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Precedent-setting decision for Maligne Lake

There was a short moment on Friday morning where it appeared the public had succeeded in stopping the development of overnight accommodation at Maligne Lake.

The news was Parks Canada had denied Maligne Tours Ltd.’s controversial proposal for a 66-suite hotel on the shores of the iconic lake. For a split second—before anyone had time to read the fine print—it looked like a victory—a win for public consultation and engagement.

It seemed the loud, adamant voices of environmentalists and park lovers had finally carried over the mountain tops, across the Prairies and all the way to Ottawa—and for a change the Conservative government seemed to listen.

But then came that pesky fine print. Sure, there’s no hotel, but there will still be overnight accommodation in the form of 15 tent cabins.

Now, tent cabins may seem innocuous, but its here where it’s critical to read between the lines.

As was feared with the proposed hotel, in order for the cabins to be built, Parks has to amend its management plan to allow for new outlying commercial accommodations. (Currently the plan prohibits such developments.)

So, although Parks denied the luxury hotel—because it doesn’t fit within the park’s mandate on commercial growth—there is now the potential for future development, not only at Maligne Lake, but in other outlying areas. Heck, give it a few years and there might just be another proposal from Maligne Tours—and its long sought-after hotel might just be built.

If Parks changes its management plan, the precedent will be set, and there will be no turning back.

Without the plan prohibiting new outlying commercial accommodations, Parks has nothing concrete to hold onto or to fall back on when a company comes knocking.

Now, to be fair, the management plan hasn’t been changed yet, and it won’t be changed unless Maligne Tours carries on with its proposal, completing a detailed plan and an environmental assessment and undergoing another round of public consultation.

But, unfortunately, that’s only a small comfort, as the company intends to do just that.

So, despite early appearances, this is far from a win.

It’s hard to predict what the shores of Maligne Lake will look like 20, 10 or even five years from now, but Parks’ decision signifies that, now more than ever before, there’s potential for development and change.

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