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EDITORIAL: Kananaskis Conservation Pass will be election issue for region

EDITORIAL: The Kananaskis Country Pass is about to become a key political issue for the next provincial election.
June 9, 2022
Cartoon by Patrick LaMontagne/

The Kananaskis Country Pass is about to become a key political issue for the next provincial election.

As one of the top areas to visit in Alberta, the NDP and UCP have dug in their heels on opposing sides of the future of the pass that will see it become a key battleground when the 31st provincial election takes place in the next 12 months.

To the surprise of few, the NDP formally gave its position on the pass needing to be nixed and promising that it’ll be a thing of the past if they gain a majority government.

In its announcement, the NDP highlighted the UCPs policies on coal mining in the eastern Rocky Mountains – which drew significant pushback throughout the province – and its lacklustre efforts to mitigate climate change.

But the biggest reason was the importance of providing affordable visitation options for Albertans and stressed how in its four years in power from 2015-19 roughly $40 million went into Kananaskis Country.

Though noble in stating they’ll revoke the pass, greater clarity is needed on how the NDP will spend money on the popular recreational area. The needs of the region will change year to year, but priorities are often identified several years out.

While hopefuls put forward names to take the helm of the UCP in the coming months – with Minister of Finance and president of the Treasury Board Travis Toews the early frontrunner – the party will unlikely back down from the paid pass system.

But if the pass remains, it’s a necessity for how much is collected and specifically where it goes be as transparent as possible. The existing system is anything but open and clear to residents.

On June 1, Alberta Environment and Parks posted on Facebook that a total of $11.9 million generated from the pass is being invested in 11 areas.

Though somewhat helpful in identifying projects, it does little to address the lack of transparency in the pass, and until an independent audited statement is released, those questions will remain.

In its first year, the UCP has said more than $13 million has been generated from the pass.

The UCP has backed up the Brinks truck this past year for the region, including $17.5 million for infrastructure upgrades to the Canmore Nordic Centre and more than $4 million in infrastructure repairs for Grassi Lakes and Goat Creek day-use areas.

The province has also tossed about $1 million to help with a free transit route to the Canmore Nordic Centre, Grassi Lakes day-use area, Bow Valley Trail and Quarry Lake to be up and running by 2024.

Though agencies are happy to see the investments, is it simply a sleight of hand with money from the pass being used to maintain the work that would’ve been completed through taxation?

The province has started its enforcement of the pass, which yields a $180 fine for those visiting without paying $15 for a day pass or $90 for the season pass. There are also exemptions provided to First Nations people with status, low-income Albertans and Kananaskis Improvement District residents. Exemptions can also be provided for individuals and groups work in the region.

The last seven years have seen visitation to Kananaskis Country grow in popularity, but it exploded in the last two years. In 2015, the estimated number of visits was just under 3.6 million and reached more than 5.4 million in 2020. Last year had slightly more than five million and those numbers are unlikely to dip any time soon.

The increased visitation means more logistics in ensuring trails are in good shape, garbage is picked up and bathrooms can be found become more of an importance.

Though early in the campaign process for the eventual provincial election, the future of the Kananaskis Conservation Pass will continue to be a storyline in Alberta.

Rocky Mountain Outlook

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