Newly elected Kootenay-Columbia Member of Parliament Wayne Stetski has been appointed as the National Parks critic in the NDP’s shadow cabinet, a role he is relishing.
“Certainly parks is something I’ve been involved in for my entire life,” said Stetski, pointing out he has spent decades working for and in provincial parks and national parks, beginning as a seasonal naturalist at Long Beach in Pacific Rim National Park during summers as a university students and then progressing up to eventually becoming a B.C. provincial parks manager. He graduated with a degree in ecology and a teaching degree, and within one week was offered a full-time teaching job and a full-time job as chief of interpretation of Manitoba’s provincial parks.
“It was an easy choice to make,” said Stetski, adding he never looked back and after several years in Manitoba, came back to B.C. “I wanted to combine my love of the outdoors with teaching people to love and respect the environment.”
Stetski said he’s keen to follow up and dig into a National Parks issue of local interest to the Upper Columbia Valley — the long-proposed privatization of Kootenay National Park’s Radium Hot Springs pools.
“The assets — the actual physical pools — should never leave public hands. Hot springs are rare,” he said. “I haven’t seen the relevant reports on the matter, but I am assuming they did a cost-benefit analysis on whether the operation of the pools should be private. In my opinion, the public sector can do just as good a job as the private sector when it comes to operations, but, again, I haven’t seen the reports. I certainly plan to follow up on it and make sure the rationale for the proposal is economical and rather than philosophical.”
No matter which way the issue finally ends up, Stetski said it is high time to settle it once and for all.
“It has been going for a long time. It’s time for the government to make a decision one way or the other. Indecision is one of the worst things to have to deal with, and having that uncertainty hanging over the park staff really doesn’t help anything,” he said.
Stetksi said that, as a long-time parks employee, he had been upset at moves in recent years made by the Harper government, particularly the $27 million budget cut made in 2012, which Stetski said resulted in 106 parks staff losing their jobs in B.C. and 1,689 across Canada, and led to unfavourable reports from Canada’s Environment Commissioner in 2013 and 2014.
“The last four years, parks did fare badly,” he said.
Stetski added that he is heartened, however, by some of the parks promises the new Liberal government has made, including reversing the $27 million budget cut; adding $25 million a year in new funding for parks; limiting development in National Parks; growing ecotourism in nearby communities; making parks admission free during the 150th anniversary of Confederation (2017); allowing kids under age 18 free admission to parks starting in 2018; and giving new Canadian citizens 12 months of free admission to parks.
“These sure are great promises. I want to make sure they followed up on these,” said Stetski.
The Kootenay-Columbia riding includes four National Parks.