A Bushwack Through The BC Budget

Like many other politically inclined BC’ers, I watched the Legislature slideshow playing alongside calming classical music while waiting for Finance Minister Carole James to rise to the throne and deliver the first full budget since the new Government took the confidence of the house. It was a sunny day in Vancouver, I was sure it was a sign that our magnificent provincial parks would get the attention they deserve.

I will be honest, I was a bit disappointed.

I’ll try to avoid getting too deep into the weeds but hopefully, you’ve arrived here, at a blog about the BC Parks part budget, to join the bushwack through the budget. Last year the BC Parks operational budget estimate was $39M for the department’s operational spending. This year’s budget is $40M. It works out to be just over a $1M increase. We like increases. But this increase is not close to what we’ve been asking for. In fact, it is nearly $20M short of our pie in the sky.

We knew that one budget could not address the previous government’s lack of public spending, and we see that there is an effort being made to invest in the people, land and wildlife of BC. But if I did not feel compelled to speak up for the world I want to see, I would not be a campaigner. So now, the tough love.

To put this budget into a broader perspective, Alberta Parks’ 2017 budget was $85M for only 20% of the landmass of BC Parks. Even with leniency allotted for our vast wilderness parks and differences in operational models – this difference is astounding.

The budget that is allocated to BC Parks’ operations by the BC Government does not make bold action to improve our neglected parks system. BC Parks is one of the many departments that is trying to catch up after years of underfunding under the previous government’s cuts.


The previous government announced the BC Parks Future Strategy in Nov. 2016. This plan gave the first significant funding lift for the department in over 15 years and was widely, yet cautiously, celebrated. The Strategy outlined funding for new campsites, maintenance and upgrades for existing ones, and the creation of the BC Parks Foundation. It was a start, but it is not enough. I had assumed that was why the BC NDP’s campaign platform included a promise to “restore funding for BC parks.”

Don’t get me wrong, we are glad to see that the BC Government is going to spend $5M to maintain the 1,900 new campsites – these are urgently needed to meet the demand of residents and visitors alike. On top of this, BC drivers showed a huge amount of excitement for the BC Parks license plates – selling 80,000 in the first year (the amount originally projected to be sold over 5 years). This program is now expected to bring in $9.8M/year. This money can be spent to improve our parks – it can be spent in a number of ways ranging from systems planning to habitat restoration to recreation infrastructure. Great as this is, it should not be confused with stable government funding.

We are excited to see tens of millions going towards Indigenous communities to fund much-needed infrastructure, language revitalization, reconciliation work and more. We look forward to working with the government on the revitalized BC Wildlife Management and modernized Land Use Planning Initiatives, that have a combined $30M over the next 3 years. The $9M for increased Conservation Officer staffing will help improve the safety of humans and wildlife across the province. All of these will help to protect and defend our wilderness.

But, the situation for our provincial parks is dire. They need money, leadership, and a plan to get back on track. Over the coming months and years, CPAWS will continue to campaign for improvements to our provincial parks system. The lack of management plans, the need for more park rangers, and getting BC to reach a goal of protecting 17% of its land and inland waters by 2020 as outlined in Canada’s commitment to meet the Aichi Targets. All of this needs cross-sector collaboration including conservation & outdoor groups, government, recreation, tourism, and more. I hear people tell me time and time again, that our parks are central to the identity of being a visitor, admirer or resident of BC.

Not only is investing in our parks the right thing to do to safeguard our wilderness, it makes good economic sense. For every 1 dollar invested in our system, $8.42 is generated in visitor spending. 60% of the capital and operating expenditures are returned in tax revenue. Failing to invest in our public services leads to vast economic waste. It is akin to washing money down our already dilapidated outhouses. To see the full potential benefits of our provincial parks system be realized by First Nations and rural communities, the tourism industry, adventure-seekers and future generations – we must create a long-term strategy for investment. 

Last but not least, I want to send a personal note to the Honorable George Heyman, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy: we appreciate your efforts to get our parks back on track. We know you care about the wilderness of BC, the park rangers who monitor and manage these areas, and the park visitors who have lost many of the services in our world-class parks system. We know that the system needs more, and together, we can work to make that happen.