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EDITORIAL: Parks Canada gives Banff council crystal clear direction on gondola

EDITORIAL: Parks Canada has equivocally stated for anyone and everyone to understand – a gondola at the Banff train station to Mt. Norquay Ski Resort does not meet federal legislation.
Cartoon by Patrick LaMontagne/

Parks Canada has unequivocally stated for anyone and everyone to understand – a gondola at the Banff train station to Mt. Norquay Ski Resort does not meet federal legislation.

A letter – once again – from Banff field unit superintendent Sal Rasheed has left no doubt on a gondola not conforming to either federal legislation or national park policies.

In what has become a lightning rod of attention, Parks Canada has read the Riot Act to everyone involved in the Railway Lands redevelopment plan that a gondola is a no-go.

In several letters of Parks Canada’s reviews of three different plans, time and again the federal agency has consistently stated a gondola was “found not to be feasible due to non-conformance with key park policy and legislation.”

In Rasheed’s three-page letter, he states eight times the draft plan doesn’t conform with federal legislation and national park policy.

In subsequent letters attached to Parks Canada’s submission, it’s stated 10 times – not including the seven-page attachment that highlights several times the non-conforming nature of a gondola – past and present draft plans do not meet with federal legislation and national park policy.

Of course, this is not new. Parks Canada officials have been consistent on the gondola and where it sits with federal legislation. While laws and policies can change, decision-makers do their job with the present guidance in mind and not what could potentially be modified in the future.

Two Parks Canada superintendents and an acting superintendent have publicly stated a gondola doesn’t meet federal legislation.

In addition, Parks Canada CEO Ron Hallman in an April 24, 2023, memorandum to Minister of Environment and Climate Change Steven Guilbeault said a gondola doesn’t meet federal legislation.

The memorandum – obtained by the Outlook via an Access to Information and Privacy request – states the Canada National Parks Act and 2022 Banff National Park Management Plan have to be followed.

“[Parks Canada provided] clear and consistent feedback that the ARP does not demonstrate conformance with applicable policy and legislation. … Parks Canada also provided specific suggestions to bring the draft plan into conformance so that it could proceed to environmental review. To date, Parks Canada’s concerns have not been addressed.”

The 2010 management plan called for exploring the feasibility of an aerial tramway system from the Banff townsite to the ski area to provide new visitor experiences while reducing human activity in the Cascade wildlife corridor. A 2018 feasibility study for a gondola to the summit of Norquay was rejected in 2020 by Parks Canada.

Rasheed’s Feb. 10, 2023, letter to council reminded council of its role on the hierarchy when it comes to its relationship with Parks Canada.

He reminded council of the Town of Banff Incorporation Agreement and that “there is a unique governance framework within which the Town of Banff operates,” they must follow federal legislation.

His March 15, 2024, public letter re-emphasizes that when it comes to national parks, Parks Canada is at the top of the food chain and there is to be no misunderstanding on what lane any other level of government needs to stay in.

Like it or not, Parks Canada is Banff’s landlord from now and likely until the end of time.

Though supportive of redeveloping the Railway Lands, Parks Canada has consistently said no to a gondola since it doesn’t conform with federal legislation.

The Railway Lands plan represents a strong potential for redevelopment in a key area of the community that stands at one of two gateways to the mountain town.

Banff council is in an unenviable situation. If they approve the plan with a gondola, it would “challenge Parks Canada’s ability to recommend final ministerial approval of the plan, as required under the Town of Banff Incorporation Agreement” and “could lead to an untenable situation for both of our organizations,” as Rasheed has previously stated.

If they remove the gondola from the plan, the much-needed intercept parking lot at the train station would all but become paid, according to the redevelopment plan, to cover costs meant to be done by the gondola. However, the Town could explore a payment agreement to subsidize cost or maintain free parking.

While Parks Canada has given crystal clear direction on the matter, it’s now up to Banff council to show leadership and understand its pecking order in the national park governance food chain.

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