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April 2014 President’s Report

Posted on: April 25, 2014  |  

Manitoba Conservation and Water Stewardship has plotted a PLANNED MONEY RAISING SCHEME which is based on greed, supported by half truths and aimed at forcing many Manitoba cottagers to pay exhorbitant fee increases or abandon a sacred life style.

On March 8, 2013 the Minister held a surprise news conference to announce his plan to Build the Parks Province; to solicit the approval of people from outside Provincial Parks. It amounted to a smear campaign against free loaders living in $500,000 cottages, who weren’t paying their share of Parks operations. Subsequent news and e-mail releases from his department and hysterical rants by writers in the print media (they know who they are) have insisted that cottagers in Parks are rich whiners who are unwilling to pay their share of Parks operating costs. I have talked to several of the non-cottagers and they have been drawn in by the PLAN and think that MCWS should make cottagers in Parks pay up. Most cottagers live on fixed incomes. You have some clever spin doctors Mr. Minister.

On several occasions there was mention that the cottagers’ share of the annual cost of Parks operation was $4 million dollars. The dollar figure that cottagers were paying, according to the minister, was $1.7 million. Government documents in our possession from 2006-07 show that Manitoba cottagers paid $4,081,198.93 in lease and service fees in that year. Since cottagers have continued to pay the same invoiced fees every year since 2006-07 we must assume that cottagers have paid more than four million dollars each year. The $1.7 million is service fees. The remainder, $2.3 million, is lease fees which goes into general revenue. The Minister doesn’t want to acknowledge that cottagers have paid more than $4 million dollars per year. Neat trick.

We the cottagers in Manitoba Provincial Parks have never said that we would refuse to pay justified fee increases. We do, however, need to see the shares paid by each stakeholder group in the Parks. For the last year the cottagers of the Whiteshell Cottagers Association Inc. have endeavoured to pry information from the financial managers of Manitoba Conservation and Water Stewardship. There is a requirement in Sections 18 and 20 of the Parks Act for presentation of information to stakeholders in Manitoba Parks. The response has been feeble partial offerings that were unacceptable. The latest response is the contention that MCWS isn’t required to produce proposed annual budgets for review by stakeholders.

In March of 2013, an average fee increase of two hundred dollars per year per cottage was bandied about in Building the Parks Province. By October 2013, the time when invoices for next year’s payments would normally be sent to cottagers, a finalized fee system was presented. The method for developing huge fee increases was to increase RAW LAND VALUES on all properties, notably on lake front lots (e.g. from $18,000 to $130,000). Based on the 4% of raw land value factor, increases of $500 or more could be realized for each of the next ten years. The justification for the increases were comparisons to taxes on properties in adjacent municipalities and in Riding Mountain National Park. A cottage on the water front in the Lac Du Bonnet and Riding Mountain areas, with full services, was mentioned as comparable to cottages in the Whiteshell. Whoever made the selections for comparison didn’t pick lots with comparable raw land value, from those locations. Clever choices.

None of the huge fee increases, more than $5,000 at the end of ten years for most Whiteshell lake front cottages, were presented to the unsympathetic readers. That might create a guilt attack among socially responsible non-cottagers. It is easier to cloud the fee issue by repeatedly mentioning the $500,000 cottages in the Whiteshell Park while ignoring the fact that park lease fees are charged against RAW LAND VALUE

In order to complete the PLAN, two events have occurred in the past month. The first is the elimination of the “rent look up” web site that allowed cottagers to see the planned increase in their lease and service fees. Cottage Associations were able to use the look up figures to calculate the total fee grab in provincial parks; estimated at two million dollars province wide per year. That fee increase, if allowed to proceed, will be $2 million this year, $4 million next year, $6 million the year after, until it will be $20 million per year at year ten. Only the service fees are dedicated to Park operations. The bulk of the fees collected will be lease fees and will go to general revenue. In his Feb. 27, 2014 newspaper article the Minister said that his actions were not a money grab.

The second event is the rewriting of the Park Regulations and the Cottagers Handbook. Both have been hastily rewritten (sanitized) to absolve the minister of any requirement to consult with stakeholders on financial plans for Provincial Parks. We wonder if the minister will confide with non-cottagers that he sees nothing wrong with taxation without representation.

At the end of the year the Whiteshell Cottagers Association Inc. has no alternative but to litigate against MCWS for failure to come forward and engage in honest and open disclosure of financial management in Provincial Parks.

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