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Businesses join the Town of Banff's call for Parks Canada to drop land rent payment during COVID-19 crisis

“Some have estimated that up to 50 per cent of tourism businesses might not make it if there is no summer season to support their efforts.”
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Banff Avenue is virtually empty in April as the community shuts down to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. EVAN BUHLER RMO PHOTO⁠

BANFF – Banff businesses have joined the Town of Banff’s call on Parks Canada to waive the annual $550,000 land rent payment to help the municipality grapple with the financial impacts of the COVID-19 crisis.

Mayor Karen Sorensen said the Town has reached out to Parks Canada on land rent, which so far has only offered to allow deferment of the payment.

“I think it would be an appropriate thing to happen … to waive it,” she said during a council meeting on April 14.

“That $550,000 makes a bit of a difference for us this year.”

The Town of Banff leases from the federal government all land used for municipal operations and services. Under the municipality’s incorporation agreement, the lease costs the Town $550,000 per year.  

Banff and Jasper are the only two municipalities in Canada that pay land rent to the federal government.

Town Manager Kelly Gibson said there has been no response from Parks Canada about the Town’s request, but added that he plans to follow up on the discussion.

“We asked for the waiving; we got a deferral, but the deferral is when we typically pay land rent anyway,” he said.

“We’re not finished discussing that with the federal government.”

Parks Canada has advised its tenants and agreement holders that payments normally due on or after April 1 can be made anytime up to Sept. 30 without administrative charges or interest.

But Banff Lake Louise Hospitality Association is calling on the federal government for additional support for Banff National Park, where roughly 85 per cent of the workforce has been laid off. 

In the same way the government has has waived federal land rents for Canada’s airports until Dec. 31,  BLLHA asks that all commercial land rents in Banff National Park, including the Town of Banff's $550,000 payment, be waived this year without delay.

Darren Reeder, the group’s executive director, said hotel occupancy levels are now hovering below one per cent with average rates 75 per cent lower than normal.

“With every passing day, it is becoming more likely that we will lose most, if not all, of our summer tourism season – the most important months of the year where upward of 70 per cent of annual revenue is generated,” he said.

“Some have estimated that up to 50 per cent of tourism businesses might not make it if there is no summer season to support their efforts.”

While every community in Canada has suffered mass unemployment, Reeder said there would be far fewer that have experienced the magnitude of 85 per cent to 90 per cent unemployment found within Banff National Park. 

As every day goes by, he said the risk of business failure increases exponentially as the challenge of trying to maintain overhead costs such as municipal taxes and commercial land rent tests the liquidity of every business. 

“With the significant budgetary measures that will need to be taken by the Town to shelter-in its local business community during this crisis, the federal land payment will certainly limit the Town’s ability to provide financial relief,” said Reeder. 

“Failure to respond to this economic shock by pre-emptively eliminating commercial land rent may also test the liquidity of many businesses and their ability to weather a summer season with very few – to no – visitors if extreme social distancing requirements remain in force.” 

Megan Damini, a spokesperson for Parks Canada’s national office, said the agency will continue to work with partners, including the Town of Banff, to understand the impacts of the park closure to visitors and how everyone can work together. 

“Parks Canada is reviewing the programs developed by the government of Canada to ease the financial impacts of COVID-19, and is considering further actions to mitigate these impacts on our land use partners, licensees and lessees, including the Town of Banff,” she said in an email.

“These valued partners are important contributors to Canada’s tourism industry and to local economies, and Parks Canada is aware and listening to their concerns.”

Parks Canada holds thousands of real property agreements including commercial and residential leases, licenses of occupation and various agreements, such as the Town of Banff Incorporation Agreement. 


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