EDITORIAL: Kananaskis Conservation Pass will be an election issue for the region

EDITORIAL: The Kananaskis Country Pass is set to become a key political issue for the upcoming provincial election.

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

As one of the main areas to visit in Alberta, the NDP and UCP have dug their heels on opposite sides of the future of the pass which will see it become a key battleground when the 31st provincial elections will take place within the next 12 months.

To the surprise of some, the NDP has officially given its position on the pass to be rejected and promised that it will be a thing of the past if it wins a majority government.

In its announcement, the NDP pointed to the UCP’s policies on coal mining east of the Rocky Mountains — which have led to a major setback across the province — and its lackluster efforts to mitigate climate change.

But the main reason was the importance of providing affordable visiting options for Albertans and highlighted how during his four years in office, from 2015 to 2019, approximately $40 million was invested in Kananaskis Country.

While noble in stating it will 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 from year to year, but priorities are often identified several years in advance.

As hopefuls pitch names to take over the UCP leadership in the coming months – with Finance Minister and Treasury Board President Travis Toews the early favorite – the party is unlikely to give up the pass system paying.

But if the pass remains, it’s a necessity so that the amount collected and more precisely where it goes is 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.

While somewhat useful for identifying projects, it does little to address the lack of transparency in the pass, and until an independent audited statement is released, these questions will remain.

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

UCP supported the Brinks truck last year for the region, including $17.5 million for Canmore Nordic Center infrastructure upgrades and over $4 million for playground infrastructure repairs. day use of Grassi Lakes and Goat Creek.

The province has also provided approximately $1 million to help establish a free transit route to Canmore Nordic Centre, Grassi Lakes Day Use Area, Bow Valley Trail and Quarry Lake from here 2024.

While the agencies are happy to see the investments, is this just a sleight of hand with the pass money being used to maintain the work that would have been done through taxation?

The province has begun enforcing the pass, resulting in a $180 fine for those who visit without paying $15 for a day pass or $90 for the season pass. Exemptions are also granted to status First Nations people, low-income Albertans and residents of the Kananaskis Improvement District. Exemptions may also be provided for individuals and groups working in the region.

Over the past seven years, tours to Kananaskis Country have grown in popularity, but have exploded in the past two years. In 2015, the estimated number of visits was just under 3.6 million and rose to over 5.4 million in 2020. Last year there were just over five million and those numbers are not expected not drop any time soon.

Increased visitation means more logistics to ensure trails are in good condition, trash is picked up, and restrooms can be found become more important.

Although early in the campaign process for the eventual provincial election, the future of the Kananaskis Conservation Pass will continue to be Alberta’s story.