The uncertainty about whether or not operation of the Radium Hot Springs will be privatized will continue for at least a while longer.
The idea first popped up in Parks Canada’s 2008 budget (in which the organization was given direction to see if privatization of the hots springs was a feasible option). Then, in 2012, the organization put out a request for proposals, but there have been few public indications since of where progress on the situation is at.
“It’s still in process, we’re still doing an assessment of the divestment strategy,” Pacific and Mountain National Park executive director Pat Thomsen told The Echo. “It’s really important to us that we get this right. We want to make sure what we do ensures their (the hot springs) long-term viability in the future. This (privatization) has been something unusual; we haven’t gone through something of this size and scale before. There’s been some lesson learned along the way, and the pace (of the process) reflects the complexity.”
Thomsen said that the four years between the possibility of privatization appearing in the 2008 Parks Canada budget and the request for proposals going out in 2012 is somewhat normal (“There’s often a gap in what’s in a budget and what’s rolled out,” she said) and that the gap since then is because the issue is quite complicated.
It is possible that, in the end, the hot pools could continue to be publicly operated by Parks Canada.
“I couldn’t say right now (if privatization is certain). We are looking carefully at all the options we have,” said Thomsen.
As previously reported in The Echo, Kootenay Columbia MP Wayne Stetski has been pressing the federal government to resolve the issue one way or the other as soon as possible. Recently, Radium Hot Springs mayor Clara Reinhardt had a meeting with Thomsen seeking clarification on the issue.
“They would like to have it resolved in a timely fashion. They’re not prepared to give us a timeline, but it’s not going to drag out another four years. There’s a lot involved,” said Reindhardt. “The process was more complicated than initially envisioned and therefore more research and consultation has been occurring prior to any final decisions being made. Parks Canada is aware of and sensitive to the impacts which the uncertainty is having on the residents, services and visitors to the valley. We committed to meeting regularly until there is stability for future operations.”
With a new federal government, there have been some changes within Parks Canada, which has resulted in some changes to the organization’s strategic process, said Reinhardt.
“So the assumptions they made when they decided to go with privatization need to be re-evaluated.”
Reinhardt will continue to meet with Thomsen every six to eight weeks, so that the village is kept in the loop on the issue. Earlier this year, Reinhardt had gone to Ottawa and, along with Stetski, met with Ministry of Environment parliamentary secretary Jonathan Wilkinson to discuss the matter .
“We are heartened that the ministerial staff and the executive director (Thomsen) were willing to talk with us,” said Reinhardt, adding that the hot springs is crucial for the village.
“Things at the hot springs came to a head over Christmas, in a perfect storm. They have a staffing shortage and then a number of staff were ill and the pools had to be closed at times when they would normally be open,” she said, adding the uncertainty about privatization no doubt impacts hot pools employees.
“The (hot pools) staff are doing the best they can with a horrible situation. Our message (to Parks Canada and to Wilkinson) was you have to do something,” said Reinhardt. “I can see pros and cons to both (privatizing the operation of the hot pools and keeping them publicly run), but we all agree that it will be nice to have the uncertainty cleared up.”
The 2008 Parks Canada budget outlined that hot pools and golf course in national parks are not part of the organization’s core mandate.