

"[P]otential net revenues from tolling were estimated at up to $85 million per year," says the report. "This would be sufficient to cover the cost of implementation of a tolling system in the first one to two years."

... the analysis indicates that tolling is not a viable option.- Parks Canada spokesperson Dominique Tessier

A spokesperson for Parks Canada said that the draft KPMG report is preliminary and still being reviewed, and that the "analysis indicates that tolling is not a viable option."

"Parks Canada currently has no plans for divestiture of these assets and no decisions regarding future action or next steps related to Parks Canada's assets have been taken," Dominique Tessier said in an email.

She said the report was "exploratory" and will be finalized later this fall.

The report notes that current federal legislation forbids Parks Canada from transferring ownership of the land under the highways, and that tolling is not currently possible because of a federal policy that "requires ... a reasonable alternative 'free' route to be available to the public."

KPMG also suggests that Parks Canada could contract out highway maintenance to the private sector or other levels government to "better optimize" its operational spending.

The non-core bridges and dams "have moderate to potentially high pre-feasibility as a transfer candidate." There are 80 such bridges — spanning the historic Chambly, Lachine and Rideau canals and the Trent-Severn Waterway — that together are worth about $225 million.

Another 103 dams on the same waterways, as well as the Saint-Ours Canal, are estimated to be worth about $1 billion.

A British Columbia member of Parliament whose Kootenay-Columbia riding includes four national parks – Kootenay, Yoho, Revelstoke and Glacier – said he worries tolls could end up making visits to the national parks less affordable for ordinary Canadians.

Charged again?

"These need to be places that everyone can afford to go to and to get in without having to pay additional costs," New Democrat MP Wayne Stetski told CBC News.

"You've already paid for that highway once through your taxes. Should you be charged again through tolls?"

Stetski, who has experience working with the Manitoba and B.C. provincial parks services, said privatization could hurt small communities that support Parks Canada operations by drastically cutting wages.

"Parks Canada and the federal government need to factor in the potential impact on small communities of privatizing any of those resources, in terms of what it would ultimately mean for those communities being places (where) people can afford to live."

Stetski said that, at a minimum, the Canadian public needs to be consulted before any decisions are made.

Parks Canada operates 46 national parks, a national urban park, four national marine conservation areas and 171 national historic sites, including nine historic canals.

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About the Author

Dean Beeby

Senior reporter, Parliamentary Bureau

Dean Beeby is a CBC journalist, author and specialist in freedom-of-information laws. Follow him on Twitter: @DeanBeeby