The Radium Hot Pools won’t likely be seeing any privatization for another full year, as ongoing consultations with First Nations groups in B.C. and Alberta have delayed the rollout of a request for proposals (RFP) from Parks Canada.
After first announcing the intent to issue a long-term, 42-year lease for all three hot pools (the Radium Hot Pools, Miette Hot Springs in Jasper and the Banff Upper Hot Springs) in the revenue-neutral Hot Springs Enterprise Unit in 2008, Parks Canada has slowed its approach in order to consult with First Nations.
March 2014 was initially the target date for a request for proposals, but there’s no longer any specific time frame being pursued, Parks Canada executive director of mountain parks Pat Thomsen told The Valley Echo. An employee at the Radium Hot Pools, who did not wish to be named, told The Echo the target date has passed, and “as of March, they’ve given us another year.”
Asked whether the request for proposals will allow for the possibility of each of the three hot springs being run by separate operators, Mrs. Thomsen responded “the RFP, when it’s released, will be based on the best business model that we can advance at that stage. The initial intent was to do them together.”
She acknowledged there is interest from municipalities and First Nations in operating the pools, “but we haven’t entertained any detailed conversations,” she said.
“We’re in active discussion with First Nations bands in the Columbia Valley — the Shuswap and the Ktunaxa,” she added, noting Parks Canada has written to all of the stakeholder First Nations, and are in discussion with those nations that have responded.
In May 2013, then-executive director of mountain parks Tracy Thiessen told the Hinton Parklander that private operators would not be sought with a requests for proposals (RFP) until discussions with the aboriginal groups have settled.
“There’s more than 20 First Nations groups that were on this land traditionally and are interested in learning more about our land transfer deal,” she said at the time. “We will not be releasing the RFP until those consultations have concluded.”
For employees at the Radium hot pools, Mrs. Thomsen said Parks Canada is working with the Canadian Public Service Alliance union and staff “to ensure the provisions of our collective agreement that address an alternate delivery proposal and workforce adjustment provisions would be respected at that time.”
But opportunities for summer student employment at the pool may be lost, fears one employee at the hot pools. They noted the hot pools have seen a freeze on admission prices since the mid-2000s, which they believe has caused the facility to begin falling into disrepair.
“They’ve never allowed us to raise our prices, so how do we fix our buildings and make them look nice?” questioned the employee.
It’s a sentiment echoed by Kevin King , a spokesperson for the Public Service Alliance of Canada, who have actively opposed the potential request for proposals through a town hall meeting in Radium in February 2013. The union has also been running an online campaign at the website www.dontsellourhotsprings.ca , which allows concerned members of the public to email their Member of Parliament directly about the issue.
“Why would they (a private operator) re-capitalize an asset they’re never going to own?,” he said. “Hot springs are symbolic of Canadian identity; the public and small businesses in these communities do not want the hot springs privatized.”
The Public Service Alliance of Canada contacted First Nations in the Columbia Valley about the privatization plan before Parks Canada did, added Mr. King.
“Parks Canada made no effort from 2008 until last year to consult First Nations, until we made contact,” he said. “Maybe Parks Canada was not as diligent on that matter as they could’ve been.”
Whether dealing with ski hills, hot springs or other assets, it’s typical for Parks Canada to offer 42-year leases, added Mrs. Thomsen.
“Its fairly standard in our legislation that allows us to grant a 42-year leases,” she said.