Parks Canada plays hard­ball with Sun­shine owner

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The Collins dic­tionary de­fines ex­tor­tion as “the crime of ob­tain­ing some­thing from some­one, es­pe­cially money, by us­ing force or threats.” Parks Canada, then, may have just be­come this coun­try’s largest ex­tor­tion­ist. On Mon­day, Ralph Scur­field, pres­i­dent and CEO of Sun­shine Vil­lage — the ski re­sort he and his fam­ily have built into a world-renowned des­ti­na­tion for moun­tain sport en­thu­si­asts — was forced to agree to new site guide­lines for Sun­shine or have his fam­ily’s busi­ness sold out from un­der him by Parks Canada and, by ex­ten­sion, Justin Trudeau’s fed­eral Lib­eral gov­ern­ment. “De­spite our dis­ap­point­ment and con­cerns … we ac­cept the Site Guide­lines as you have pre­sented them,” Scur­field wrote to Sheila Luey, act­ing field su­per­in­ten­dent for Banff Na­tional Park. Luey did not re­turn Post­media calls Tues­day. “The al­ter­na­tive is to lose our fam­ily busi­ness since 1981 and my life’s work for the last 38 years,” he wrote in the let­ter dated Jan. 21. In an un­dated let­ter that Scur­field re­ceived Dec. 18, the act­ing chief ex­ec­u­tive of Parks Canada, Michael Nadler, made Scur­field an of­fer he couldn’t refuse — in the worst sense of that phrase. If by Jan. 21 Parks Canada “does not have your writ­ten, un­con­di­tional con­fir­ma­tion that you are pre­pared to con­clude and ex­e­cute a new lease with th­ese site guide­lines ap­pended, the Agency will un­der­stand that to mean you do not wish to en­ter into the ini­tialled lease with the site guide­lines ap­pended and pro­ceed to seek a new op­er­a­tor through a pub­lic re­quest for pro­pos­als.” Scur­field has also been told by Parks Canada to choose one of two op­tions — agree to a 42-year lease with an agree­ment to then give Sun­shine Vil­lage Ski Re­sort to the Crown for $1, or sever and re­move ev­ery fa­cil­ity and re­turn the land to its nat­u­ral state. Hard place meet slightly harder rock. There are sev­eral ques­tions aris­ing from this heavy-handed ap­proach by the “au­thor­i­ties.” If you’re get­ting a 42-year lease, why would you con­tinue to im­prove a fa­cil­ity that you’re even­tu­ally go­ing to give to the fed­eral gov­ern­ment with no com­pen­sa­tion? As the say­ing goes, renters don’t fix the roof. The new site guide­lines, which will be re­leased pub­licly by Parks Canada on Thurs­day, re­duce the lease­hold by 61 acres — land that is cur­rently zoned and pre­vi­ously ap­proved and gives Sun­shine no new park­ing. Parks Canada is urg­ing Scur­field to build a 500-ve­hi­cle park­ing struc­ture to be used 50 days a year, which Scur­field says will cost any­where from $100,000 to $150,000 per stall — or $50 to $75 mil­lion — an un­ten­able op­tion. Even in down­town Cal­gary — where park­ing rates of $14 per hour are the norm and stalls are used year-round — many sur­face lots will not in­vest in a park­ing struc­ture ow­ing to the cost. Yet, Parks Canada wants a sea­sonal busi­ness to do so to make up for a short­fall of 450 spa­ces. Also, a park­ing garage is not as pris­tine look­ing come spring and sum­mer as a grassy field, nor as eco­log­i­cally friendly for wildlife. Ev­ery­thing that Sun­shine has sug­gested to Parks Canada has been re­jected and the thou­sands of peo­ple who sup­ported Sun­shine’s plans were ig­nored, sug­gest­ing the pub­lic con­sul­ta­tion by gov­ern­ments and agen­cies was only win­dow dress­ing. Parks Canada held pub­lic con­sul­ta­tion meet­ings about the draft site guide­lines for Sun­shine Vil­lage from June 21 to Aug. 19 last year. Here’s a fun lit­tle quiz: What strikes you about those dates? If you said a lot of peo­ple would be away on hol­i­days dur­ing that time, you’re right. De­spite that tac­tic, the Parks Canada re­port called What We Heard (which is not yet avail­able on­line) says at the end of the 60-day re­view pe­riod, “over 4,000 pub­lic com­ments” were re­ceived, mostly from lo­cals but also from all around North Amer­ica and Europe. While the vast ma­jor­ity of the re­spon­dents favoured in­creas­ing park­ing for the re­sort, those who didn’t “noted that the site guide­lines un­der­stated the po­ten­tial of tran­sit, pas­sen­ger rail and other trans­porta­tion strate­gies to re­duce park­ing de­mand in ways that do not in­volve de­vel­op­ment of ad­di­tional park­ing space or struc­tures.” So some­one ac­tu­ally sug­gested build­ing a rail­way to take skiers to the base of Sun­shine moun­tain, and that’s con­sid­ered a le­git­i­mate sug­ges­tion wor­thy of pub­lish­ing? We can’t find any­one to fund build­ing a rail line be­tween Cal­gary and Ed­mon­ton, and some ge­nius wants to build a rail­way in a na­tional park from Banff to Sun­shine? With Canada’s only heated ski lift, Scur­field says he has con­stantly up­graded and im­proved the vis­i­tor ex­pe­ri­ence to the park while al­ways en­sur­ing the least amount of dis­rup­tion to the en­vi­ron­ment as pos­si­ble. That’s ev­i­dent to those who ski this wilder­ness won­der­land. In Septem­ber, Sun­shine was rated one of the top 10 re­sorts for snow, over­all sat­is­fac­tion and lifts in the west of North Amer­ica by SKI Magazine, with the com­ment: “Best snow, best ter­rain, the lifts are worlds ahead of any other re­sort, you feel like you ac­tu­ally get value for your money here and never have a bad day.” To that, all a de­jected Scur­field can say is: “I guess we must be do­ing some­thing right.” Scur­field and his team have clearly done much right. Canada is bet­ter for his fam­ily’s vi­sion and hard work. It’s Parks Canada that is in the wrong here. Af­ter all, ex­tor­tion — no mat­ter how wrapped in legalese — is al­ways a moun­tain­ous crime.

Ralph Scur­field, CEO of Sun­shine Vil­lage, says if he re­jected Parks Canada’s terms, he would lose his “life’s work for the last 38 years.”

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