Posted on: April 10, 2015 | General News
Open Letter to the Minister of Conservation and Water Stewardship from the Whiteshell Cottagers Association Inc.
March 27, 2015.
Dear Minister Mackintosh,
Beginning early in March, cottagers in Manitoba’s Provincial Parks began receiving their annual invoices for park district service fees and ground rent for their leased properties. Since then, the Whiteshell Cottager’s Association has been inundated with angry messages from cottagers, berating your Ministry and asking what defense our association can provide against these bills, which are seen by our membership as predatory.
Mr. Minister, we knew what was coming, and we have been working hard and diligently with your staff in the Parks Branch, hoping to find some common ground that might have allowed for an agreeable solution to what we see as disproportionately large and improperly implemented fee and rental increases.
We were under the impression that progress was being made, and that a sustainable compromise agreement could be reached. Apparently however, you rejected this agreement, and in the end, showed no willingness to compromise and enter into a new and invigorated partnership with your major stakeholders in the Parks; i.e. cottagers.
Yet your message on the Manitoba Conservation and Water Stewardship Web Site proclaims your dedication to cooperation with stakeholders and to providing affordable access to the Manitoba Parks System.
“Our website outlines how we manage and protect the province’s environment… working cooperatively with…. stakeholders…. providing affordable recreational opportunities. Our parks are among the most affordable in the country.” (www.gov.mb.ca/cws/minister)
Our position on the financial aspects of your new “Building the Parks Strategy” is simple. We have been consistent in our agreement to pay our fair share of park district service fees; but we have also insisted that you follow your own rules (the Parks Act) in their implementation. Your department’s failure to keep your fees up to date, as you claim, does not give you the right to increase these fees without the consultation required by the Parks Act. Despite our strenuous effort to find common ground on this issue, your Ministry remains adamant; no compromises, no discussion, no transparency. You are trying to raise these fees with the same lack of due process and consideration for Manitoba citizens that your government showed with the increase in the PST. Who will be next? You keep repeating your mantra; “cottagers will only pay service fees for services that they consume”. Yet when faced with evidence to the contrary from your own data, your answer is silence. For example, you have never explained why cottagers are paying for developments like sewage lagoons, campground Wi-Fi, water treatment facilities which are not intended for their use, and for some cases, which cottagers are not even allowed to use!
We are puzzled and outraged by your lack of concern for ordinary Manitobans in your decision to raise the ground rents for cottagers to unrealistic and unsustainable levels. By what reasonable standard should cottagers be facing what amounts to a $7500 annual tax for 3 months of access to a cottage with virtually no services? The failure of your department, over the years, to keep its land assessments current, provides no excuse to punish cottagers with a flawed assessment scheme and rent increases that are illegal and outlandish by your own Rentalsman’s standards. We have done our own homework and presented your ministry with a fair-minded proposal that accepts the raises that have already been imposed, but asks for these rates to be held in place until a long-term solution can be worked out in partnership. Your reaction to this opportunity “to work cooperatively with stakeholders to find an affordable solution” was to reject it out of hand.
Mr. Minister, you have severely misjudged the character of Manitoba’s cottagers. We are ordinary citizens from all walks of life, teachers, tradesmen, hydro fieldworkers, painters, union members, civil servants; a great many of us are senior or retired citizens on fixed incomes. We regret that while your government attempts to curry the favour of seniors with the school tax rebate, you selectively single out those seniors who happen to be cottagers in provincial parks, and threaten them with the loss of their beloved family cottages.
Your effort to squeeze more tax revenue from “the likes of the Nygaards” of the province (your very words, Mr. Minister) is insulting and frightening to low to modest income cottagers whose dream of affordable cottaging is being shattered by taxes and fees as high as $7500 per year! Cottagers are not fooled by the offer of a temporary cap, in part because the terms of this cap keep changing, and especially since you refuse to remove the language of the regulations that prescribe these high rates. And don’t forget those icons of the NDP who encouraged the dream of cottagers in the first place. Perhaps you should consult with former premier Gary Doer, to help you understand what family cottaging means to ordinary Manitobans. (As described by a respected member of your own party, (WFP, 3/17/2015) “Doer himself liked to talk about a Manitoba where everyone could own a home and a cottage. The message wasn’t “tax the rich,” it was “grow the middle class.” And they did”.)
We think the NDP should be protecting the dreams of ordinary Manitobans, not squashing them.
Finally, Mr. Minister, we are very much aware of how the relationship between Parks and Cottagers throughout the province has suffered because of past, festering disputes. We have canvassed all of the cottage owner associations in the Provincial Parks, and we are confident that they will march arm in arm with us. Our initial hope was to find common ground with you through discussion and negotiation, and to begin a new chapter of partnership for Parks Management and Parks stakeholders through the province. You do the talk about partnership, yet your unwillingness to “walk the walk” by turning your back on negotiation and compromise and sticking to a rigid and misguided approach, leaves cottagers no option but to escalate the dispute. We regret this escalation, but you have provided us with no other choice. In the hope of rekindling the spirit of fairness, we remain open to restarting these critical negotiations with your department, but the ball is in your court. I look forward to your reply in this very urgent matter.
Whiteshell Cottagers Association Inc