Skip to content

Parks Canada designed to keep decision making at the local level: CEO

In the eight years that Alan Latourelle has been the top person at Parks Canada, he's never made a decision about how any of the national parks are operated.

In the eight years that Alan Latourelle has been the top person at Parks Canada, he's never made a decision about how any of the national parks are operated.

He's keenly aware of what's going on in the parks, and has directly helped negotiate the creation of parks, but he says Parks Canada is like no other federal government agency in making sure that decisions are made at a local level.

"The organization is designed so that the people who are dealing with the area have the decision-making powers," Parks Canada's CEO said during a visit to Vancouver to celebrate the 100th birthday of Canada's national park system. "We truly live daily this distribution of responsibility."

If you have a hierarchical management system, where the decision-making process is layered, the people who make the decisions are too far removed from the local situations, he says. With Parks Canada, superintendents are given budgets, and have to live within those budgets as they carry out the park's management plan, but how they do that is decided at the local level. "There's quite a flat organization."

The only exception in the decision-making process is the creation of a park. That has to be done with approval at the highest level, right up to the Minister of the Environment.

As part of a park's creation, the management plan becomes the roadmap that everyone follows. "Once a park is established," Latourelle says, "the day-by-day is done by the superintendent."

That's why, he says, Parks Canada has had its superintendent of the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve, Wayne Bourque, work so closely on the feasibility study about whether Parks Canada would like to establish a national park on Bowen Island - and gauging whether the community would like a park, too.

This is not always how Parks Canada has operated, he says. For instance, "in Jasper we were the manager of the town with little local input pre-1980," he says. He negotiated the Town of Jasper agreement to bring the community in to the decision-making process. "We really have this culture of local engagement.... Ninety-nine-point-nine per cent of issues are dealt with through community consultation."

The benefit, he says, is that Parks Canada can learn how to better manage its parks. "We don't have all the answers and as we engage the community, we improve our decision-making process. We get the best advice from everyone. It sets Parks Canada apart [from other federal agencies.] The structure and design is so critical."

This approach means that every national park is different, not just in its landscape. "We're not trying to bring Banff to Bowen Island."

Latourelle was responding to questions about many Bowen Islanders' fears that if control of the island's Crown lands were given to Parks Canada, they would lose any opportunity to be involved with how those lands are managed and used.

He says the concerns of Bowen Islanders are no different than the concerns of people in other communities where parks have been established.

He worked personally with Nahanni First Nations on the creation of the Nahanni National Park Reserve. "They really see it as a sacred place," he says, "and they had the same concerns - will we be overrun, will we have a say? A lot of the fundamentals are not different."

There's not one national park that hasn't involved some sort of compromise on all sides, he says. Maybe a group has to give up something, such as hunting and fishing rights. In the Nahanni area there was the potential of developing a mining economy. Did First Nations want to give up that source of revenue? "There are always trade-offs for local communities."

One thing communities get in return is the protection of those natural environments for all time.

"There are pros and cons and challenges but I've not seen a proposition where we can't work through these issues."

It's important, he says, that both Parks Canada and Bowen Islanders are fully aware of all the issues surrounding the potential of creating a national park on Bowen.

"There are real issues that have long-term implications," he says. "We need to understand what we're getting into and do the legal work. We each have to realize that there are real implications... That's when you can make an informed decision. All the work needs to be done before people can make an informed decision."

When the Nahanni national park was created, he gave a speech about why the process had been so successful. He said, "We had the courage to dream; we had the courage to trust each other; and we had the courage to work together to find solutions."