VICTORIA – Thinking of going on a camping trip through beautiful British Columbia this summer? Better take along a trailer with firewood.
To minimize its continuing budget shortfalls, the Glen Clark government plans to trim $750,000 from the parks branch budget.
In practical terms, that would mean campers will no longer find firewood at many provincial campsites. There will be fewer garbage pickups and less maintenance.
Larger campsites would probably continue to be supplied with firewood. But smaller campgrounds and picnic sites would not. In some cases, fire pits would be removed.
Now, you may have noticed I said the government "plans" to set this idiotic scheme in motion. From a few phone calls I made, it appears that second thoughts are crossing the minds of our esteemed Cathy McGregor, minister of environment, lands and parks.
The first rumblings of the parks budget slashing I heard came from Helmut Giesbrecht, the NDP MLA for Skeena. Giesbrecht was not a happy camper. He had just survived a recall campaign when he was blind-sided with this one.
Three parks near Terrace, he found out, were no longer to be supplied with firewood. Phone calls from the Terrace Standard newspaper, from angry parks operators and ticked-off constituents were the last thing Giesbrecht needed. He told me the decision was contrary to what he was told by bureaucrats last fall.
Needless to say, he made some phone calls and expressed his views on the matter with some gusto. When I called the parks branch, I was told by a communications person that everything was speculation and premature.
The minister would probably be making an announcement next week. Could she put me on the list of people to be notified if and when the minister made the announcement?
I asked how long that list was – a couple of thousand? Was it really just speculation or was the government back-tracking? "Now, now," she replied.
But back-tracking is obviously what the government is doing. I’m not surprised. Giesbrecht wasn’t the only one to express his extreme displeasure over the issue. Carol and Jim Glen, operators of Kleanza Creek provincial park, near Terrace, told the parks branch to take their job and shove it.
"I just think it’s ridiculous," Carol said. She particularly objected to the removal of firewood from parks. "Now people can't even take their kids for a wiener roast," she said.
A sure indication that the reduction of services in provincial parks had been a done deal until the cries of protest arose, were some quotes by Denis O’Gorman, assistant deputy minister of parks.
"We’re not doing this because it’s our first preference. But it’s essential in terms of budget management." He added that "we’ll be seeking a lot of acceptance, patience and understanding from our visitor public."
Right, Denis. I can just hear those campers looking for firewood speak with warm affection, understanding and patience of the government, as they huddle around a bloody Coleman stove.
I’m planning a two-week camping trip in the Chilcotin, but I can tell the minister right now I’m taking my vacation money to Hawaii if there’s no firewood in all campgrounds.
Of all the dumb things this government has done over the years, this one stands out for its singular stupidity.
Just a few weeks ago, the premier made a big thing of adding 1,500 campsites over the next two years. And then he wants to save money by eliminating firewood from campgrounds.
If the minister hasn’t already decided that it was a stupid idea that should be deep-sixed, she had better think again before going ahead with her ludicrous money-saving scheme.