Advocates raising concerns over privatization of campground in provincial park

WINNIPEG — The Manitoba government is under fire for what some people are calling the privatization of a provincial park.

There has been a switch in the management structure at the campground at St. Ambroise Beach Provincial Park, located at the southeast tip of Lake Manitoba, now run by a private operator who is now charging additional fees.

“We are very concerned that this could set a very strong precedent for provincial parks and provincial services going forward. Our parks are a public service and shouldn’t become playgrounds for the rich,” said Ron Thiessen, executive director of the Canadian Wilderness Society, Manitoba Chapter.

As a result of the park’s management switch, prices have shot up, with a basic campsite now costing $50 a night whereas other provincial parks managed by the government range from $11–23 a night, according to Thiessen.

“This year with the pandemic we’ve seen people go to provincial parks more than they ever had before. So what we need now are more campsites, rather than converted existing ones to high-priced ventures,” said Thiessen.

In a statement Conservation and Climate Minister Sarah Guillemard said St. Ambroise Beach Provincial Park remains a public park.

The province noted Manitobans will have full access to the public space with their provincial park passes.

St. Ambroise Beach Provincial Park

“Our provincial parks are not for sale, but they are ready for improvements. Visitors can now benefit from enhancements and additional services at St. Ambroise Beach Provincial Park after many years without them,” reads the statement.

“After this beautiful park suffered extensive flood damage a decade ago, the local community advocated for its restoration. The province issued a request for proposals and has partnered with a local operator who has upgraded the park and will develop and operate its seasonal campground.”

Approximately $300,000 was invested by the NDP government of the time to re-establish day use operation of the park in 2013 after the 2011 flood. The work included taking down buildings destroyed by the flood, fixing the main entry road and parking lot and the construction of new washrooms.

The province has been assessing parks with a goal of increasing profits and maybe privatizing some venues, according to Thiessen.

“This particular decision to privatize this campground was done on January 1, which is my understanding, which is well in advance of this assessment being completed,” said Thiessen. “So it’s the cart before the horse and with no consultation with Manitobans.”

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