A surprise move announced on Monday (April 30) by Parks Canada to privatize business operations at all three Canadian Rockies Hot Springs will affect 20 employees at the Radium Hot Springs pool in Kootenay National Park.

“From a union perspective, let me just say that it’s completely ludicrous for the employer to consider commercialization or privatization of the hot springs,” said Kevin King, the regional vice-president of the Union of National Employees and Public Service Alliance of Canada, which represent Parks Canada workers. “I think everyone should know that the discovery of the hot springs led to the creation of the national park system so they’re actually privatizing the origins of our national parks.”

The plans to privatize will affect a total of 42 employees at the three hot springs — which also include the Banff Upper Hot Springs and the Miette Hot Springs in Jasper — who have been notified their positions may be subject to workforce adjustment, which could result in new job offers with the successful proponent or provisions of their collective agreement kicking in. The Radium pool is the largest hot spring out of the three, as well as in all of Canada.

“These employees are obviously devastated,” King said. “These employees have provided long term services in Radium for a very, very long time for Canadians and our international visitors  enjoying the services provided at the Radium aquacourt.”

“We’re going to work under the provisions of the collective agreement to ensure the employees are supported and their rights are respected,” executive director of the mountain national parks Tracy Thiessen told The Valley Echo.

She could not say whether the hot springs will continue to run under one umbrella or splinter into three separate enterprises. Currently, annual pass holders can access all three locations.

“Those are some of the questions that we’re grappling with in the development of the request for proposals,” Thiessen said.  “We’ve targeted to try to see if we could succeed in developing the transfer for May 2013 so if we were to follow that path, the Request for Proposal (RFP) would go out in the next six to eight weeks and that’s currently our goal, to try to meet that timeline.”

“What we would expect from a successful private sector proponent is that they will no doubt have a different model for operating the hot pools that could imply higher fees, it could imply different hours, and it could imply a completely different level of service as well,” she said.

Until then, it will be business as usual at the hot pool with no changes to what users normally expect, Thiessen said.

The privatization of the Radium Hot Springs pool is not a unique experience, said Graham Kerslake, president of Tourism Radium and the Radium Hot Springs Chamber of Commerce.

“If Parks Canada is looking at third party contracts in areas not considered to be their core competency, I think that’s consistent with a lot of what corporate Canada is doing so I think that’s a positive; I think that’s a benefit.”

The announcement came the same day the federal government revealed its most recent round of staffing cuts. With Parks Canada being one of the affected agencies, 16 employees from Yoho and Kootenay National Parks have been laid off while eight more are forced to consider workforce adjustment options, confirmed King.

“Just last year, Parks management was bragging up how wonderful these employees were doing in our celebratory year of our 100th anniversary, and then with sneakiness and stealth and swiftness, they identified without warning that these jobs were going to alternate service delivery,” said King about the impending privatization.