Politics

Consultants say 40% of Parks Canada real estate in poor condition

About 40 per cent of Parks Canada's buildings, forts, bridges and other items of real estate are unsafe or unusable, or require billions of dollars in major repairs, says a new report.

Better disabled access, and hardening against climate change, will mean huge bills for the government agency

Parks Canada's Fortress Louisbourg on Cape Breton Island. A new report says 40 per cent of the agency's assets are in poor or very poor condition. (Shutterstock)

About 40 per cent of Parks Canada's buildings, forts, bridges and other items of real estate are unsafe or unusable, or require billions of dollars in major repairs, says a new report.

An analysis the agency commissioned from an independent consultant says Parks Canada has deferred up to $9.5 billion in badly needed work – and ought to spend up to $3.3 billion on top of that to cope with the threat of climate change.

Parks Canada's current annual spending on repairs falls short, says the report, despite a $3-billion injection of cash that began in 2014 and is now about half-spent.

CBC News obtained the September 2018 document, produced by New Zealand-based Opus International Consultants, under the Access to Information Act.

Parks Canada paid the consultants about $1 million to review the condition of the agency's 16,618 assets.

"When reviewed, 24 per cent of the asset[s] were assessed as being in good condition, 36 per cent in fair condition, and 40 per cent in poor or very poor condition," says the report.

"Forty per cent is a significant percentage to be in poor/very poor condition, given the interconnected nature of the service that is provided by the PCA [Parks Canada Agency] assets."

Verifies findings

The agency now reviews the state of its vast asset pool — 46 national parks, 171 historic sites and other buildings, various bridges — every five years, and asked Opus to verify the findings of its latest catalogue from 2017.

Parks Canada is replacing the bridge over the canal in St. Peter's, in Cape Breton Island, which has been there since 1936. An internal report says many of the agency's marine assets are in bad shape. (Parks Canada)

In ordering the Opus work, Parks Canada acknowledged that "under-investment has been a chronic issue impeding the sound management and consistent life cycle management of the portfolio."

Opus directly inspected a sample of 252 assets in 15 locations and examined other data to produce an independent review, including a projection three decades into the future.

[We are] addressing deferred work on Parks Canada's assets across the country and considerable progress is being made.- Agency spokesperson Dominique Tessier

The company's engineers determined Parks Canada had low-balled the replacement value of the assets. Opus says the portfolio is worth $24.1 billion — a figure one-third higher than the $18 billion estimated by the agency's own staff.

The report says that at current low rates of repair, the average condition of the portfolio will decline further over the next 33 years, as more assets fall into poor or very poor condition.

The consultants also noted that the portfolio is not welcoming enough for disabled visitors and estimate that Parks Canada needs to spend $428 million on making its parks and facilities more accessible.

They also say climate change will batter Parks Canada assets with heavy rain and flooding, forest fires and salt water damage. The consultants say protecting parks assets from climate damage will cost between $1.66 billion and $3.3 billion, though they caution the figures are only an "initial indication."

Finally, Opus notes Parks Canada has budgeted $140 million annually to maintain its assets, in addition to special cash injections coming largely from a non-agency budget that have added up to more than $3 billion between 2014 and 2017.

The consultants estimate the agency needs to spend between $825 million and $900 million each year to maintain the average state of the portfolio, aside from any accessibility and climate change-related cash infusions.

Developing plan

A spokesperson for the agency, Dominique Tessier, said Parks Canada has spent only about 48 per cent of the $2.6 billion it was promised from the federal infrastructure investment program.

The Garrison Graveyard at Fort Anne in Annapolis Royal, N.S. A consultant estimates Parks Canada has deferred some $9.5 billion in needed repairs to its assets across the country. (Parks Canada/The Canadian Press)

The program is "addressing deferred work on Parks Canada's assets across the country and considerable progress is being made," she said. "The work completed through the federal infrastructure program will restore and improve the condition of Parks Canada's assets."

Tessier said the agency is also developing a long-term plan "to ensure the effective management and ongoing sustainability of its infrastructure portfolio."

In the meantime, on Jan. 1, 2020, Parks Canada is introducing admission fees at five sites that were previously free of charge, and is increasing fees by a 2.2 per cent adjustment for inflation at 19 other sites — all to ensure visitors pay a fair price that doesn't undercut private operators.

Tessier said the new revenues will be "re-invested in the same places where they are collected to support visitor programs, services and facilities."

The places being hit with new admission fees are: Grasslands National Park in Saskatchewan ($5.80); Bruce Peninsula National Park, Ont. ($7.80); Georges Island National Historic Site, Nova Scotia ($7.80); S.S. Keno National Historic Site, Yukon ($3.90); and S.S. Klondike National Historic Site ($3.90).

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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