Alan Polster

Alan Polster

Resource conservation hit hardest in local Parks Canada job cuts

Half the department's full-time staff cut as part of job reductions to Mt. Revelstoke and Glacier National Parks staff.

The resource conservation department for Revelstoke & Glacier National Parks will be the hardest hit by a recent round of layoffs that will see 14 staff have their jobs eliminated or hours reduced.

Out of the 14 affected jobs, six have been surplussed – government speak for eliminated – and eight others will see their hours reduced by varying degrees. Out of the six layoffs, five people left voluntarily.

As a result, hours and days of operations in the Parks will be reduced, with facilities such as campsites, the Giant Cedars Boardwalk and the Rogers Pass Centre set to open for shorter periods of the year.

The cuts are across most parts of the parks’ operations; highway operations, the avalanche program and visitor safety will remain as they are but resource conservation is the hardest hit, with four out of eight positions eliminated, long-time Parks employee Alan Polster told me.

Polster, the cultural resource manager for Mt. Revelstoke and Glacier National Parks, volunteered to take an early retirement. His position is one of six being eliminated. He planned on retiring in 2014, after the Mt. Revelstoke centennial but decided to leave early when word of layoffs came down and he was guaranteed his full pension if he left.

“For me it’s not a bad news story,” he said. “For most of the people that are affected, it is bad news, For the biologist who’s job is surplussed, she’s devastated.”

The cuts were made public last Monday, April 30, when wide-spread layoffs were announced across the public sector. Parks Canada was one of the hardest hit, with 605 employees given lay-off notices and more than 1,000 seeing their hours reduced, according to Kevin King, a regional vice-president of the Union of National Employees and Public Service Alliance of Canada. They are part of the cuts announced in the Harper government’s 2012 Economic Action Plan.

The Revelstoke Parks Canada office is responsible for running Mt. Revelstoke & Glacier National Parks and the Rogers Pass Historic Site.

Denis St. Onge, the chairperson of the union local, said in an e-mail Tuesday he was still working on getting specifics with regards to the local cuts.

“Some of our members have been affected by the workforce adjustment process and have had their ‘permanent positions’ changed to ‘seasonal positions’, and some workers were informed that their position is now non-existent and being laid-off is one of the options facing them,” he wrote.

In Revelstoke, the changes in staffing will mean many sites will be closed during the fall and spring and hours of operations will be reduced at most sites.

“It’s about ensuring we’re aligning our operations to our visitor seasons,” said Karen Tierney, the superintendent of Mt. Revelstoke and Glacier National Parks.

She said the impacts were not significant, but include the following:

– The Meadows in the Sky Parkway will continue to open as the snow recedes up the mountain, but it will now close at Thanksgiving – three weeks earlier than usual. As well, the road will close at 7 p.m. daily, though visitors will be able to exit the park after that time.

– There will be no more winter operations in Mt. Revelstoke National Park. That means no more track setting and the ski chalet will be closed. Tierney said Parks will look at third party operation of those services. A track will still be set for the Moonlight Ski, she added.

– The Giant Cedars Boardwalk will be staffed from June to late-September, but will not be staffed until Thanksgiving and then close on that date.

– The Rogers Pass Discover Centre will be open from Victoria Day weekend to Thanksgiving and from December through April for the winter season. The centre will close one hour earlier during the winter but summer hours will be unchanged.

– The Illecillewaet campground will open when the snow is gone and close at the end of September.

– There will no impact to highway operations, the avalanche program and visitor safety operations.

Additionally, an e-mail sent out to Parks Canada stakeholders that was provided to the Times Review after our conversation with Tierney stated: “Science, monitoring, and reporting expectations will be focused on key indicators required for management decision making and all functions will be aligned with seasonal requirements.”

The Times Review requested clarification of that statement but none was received.

“All functions in our organization have been impacted in one way or another,” said Tierney. “All staff are impacted in some way because the Parks Canada family is a very passionate and dedicated group of staff who work very closely together.”

She said Parks Canada was working to ensure it continued to protect Canada’s natural and historical resources, as well as services to visitors and partners.

“That is our mandate so we will continue to ensure that happens,” she said. “It will just be different in how and to what degree.”

For Polster, who has spent 35 years working for Parks Canada and was intending on retiring in 2013, the cuts are a sign that a career with the agency is no longer possible. More people are getting hired on temporary contracts and full-time jobs are becoming part-time, he said.

“How do you make a career out of four months a year? You can’t,” he said.

He started working for the agency in 1977 as a general labourer in Waterton National Park, spent three winters in the early-1980s in Glacier National Park and nine years in Jasper National Park before moving to Revelstoke in 1993, where he has remained ever since.

He leaves with several projects up in the air – the restoration of the base of Nels Nelsen ski jump, the exploration of an old CP Rail workcamp in Rogers Pass, and repairs to the Eva Lake cabin.

“I worry about it. I worry about maintaining our mandate which is to keep it unimpaired for future generations so that when my son Sam or his kids come along, it’s essentially the same as it was 125 years ago when Glacier was started,” he said.

“I also worry about if there’s nobody out monitoring what’s happening, the change over time, then how do you know when you’re losing something? One of the species at risk in this part is White Bark Pine… It’s a species at risk yet if there’s no one out there monitoring these things then how do you know that this is happening?”

The cuts have also hurt the culture of the organization, with many employees questioning their place there, Polster said, something that wasn’t the case before.

“The spin off is if the Parks Canada agency isn’t going to make a commitment to staff, how does staff make a commitment to you?” Polster wondered.