Is Parks Canada more concerned about conservation or cash?

by SorayaOh on November 25, 2016 - 8:19pm

There are over 40 national parks in Canada and their fate and management is in the hands of a federal agency. A new report put out by the Canadian Parks and Wilderness society (CPAWS), a charity dedicated to protecting Canadian Wilderness, suggests that recent management has been failing to put the health of the ecosystems above the tourism aspects of the parks. This report is discussed in the article “Watchdog group critical of Parks Canada management” by Gloria Galloway, for the Globe and Mail.

 CPAWS found that that emphasis on scientific research and public opinion going into decision-making is declining in Parks Canada’s choices. Instead, the management decisions have become increasingly based on marketing and development. According to the CPAWS report, there are 31% less staff with a focus on conservation work, employed at Parks Canada compared to 2012. Even more alarming is that in the agency’s budget from 2015, only 13% of spending was dedicated to conservation efforts. More staff and money are continually going towards visitor experience programs compared to the protection of the park’s wilderness.

CPAWS is very concerned about parks such as Banff and Jasper because they are the oldest parks, and have the most visitors per year. Despite the constraints already put on wildlife and the landscape by the high amount of traffic, both of these parks have large expansion projects proposed such as a new $66 million bike trail and ski resort. CPAWS argues that large developments should be reconsidered and the money put back into preserving the parks’ nature.

The development of Parks Canada has been an evolving process since 1911. In 1998 it was restructured into the agency it is today. The transformation meant that the parks started to be managed more like a business, with a CEO, corporate financial goals, and increased marketing tools. I find this worrying because if resource management starts to fit into a capitalist market scheme, that requires infinite growth and protected areas are finite and cannot be infinitely exploited for funds.

Parks Canada serves as a tool that helps to create and develop the state that is Canada. Parks Canada does this by creating jobs for the people, generating income for the state, preserving valuable territory and building a national identity. In this regard I think it is a good idea to use marketing to develop a brand and increase interest in these natural places. I grew up camping in different national parks, and they are definitely one of the things that make me most proud to be Canadian. Jacques Cousteau said that “people protect what they love” and so I think it is important to expose everybody to the natural world in order for people to see that it is worth fighting for and protecting.

I think one of the biggest issues and point of conflict with national park management is how we define park value. The future of the park will be shaped depending if we see it as important for its incoming-generating capability as a tourist attraction versus its ecological importance. Overall, I think we need to manage parks as is best for the ecosystem and its inhabitants. Any opportunity for humans to be able to experience these natural, protected areas is beneficial but management decisions should be made with responsibility to the land before worrying about generating income.


Original article:



Hi SorayaOh,

I was really intrigued by your blog title, as it made me step-back and think about the possibility of Parks Canada being more concerned about conservation or cash? I’ve never really thought about this much when visiting provincial and national parks with my family and friends. I felt you connected your own personal experience and passion for enjoying parks in Canada very well, but I would have liked to hear more of your thoughts and reflection on the issue. Your blog was very informative about the conflict facing Parks Canada greater transition into a business minded organization and growing distance of conservation values of the ecosystem within and around the parks. I definitely agree with your standpoint, people need to experience the parks to see that environment in which the parks stand for in protecting and valuing Canada’s identity and landscape.

Thanks for the great information and your reflection on this increasingly popular topic with Parks Canada and current and future development. Here is a interesting and informative article which discusses Parks Canada’s free admission program in 2017 to celebrate Canada’s 150th, and the potential conflicts facing the parks and Parks Canada’s potential strategies to mitigate these discrepancies.

Once again great blog!

Cheers ,


I really enjoyed reading your post! The title caught my eye because this is a question I have asked myself as well. I would hope that Parks Canada is more concerned about conservation than cash, but as you pointed out, it is run more like a business. Before taking this class I was not aware that it even has a CEO! When you wrote "The future of the park will be shaped depending if we see it as important for its incoming-generating capability as a tourist attraction versus its ecological importance", it really made me think about when I lived in Banff National Park. When I first arrived in May 2015 there were a few tourists and the town felt more like a town, where people would ski all day then socialize at night. Or many spent the days hiking the mountains and at this time I didn't really feel like I was in a Park but the idea of nature and preservation were still important. Once the summer months hit it was like a completely different town. The streets were absolutely packed with tourists, tour busses were on a constant schedule bringing hoards of people in and out every day. The mountain behind my house had a gondola to bring people to the top (those who didn't want to, or couldn't hike the trail) and it ran nonstop all summer long. At this point I wondered, do these people care about ecological conservation? Does the National Park system care about conservation or are they happy to keep building these tourist attractions and expanding the town because they make a good profit off of it?

I am wondering what you think about the Native peoples who have been displaced because of the National Park system and if they could have an impact on conservation? Or if tourists and even Parks Canada is too far removed from realizing that many of these places were their traditional lands. While I lived in Banff there were a few "native" souvenir shops and a museum of native art. Not surprisingly this museum was one of the least visited attractions in the entire town. Other than that, prevalence of aboriginal peoples in Banff was almost non-existent.
Thanks for the post, it was an interesting read, and I agree that conservation should come before generating income.