Loss of pride, loss of service
A wise man once said that the only difference between an environmentalist and a developer is that the environmentalist already has his house in the woods.
Attitudes like that of Randy Smith, who wrote at letter in the May 9 issue of the Fitzhugh, are the reason that Jasper is in trouble. When workers, families and other people who are the backbone of small towns like Jasper are forced out, the visitors who fill your rental suites will not receive the service and help that is expected when visiting a resort town. When they don’t come, your mortgage will not be paid.
I and my family were forced out of Jasper in 2010 due to the high cost of living. My wife lived there from the early ‘80s, and I lived and worked there since the early ‘90s. During that time we contributed to the community through our jobs, volunteer activities, and other activities that residents who reside and care about a community tend to do. It has torn a hole in our lives to leave and yet we know that returning isn’t a reality.
Jasper is unique not because of its place in a national park. Jasper is unique because it attracts a wide variety of people from around the world who make it their home and take pride in that home. When you bus people in like cattle, as Randy has suggested, you lose that pride that makes the town special. When you lose that, are you really worth the trouble of a long trip from somewhere else? Probably not.
Rent and wages don’t align
“Remember to Breathe” is the slogan for Alberta Tourism, but many people in this town cannot afford to enjoy this beautiful place. The problem existing with Jasper‘s housing isn’t as much that there aren’t enough homes, the simple fact is that the homes don’t reflect actual wages sustained with employment within the town.
Many homes are purchased by wealthy investors for the sole purpose of renting them out at rates that exceed the average wage rate in the town, forcing many to maintain multiple jobs or to sublease their homes to make rent or mortgages affordable.
My personal experience—which I am very fortunate where my employer pays a fair competitive wage—I saw my wages increase by 13 per cent over seven years, however my rent alone increased by 26 per cent. Rent is now equal to 53 per cent of my income. Financial institutions will advise you that they do not like to see this figure any higher than 35 per cent.
Many people in Jasper have heard the landlords say, “If you don’t like it, leave.”
My question to employers is, “How well is that working for you?”
Many homes are purchased by investors with little to no interest in the parks or their communities. The unique housing situation in the parks, when supported by outside investors, is able to sustain rates that exceed the average wages paid in the towns. This forces many to maintain multiple jobs or to sublease their homes to make rent or mortgages affordable.
Shareholders and proprietors, if it truly is important to you, realize that in order to retain your workforce, wages must reflect the cost of living in this hardworking town, so tenants too can “Remember to Breathe.”
Finding the Balance
In regards to the proposed caribou area closures in Jasper, it has become apparent that a more balanced approach addressing the concerns of all stakeholders is necessary. Our federal government through Parks Canada, as well as all citizens of this nation, surely has the responsibility to protect our national parks and the wildlife that live there. But vast amounts of citizens wish to continue to enjoy the use of the park, including skiing in the backcountry, and if the federal government and Parks Canada fail to respect this, they are undermining the fundamentals of democracy; and we should be rightly outraged.
It seems most people concerned about this issue have the same general view: they want to genuinely protect threatened caribou, yet want to continue to have the freedom to use and enjoy our wonderful backcountry. As such, I believe most of us would be quite happy for a balanced solution to this problem that both enables us to continue to ski in a large part our backcountry, but also enables us to do the right thing in protecting the caribou.
The solution to this is simple; why don’t we move ahead with some of the proposed closure areas, and leave the other proposed closure areas open? The logical solution would be to keep open the Whistler Creek-Tonquin Range and the Maligne Valley areas (because these are the areas closest and most accessible to Jasper), while moving ahead with the closure of the Brazeau and A La Peche Range areas. This would leave us to enjoy some of the close-by, accessible and popular backcountry areas, but also it would serve to protect a large number of the threatened caribou in our park.
This approach also solves the problem of research, for it isn’t even clear whether shutting down areas to backcountry skiers will help the caribou or not. The best research would be to close off some areas and keep other areas open, and then simply keep track of numbers in all areas. What better way to determine whether closing off areas to the public actually works?
I believe this approach would fundamentally balance Park Canada’s responsibility to both protect its wildlife in its national parks, but also to adhere to the principles of democracy in respecting the rights and freedoms of its citizens.
Moving into the future
It is pleasing to see the topic of conversation in Jasper go towards the need for housing, since it has been on the agenda of the Jasper Young Citizens Committee for some time now.
Without fail, when we ask young citizens in Jasper about housing, the answer is often, “What housing?” The issue quickly rose to the surface as an initiative for the JYCC, so we expressed our concerns to the Jasper Community Housing Corporation. While we are a national park and preservation is a concern, we also need to “preserve” the idea of sustainable jobs and living conditions for the people who want to stay and enjoy what Jasper has to offer.
Jasper has become a place of precarious work and living situations, while our potential citizens are off searching for other places in Alberta that offer secure living conditions. If it is the job of the Jasper Community Housing Corporation to provide Jasper with the housing it so desperately needs, I don’t think we need a study to make the decision. Let’s begin planning things at a faster pace and start discussing options. Sustainable housing is a popular topic these days and Jasper’s youth have taken a great initiative with the recent SEED program. This could be a great opportunity to utilize the skills and ideas of our young citizens in Jasper as we move into the future.
Jasper Young Citizens Committee