A prominent tourism operator in eastern Newfoundland says federal cuts to Parks Canada fly in the face of the Conservatives' goal of having the private sector take a stronger role in rural economies.
"Economically, this is very harmful," said Trinity-based John Fisher, who operates an inn in Newfoundland's Trinity Bay, reacting to news that Parks Canada will be eliminating jobs and reducing the operating seasons for national parks and historic sites.
"We're supposed to be the long-term sustainability in this economy. Why the hell are we attacking it?"
His business, Fisher's Loft, caters to travellers — many from Europe and the U.S. — who visit Terra Nova National Park and nearby areas. He said countless small operators in Newfoundland and Labrador will be hurt if prime attractions cut their operating seasons.
"It is completely counter to what Mr. Harper is saying," Fisher told CBC News Tuesday.
"We're trying to generate revenues from the private sector, and this is going to do huge damage to the private sector."
Parks Canada has issued 1,689 notices to employees across the country.
In Newfoundland and Labrador, 79 positions are affected, with 24 being eliminated altogether. The Union of National Employees said the remaining 55 will either be dropped to part-time status, or are already part-time employees whose seasons will be cut.
Ottawa defends cuts
Federal Environment Minister Peter Kent defended the cuts.
“Our government is sensitive to the concerns of the tourism industry and its importance to the national and regional economies,” Kent said in a prepared statement emailed to CBC News. “That is why the changes we are making ensure that staff are there when the most visitors come to our parks.”
Kent says Ottawa has “greatly expanded” the country’s parks and marine protection areas, and launched a tourism strategy to help maximize the economic growth and job creation in this sector.
“Canada’s national parks and historic sites such as Gros Morne are among Canada’s greatest tourism attractions,” Kent said. “We hope more people will experience the natural beauty of our parks.”
Fisher, meanwhile, credited "these brilliant commercials" that have been produced by the government of Newfoundland and Labrador with attracting increasing numbers of visitors, with the tourism season now stretching into the early spring and late fall.
"The notion of cutting back the length of a season in any government department that can affect tourism is extremely detrimental," Fisher said.
"This is all part and parcel of getting people removed from EI and creating real jobs with real salaries that will last the majority of the year."
Eddie Kennedy, national vice-president of the Union of National Employees, said reducing the operations of parks and historic sites could put some small rural operators out of business.
"That's a very fragile industry. A lot of them, they just barely make it by (and) stay sustainable off of the length of season they have," he said.
"So if you cut two or three weeks off a site being open, sometimes that's enough to force these small businesses to go under. Those two or three weeks are all that's keeping them afloat for the rest of the year."