It appears that Parks Canada has played its trump card in the ongoing saga of Sunshine Village’s ski area guidelines.
It was revealed this week the federal agency was prepared to not renew the lease for the ski hill if it did not accept the site guidelines proposed last year.
Site guidelines are required to set out future planning and development objectives for each ski hill located in a national park – Lake Louise, Sunshine, Norquay and Marmot were all required to have guidelines developed by Parks Canada in consultation with each operator.
One-by-one each underwent the process to set up the guidelines.
Sunshine Village was the last ski resort without an approved set of guidelines until last year when Parks Canada put forward a draft proposal around how to manage future growth and development at the ski hill.
While Canadians were asked to provide input into the draft site guidelines, Sunshine expressed concerns around the contents, even though it participated in years of negotiations.
It launched its own public relations campaign, asking those who enjoy the terrain and visitor experience Sunshine offers to voice their support for future development it wanted to see in the guidelines like proposals around parking, commercial space, terrain and lift capacity.
The longstanding dispute between the federal agency and Sunshine over parking on the access road, for example, was not settled through the proposed draft guidelines.
While Parks suggested mass transit, terrace parking and/or building a multi-level parking structure at the base of the mountain as options to deal with the parking challenges, Sunshine rejected those options and proposed its own.
Each side has its arguments, but neither seemed willing to find common ground to reach a reasonable solution.
Parks Canada has a duty to protect the ecological integrity of national parks for current and future generations. It also has a duty to work with private sector operators that are located inside the national park and balance their interests with the interests of Canadians. It has actively worked towards both those goals. Sunshine, on the other hand, also has a duty to Canadians as a leaseholder in a national park to establish these guidelines and subsequent long-range plans.
However, by using an ultimatum to not renew the lease for the ski hill unless its owners agreed to the terms set out in the guidelines by Parks Canada, the agency used its power to coerce Sunshine into agreeing to a deal it did not like.
Do what we want, or you won’t be able to continue to do business in the park is essentially the message Parks sent the ski hill in December. That is some heavy-handed negotiating tactics and dare we say not a very Canadian way to deal with things.
Sunshine Village, on the other hand, hasn’t accepted the guidelines laying down and opted to publish all of the documents publically to show the heavy handiness and unilateral decision by Parks Canada.
By giving Sunshine an ultimatum we have to wonder if the ends justify the means and whether or not it might backfire entirely?
If the past tells us anything about the relationship between the ski hill operator and the federal agency this may well be decided in a courtroom by a judge – ultimately costing all Canadians more money.