Friday’s announcement that tours at the S.S. Klondike and Dredge No. 4 will be taken over by private contractors is too little, too late, according to the Tourism Industry Association of the Yukon.
“This is completely unacceptable,” said executive director Blake Rogers.
“These cuts were announced back in March. We’ve been working on this all year, and finally when we talked to (Yukon MP Ryan) Leef in November he said we’d have an answer by the end of January.
Then in December he said it would be February. Now here we are and it’s March, and Leef is telling us it won’t be April until this is settled,” said Rogers.
In Friday’s announcement, Leef said that Parks Canada would offer business licences to private companies interested in taking over public tours at the two historic sites. The deadline for applications is April 2, with a final decision expected by April 15.
That gives tour companies about six weeks to plan their summer schedules, and that just isn’t enough time, Rogers said.
“They’re basically saying, ‘Here’s the solution and it’s up to industry to save the day.’ We’ve got our operators, and if people can step up to the plate and take this on this late in the game, it will be a testament to their adaptability. But it’s going to take a miracle to pull this off at this time,” Rogers said.
Rick Karp, president of the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce, said he was pleased with the announcement, but he also worries that with only a few months until the tourism season kicks into high gear, getting privately-run tours up and running in time could be a challenge.
“We found the announcement is a move in the right direction. It was something that was recommended early on. We thought the timing was difficult because it was only a couple of months before the season kicks in. Although we feel that it’s quite a positive decision on the part of Parks Canada, we hope there will be sufficient time to get everything together,” Karp said.
But the government’s political critics had even less words of praise for the much-anticipated announcement.
“I think it’s a stop-gap measure. I think it’s like putting a Band Aid on a really deep cut,” said Yukon NDP Leader Liz Hanson.
“This is not going to address the fundamental issue that Ryan Leef doesn’t get. Heritage is more than just the Disney tour kind of thing,” Hanson said.
While saving the guided tours at the two historic Parks sites is a positive move, Hanson said she’s still concerned about cuts to warden patrols and search and rescue operations in Kluane National Park.
“Parks were established so we could do more than just have the nice things that look pretty. There’s a whole misunderstanding about what Parks is and what heritage is,” Hanson said.
Klondike Liberal MLA Sandy Silver also said he’s frustrated that the announcement took so long, and that it doesn’t contain more good news for the curatorial staff that looks after the wealth of archives and artifacts that are stored in Dawson City.
“We were told in a Jan. 21 teleconference with stakeholders that we should basically give Leef enough rope to hang himself with and he’ll come up with a solution in late February. Now, we’re a week late, where every day matters, we’re already months behind in planning for the next tourism season, and this announcement has nothing for curation,” Silver said.
In the announcement on Friday, Yukon MP Ryan Leef said that along with providing licences for privately run tours at both sites, Parks Canada had agreed to keep all the Dawson City artifacts in the Yukon.
“That’s laughable. Of course they’re not leaving the territory. Imagine what the bill would be. We’re talking about a quarter of a million archive records, plus the work’s not finished yet. The announcement last week glossed over that,” Silver said, adding that simply keeping the archives in the territory isn’t enough to ensure that archival work continues and that the collection is properly cared for.
“Anything short of a 1.0 full-time equivalency reinstated in our curation department is a loss and is a failure in Ottawa,” Silver said.
Contact Jesse Winter at firstname.lastname@example.org