Hot springs privatization coming

A controversial decision to privatize the Parks Canada Mountain Parks Hot Springs is still in the works.

A controversial decision to privatize the Parks Canada Mountain Parks Hot Springs is still in the works, even though it will be some time before it happens. Pat Thomsen, executive director of the Mountain National Parks, has been tapping into the issues with the sale and is developing a plan to help progress toward the goal of securing a private operator for the hot pools in Radium, Jasper and Banff.

“There isn’t a delay that we have enacted,” said Thomsen. “We are taking the time to do this properly to ensure that we are seeking the best opportunities both for Canadians and visitors to our Hot Springs. It is a process that is taking more time than we might have realized but we are continuing to advance it.”

She added nobody has washed their hands of the upcoming changes in management.

“The decision to seek a private operator for the Hot Springs came out of the 2008 budget direction and it was part of a strategic review,” said Thomsen. “Seventeen departments and agencies in the government went through it to ensure we were focused on our core mandate and it was believed that a private operator could more effectively (run) a pool operation than Parks Canada while maintaining it as one of those iconic parks experiences… It has continued to progress.”

Concerns have continually been expressed about the cost of accessing the hot springs during regular business hours if the Parks Canada Mountain National Parks became privately owned.

“From our union perspective and from our members perspective, we want to continue to operate and be present as public servants delivering a quality visitor experience in the National Parks of Canada, not just in Radium but in Banff and in Miette Hot Springs in Jasper,” said Kevin King, regional vice-president of the Union of National Employees. “with very little profit margin and for the benefit of the travelling public whether they be localized or travelling from another part of the country. My understanding is that it’s business as usual for the foreseeable future.”

However, it remains unclear when a request for proposals will be issued to private owners.

“We haven’t issued a Request for Proposal yet,” said Thomsen. “That would be the signal that it’s going to be more imminent or at least the potential of assessing operators will be more imminent so I couldn’t give you a timeline right now on any potential calls to the public for an operator.

Instead, there has been a lot of thought put into the decision to continually make improvements to the facilities while the logistics are discussed.

“There were times where we thought we had a very immediate timeline and then realized this is something fairly significant changing for us,” she said, noting the decision to privatize all three locations was made in 2008 but the formal process did not begin until 2012.

“We have the opportunity this year to make some capital investments into some of the hot pools facilities which is very important for their operational health and their viability,” added Thomsen. “That work will be underway this year so I think that it will be a more immediate focus for us in the short term.”

She was pleased to announce roughly 240,000 people visited the Radium Hot Springs during the 2014 and 2015 season, which is a 13 per cent increase from the 2013 and 2014 season.

“It would be important to us as we prepare a Request for Proposal to see that the significance of these places won’t be lost in the kind of offer that’s made.” concluded Thomsen. “I couldn’t confirm (it at this point) but it’s one of the things that we would be hoping for in a private operator.

“In the last year, we saw about a 10 per cent growth in visitation at all three locations and we’re very happy about it.”