By Kristian Rasmussen
A move by Parks Canada to privatize operations at the Radium Hot Springs pools will affect the 20 employees at the local swimming hot spot, Parks has confirmed.
On April 30th, Parks Canada announced its plans to seek private operators for all three of its Canadian Rockies hot pools (Radium, Banff and Miette Hot Springs, near Jasper, Alta.).
Although there will be no immediate layoffs at the Radium pools, the future is uncertain for the 42 staff members employed by Parks to run this and the other two facilities.
If plans move forward, the new private operators could take over in as little as one year.
“What the 20 employees heard at Radium on Monday is that they are affected,” said Tracy Thiessen, executive director of the mountain national parks. “They [Radium Hot Springs employees] are subject to workforce adjustments. They will continue to go to work for the next year at least.”
The move to open the pools to private tenants was designed to maximize efficiency and exploit the developing spa industry, Ms. Thiessen said.
“We’ve had pretty stable visitation at the hot pools over the last couple years, but overall it has been on the decline since 2001,” she said. “The spa industry has increased 350 per cent. We are seeing stable or declining visitor numbers from our hot pools while there is a market out there for spas.”
A private company would be able to market the hot pools to the spa industry more intensively than has been done in the public sector, Ms. Theissen said.
The three national pools at Banff, Radium and Miette earn about $5 million annually and generally break even, she added.
“We felt that there is potential out there and we need to explore it. There’s a reason why this new market for spas aren’t going to the hot pools. These are the same pools that your parents visited. There is huge potential to really improve them.”
Kevin King, regional vice-president for the Union of National Employees said he is angered by the privatization of the pools and worries about the future of employees.
“The employees are part of the social fabric of the Columbia Valley. It’s not alright to tear the fabric out of the mountain,” Mr. King said.
Privatizing the pools will ultimately cost the taxpayer more in the long run because the contract must be monitored by Parks Canada, he said. The timing of the Parks Canada decision was purposefully designed to coincide with union representatives absence due to the Public Service Alliance of Canada’s convention, he said.
“The timing of the announcement was purposeful, malicious, and should be a personal affront to not only the employees, but the business community and the small shops that need employees to have their disposable incomes,” Mr. King added.
Graham Kerslake, Tourism Radium president said he is optimistic the changes could increase tourism numbers.
“One would expect that the government has spent some time looking at this,” he said. “If there is a more efficient way to run the pools, and they have found it, that would be good for the valley.”