Blowing snow and treacherous driving conditions weren’t enough to keep Jasper residents quiet, with nearly 50 people attending a community town hall meeting at the Sawridge Inn last Wednesday.
The passionate residents from Jasper and surrounding areas gathered to voice their concerns regarding the privatization of the Canadian Rockies Hot Springs, including the Miette Hot Springs in Jasper National Park, and share fond memories of one of Canada’s most valuable natural treasures.
Special times shared at the springs
For Doris Setcher, the hot springs have been a place for joy and celebration for half a century.
“Fifty years ago, we celebrated our honeymoon at the hot springs. We celebrated there because it was the most reasonable place we could afford after university. It turned out to be a wonderful place for us, and we’ve been back to visit many, many times. Our daughter was even engaged there. Under privatization, it will no longer be a suitable place for young people to get engaged, spend their honeymoon and enjoy the scenery.”
Dawn Price is a long-time resident of Jasper National Park and has worked at the Miette Hot Springs for 16 years. She wants to preserve the hot springs for future generations, including her own children.
“We’re now seeing people who used to come as children bringing their own children. It’s here that families of today share a little bit of heaven with families from the past, relaxing and enjoying a piece of our heritage There’s a lot of heart and soul in the springs.”
Protect public service jobs
In May, 58 employees at Jasper National Park received letters saying they could lose their jobs, including 7 at the Miette Hot Springs, 19 at the Banff Upper Hot Springs, and 16 in Kootenay National Park.
“These people are your neighbours and your family members, contributing in the community,” said Kevin King, Regional Vice-President for the Union of National Employees in Alberta, Northwest Territories and Nunavut. “They are spending their money at small businesses in the Athabasca Valley and working alongside you to build a better community.”
Setcher also defended public service workers. “I think what the government is trying to do is undermine our workforce by bringing in cheap labour. I think our resources are valuable, and our people should be paid well for what they do.”
Christina Virlas shared this sentiment. “We have been here for 25 years, and we think it’s a gem. The history needs to be protected. The natural resources need to be protected. And the jobs need to be protected.”
Democracy is under attack
The threat to democracy was something John Croden, co-founder of the Jasper Young Citizens Committee (YCC), was concerned about.
“Aside from the loss of jobs, the future implications of the privatization of our Parks resources and services is very detrimental to our democratic process and local freedoms,” he explained. “Privatization, or ‘public-private partnerships’, is a Trojan horse to controlling our resources, limiting our democratic process and creating a monopoly in our daily lives. It’s very important that we exercise our democratic rights while we still have them and still have a voice.”
Ona Chafer followed up with a plea for action. “When I grew up, I always thought national parks were sacred and forever and wouldn’t be impacted. I’ve since found out that’s not the case. It’s all so very political and we need to stand up. This is about democracy. We have to maintain our democracy and get engaged. Let’s fight this.”
A pretense of a strong economy
The Hot Springs Enterprise Unit (HSEU) is a cost-neutral Parks Canada program, typically earning approximately $1 million in profits for the federal agency each year. Despite this, the Conservatives are choosing to sell it off, a choice that doesn’t sit well with Brian Lackie.
“I think everyone in this room would be here even if we knew that the hot springs were operating at a loss. But to know that they’re operating at profit, and still being sold off. It seems like such an insult.”
The long-time resident has lived in Jasper for 34 years and holds a strong sense of pride for living in the national park, something he says will dissipate with privatization of valued Parks attractions and services.
“Between the staff at the three hot springs, we have over 500 years of hot springs experience,” said Stephan Titcomb, a Banff resident and PSAC union representative. “You cannot replace that. The stories we have, current generations won’t have that. It’s a slap in the face to every Canadian.”
The fightback continues
Marianne Hladun, Regional Executive Vice-President for the PSAC Prairie Region closed the 90-minute meeting by encouraging ongoing discussion within the community and asking everyone to visit the campaign website, dontsellouthotsprings.ca.
“At the end of the day, you’ve confirmed the hot springs need to be affordable and accessible for residents, Canadians, and international visitors,” she summarized. “You’ve confirmed that a strong economy and good paying jobs that contribute to the community are important to you. The springs need to remain public; they need to remain Canadian.”
Similar meetings are being organized for the Banff Upper Hot Springs and Radium Hot Springs in the coming weeks and will be announced as the information becomes available.