Hot pools privatization protest gains momentum

Union is determined to save national park hot springs, including Radium Hot Springs, from commercialization.

As the Government of Canada proceeds with its decision to privatize the hot pools in the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks, a fight-back committee is forming to defeat the mandate and keep the hot pools in public hands.

“The union opposes commercialization of the hot pool enterprise unit and we believe that Parks employees should be maintaining those services. That’s what Canadians expect.

They don’t expect that service to be commercialized or privatized in any way shape or form. And there will be an awareness campaign to contest that,” Kevin King told The Valley Echo. King is the Union of National Employees Public Service Alliance of Canada regional vice-president and represents Parks Canada workers.

“We’ll have the beginnings of a campaign probably after the Christmas season in the New Year,”

A page on the Public Service Alliance of Canada Prairie Region website called ‘Don’t Sell Our Hot Springs’ urges people to take action by writing to their local Member of Parliament and demanding the hot pools remain in the public domain. King said the committee is deciding on an independent domain name that they’ll be ready to launch in 2013.

“We can perform those services at cost for the net benefit of Canadian and international visitors to the hot springs and in a manner that’s consistent with fair value to the average Canadian taxpayer,” said King. “For a private enterprise to take it over, perhaps even one owned by American interests, and then describe the hot pools as an elite experience with elite dollars would really take away from the attraction that the Canadian public has with this iconic national treasure.

“The hot pools were not designed to be a wholly profit-making venture.”

Earlier this year  in May when the federal government announced its plans to privatize all three hot pools — the Radium Hot Springs pool as well as the Banff Upper Hot Springs and the Miette Hot Springs in Jasper — 42 pool employees were notified their positions may be subject to workforce adjustment and May 2013 was set as the target date for the transfer with a Request for Proposals (RFP) due out in six to eight months.

“They were supposed to have their RFPs out for commercialization of the upper hot pools in the fall of 2012,” said King. “That has been waylaid some period of time.”

According to Executive Director of Mountain National Parks Tracy Thiessen, the government is on track to release the RFP in early 2013.

“We’re hoping in the May period we’ll have more clarity on when a transfer takes place but all of this depends on a business process  and you can’t predict completely how that’s going to work,” Thiessen said. “Our intention is to issue the RFP in early 2013 and when we do so it will also be clear how long bidders will have to prepare their bids.”

It will be an open and transparent process, she said.

“It was a Government of Canada decision and it was formally communicated to the public in our (May) press release, so that’s when the decision to move forward was taken and it was communicated immediately,” Thiessen stated. “There’s no sewn deal, we will proceed with the divestiture through an open and transparent request for proposals,  and that implies that anyone who is qualified can bid.”

However, King claims privatization of the pools has been in the works  since the outline of the 2008  federal budget.

“(Thiessen) is misinforming the press and the public, she’s extremely defensive about it and I understand that,” he said. “Miss Thiessen and I have ideological differences about whether or not the pool should be commercialized and leased out for 42 years, or left in the hands of the public, mainly by Parks Canada employees, to run them for the benefit of Canadians and international visitors for future generations.”

When asked about a rumoured 42-year lease period or whether or not the pools as a private enterprise would continue to be Canadian-owned, Thiessen replied it was too early to talk about details.

“The conditions for bidders will be outlined in the RFP, it’s quite an extensive document because we want it to be productive and we want to ensure we get a qualified experienced bidder,” she said.

The government is currently consulting local First Nations, said Thiessen, which is a pre-step to finalizing the RFP.

“As part of the consultation, we’re certainly alerting local First Nations to our intention to divest of the hot pools and inviting them into discussions with us to ensure they understand our objectives and  for us to better understand any interests that they might have,” she said. “They’re not being asked, for example, to submit an RFP in advance of the open process — they would be certainly invited to do so with the rest of the industry but there’s no preferential treatment with the RFP itself.”

But Shuswap Band Chief Paul Sam isn’t aware of any communication around the hot pools to date.

“They can write all the letters they want, you know, just to try and get something legalized, but… they haven’t talked to me,” said Sam.

“The discovery of the cave and basin in 1885 in Banff led to the creation of a national park system,” said King. “If the origins of national parks can be commercialized, what else can be commercialized because the employer doesn’t respect its origins?”