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Will the Trudeau government 'recycle' Parks Canada 'assets'?

Photo by Brent Patterson

"The federal government has identified a potential source of cash to help pay for Canada's mounting infrastructure costs -- and it could involve leasing or selling stakes in major public assets such as highways, rail lines, and ports," the Canadian Press reported in April 2016.

That article highlights that the Trudeau government's 2016 budget makes reference to the controversial concept of "asset recycling," otherwise known as privatization. It quotes management consultant Michael Fenn who says, "Asset recycling is a way to attract private-sector investment into activities that were formerly, exclusively, in the public realm."

Now, CBC notes that a report prepared by the consulting firm KPMG for Parks Canada says that bridges and dams are "prime targets" for divestment and that such a move could reap millions of dollars of revenue for the federal government.

"The report identified 183 dams and bridges worth almost $1.3 billion as prime targets for disposal, whether through sales or transfers to other levels of government," according to senior reporter Dean Beeby.

The KPMG report, which Beeby obtained through the Access to Information Act, says:

"There are no apparent legal show-stoppers in terms of ability to transfer land under the dams and bridges to another entity. This should be examined more closely by PCA [Parks Canada Agency]. ...Transfer to another entity is very likely to achieve the outcomes desired by PCA."

"The non-core bridges and dams 'have moderate to potentially high pre-feasibility as a transfer candidate,'" the article adds, and references bridges and dams that cross the Rideau Canal, which has a stretch that basically runs south-north through Ottawa (which is situated on unceded and unsurrendered Algonquin territory).

The photo caption at the top of the article features "The Bank Street Bridge over the Rideau Canal in Ottawa." That's the bridge just south of the controversial public-private partnership (P3) redevelopment of the Lansdowne Park fairgrounds.

At the moment, the Hog's Back Road bridge and water-control dam that crosses the Rideau River -- just east of the Hog's Back Bridge that crosses the Rideau Canal -- appears to be in the preparatory stages for "rehabilitation" with the involvement of the construction giant Aecon (the company involved in building the Site C dam on the Peace River).

The Hog's Back Road bridge and dam separates Hog's Back Park and Mooney's Bay Park, where a large P3 playground was recently opened.

When I asked an Aecon worker at the site on October 29 about the bridge, they said that my inquiries should be directed to Parks Canada.

The rehabilitation of a bridge does not necessarily mean that it is an "asset" about to be sold. But homeowners would be familiar with the concept of repairs and renovations to make one's home more appealing to potential buyers.

And if KPMG is telling Parks Canada that "there are no apparent legal show-stoppers in terms of ability to transfer land under the dams and bridges to another entity" then we also need to consider that the scenic Hog's Back Falls, the observation area, nearby trails, small restaurant and sitting area may all be "assets" of interest to investors.

(Hog's Back Park itself is administered by the National Capital Commission, which is a Government of Canada Crown corporation overseen by the Minister of Heritage.)

A large field adjacent to the falls has also been used for the 1930s-style circus Carnivàle Lune Bleue and Mark Monahan's Ottawa Folk Festival (now renamed CityFolk and staged at Lansdowne Park) and would be a prime spot for similar enterprises.

As the KPMG report notes, "Both private and public sector parties could achieve some benefits by being the stewards of the non-core waterway assets."

While all this appears to be very preliminary, it would be interesting to hear from Catherine McKenna, the minister responsible for Parks Canada, on her thoughts regarding this KPMG report and the spectre of selling Parks Canada assets.

Brent Patterson is a political activist and writer.

Photo by Brent Patterson

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