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Infrastructure investment tops $376 million

Parks Canada intends to analysis traffic coming through Jasper's east gate to determine if an express lane is warranted to ease congestion. P. Clarke photo.

Parks Canada intends to analyze traffic coming through Jasper’s east gate to determine if an express lane is warranted to ease congestion. P. Clarke photo.

For as long as Jasper has existed, blaming Parks Canada for the town’s woes has become part and parcel with living in our tiny mountain community.

For many it’s as common as talking about the weather or discussing what you had for lunch. For others it’s become a right of passage, a signal that you are a local and that you’re in the know.

While it’s healthy to be critical of those that govern us and hold them to account, it’s equally as important to give them credit when credit is due.

Take for instance the amount of money pouring in Jasper National Park to upgrade and fix the park’s crumbling infrastructure.

In 2015, the federal government promised to spend $211.6 million over five years for infrastructure and conservation projects in JNP. The money was earmarked for 26 projects throughout the park, including repairing highways, bridges and campgrounds.

Included in that announcement was $1.7 million for conservation projects, including protecting the endangered woodland caribou, a project that one could argue has nothing to do with infrastructure, but is equally important.

Fast-forward to March 2015 when the Liberal government earmarked $65.9 million in the federal budget for consultations, design and construction of a proposed bike path from Jasper to Wilcox Campground. In January, Parks Canada committed an extra $20.5 million to see it through to completion, which it expects to complete by March 2019.

If that wasn’t enough, earlier this month the federal government announced another $78 million for infrastructure projects in the park. The list includes projects that have been talked about for years, such as installing traffic lights at Highway 16 and Moberly

Bridge and studying the feasibility of building an express lane at the east gate.

Adding this all up, that’s an astonishing $376 million in funding over the next few years.

To provide some context, the municipality’s total budgeted expenditure for the year is only $16.5 million.

Detractors will of course argue that Parks Canada has its priorities wrong and should be spending the money on protecting the park’s ecological integrity and fixing its vast network of backcountry trails. Others will question why more money isn’t being used to beef up the warden service or create more affordable housing.

All of these concerns are valid and an important part of the larger discussion, but let’s not get our own priorities mixed up: a bridge, highway and front country campgrounds are far more important than a backcountry trail. And don’t be confused, protecting the park’s ecological integrity or beefing up the warden service is an operational expense, not a capital expense.

While it’s easy to complain about what Parks Canada isn’t doing, we should all take a step back and recognize what it is doing, because this level of investment isn’t likely to happen again soon.

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