Parks Canada hit by latest round of cuts

Parks Canada is the latest victim of the federal government's cost-cutting knife. This week it learned it's going to lose 30 jobs in the Yukon.

Parks Canada is the latest victim of the federal government’s cost-cutting knife.

This week it learned it’s going to lose 30 jobs in the Yukon. That’s nearly a third of the organization’s territorial staff of approximately 110 people.

The changes, to be made over the next year, mean reduced search and rescue capacity at Kluane National Park, no more winter camping at Kathleen Lake, and an end to guided tours of the S.S. Klondike and Dredge No. 4, said Anne Morin, Parks Canada’s Yukon superintendent.

Some of its sites across Canada will reduce their seasons or hours. But that shouldn’t be the case in the territory, where sites typically open from the May long weekend until Labour Day weekend, said Morin.

Details about the reductions to Kluane’s search and rescue operations likely won’t be known until November, said Morin. But parks staff plan to offer more programming to help prevent accidents, she said.

By the summer of 2013, guided tours will no longer be offered at the S.S. Klondike and Dredge No. 4. A video presentation will continue to be shown at the sternwheeler. Visitors will no longer be able to climb inside the dredge.

“We’ll offer self-guided tours only,” she said.

Guided tours will continue to be offered in Dawson City. “It’s been selected as a brand leader within Parks Canada,” said Morin.

Winter campsites will be closed at Kluane National Park’s Kathleen Lake site and the area’s ski trails will no longer be maintained.

No changes should be noticeable to hikers traversing the Canadian leg of the Chilkoot Trail, said Morin.

The Parks Canada office in Whitehorse remained closed on Monday as staff learned of the layoffs.

It’s just the latest example of federal cuts affecting the Yukon.

Officials with other departments have offered a common refrain, saying the cuts won’t affect front-line services offered to taxpayers. The NDP Opposition doubts this is true.

Revenue Canada’s one-person office in the Elijah Smith Building may close. A spokesperson in Ottawa refused to say how cuts would affect the operation.

The office provides important support to small businesses as they prepare to file taxes, said Rick Karp, president of the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce.

Closing the office would be “ludicrous,” given the federal Conservatives’ commitment to developing the North and supporting businesses, said Karp.

“They threatened a couple years ago to close the office. We raised a real fuss and they backed off.”

Staff at the office of the Surveyor General of Canada will drop from nine to three. Local surveyors worry these cuts are “too deep” and may hamper the territory’s efforts to reform its antiquated land titles system.

That, in turn, could slow land transactions at a time when the Yukon faces heavy pressure to speed up land development to help ease the housing shortage.

CBC North is looking to cut six jobs across the three territories. It remains to be seen how many of these jobs will come from the Yukon, but the corporation is promising that the staffing reduction won’t change the local radio and television programming lineup.

Nor will it mean an end to new programs introduced in January – local weekend radio news and a nightly television newscast.

“Our leaders have tried really hard not to download that on the regions,” said Janice Stein, CBC North’s managing director. “I think they’ve done the best they can.”

Nationally, the CBC is looking to cut $115 million over three years – a 10 per cent reduction. The public broadcaster employs approximately 130 people across the North.

Veterans Affairs is cutting 250 jobs over the next three years. The changes are being watched carefully by the Yukon’s Speaker, David Laxton, who served as a peacekeeper in Bosnia.

He’s encouraged to hear that client services won’t change.

“It’s not quite as drastic as it sounds,” he said.

“It’s not immediate, and it’ll take a while to play out. My fingers are crossed that we can get through this and still maintain the level of respect and service to the veterans.”

Some changes may be positive, he said.

One program allows veterans to hire help for house cleaning and yard work. Before veterans had to mail off receipts every six months to be reimbursed. Now the program is a simple grant, which requires less paperwork for veterans and officials alike, said Laxton.

Veterans Affairs has no Yukon staff, but officials from its Vancouver office used to occasionally visit the territory. “Maybe they won’t be able to come out as much as they used to,” he said.

Veterans Affairs also provides money to maintain war memorials. Laxton hopes that money is safe.

“If the cenotaph here were damaged, we could apply to Veterans Affairs for funding to get it repaired. It may sound like, ‘It’s a monument, who cares.’ But to a veteran, it’s the only way we have to pay respect to those people. The cenotaph is their gravestone because they’re buried in another country. They never came home.”

Ottawa will also cut a program that provides free Internet access to 28 sites around the territory. For now, the territorial government plans to pick up the slack and continue to fund the program itself, at a cost of $70,000 annually.

“It’s not a total surprise to us that the program is going to end,” said Terry Hayden, assistant deputy minister of Economic Development. “We’ve put together a bit of excess money to keep the program going for another year while we assess what we require for the future.”

The community access program has provided free Internet access since the mid-1990s. Access points include community libraries, First Nation offices, college campuses and the territory’s francophone association’s office.

“We can’t promise it will carry on as-is, but we certainly recognize the value of providing Internet access in locations where people don’t necessarily have it at home,” said Hayden.

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