$50M St. Lawrence Parks Commission infrastructure shortfall

August 9, 2023

MORRISBURG – The St. Lawrence Parks Commission is facing an infrastructure deficit of nearly $52.7 million over the next three years for major capital projects, including $17.4 million at Upper Canada Village. 

A review of recent three-year business plans for the SLPC show a continued list of major capital projects for the agency ranging from buildings and power systems, to campground reconstruction. The business plans are required by the Ministry of Tourism, Culture, Sport, to which oversight of the SLPC falls. 

Over $22.7 million in projects are identified for the 2023-24 fiscal year including $14.9 million for UCV, the majority of which are connected to the February 2022 failure of the electrical grid at historic site. 

The revenues for the SLPC, which include the operation of Fort Henry in Kingston, campgrounds along the St. Lawrence River east to the Quebec border, Upper Canada Village, and other attractions, are not generating enough money to cover day-to-day costs. The tourism sector is still recovering from the effects of COVID-19 restrictions and a slowing economy. The SLPC projects a net income loss of almost $6.5 million from operations this year. The province pays a yearly subsidy of $7,122,800, which makes up for the revenue shortfall. 

Before the pandemic (2018-19), the commission had a $4.8 million net income loss. 

The SLPC’s three year business plan does not list any plan to address the funding deficits, other than asking the MTCS for capital funding. 

Ministry spokesperson Denelle Balfour said the ministry provides annual capital funding to address critical repair needs. 

“The Ministry works with SLPC and Infrastructure Ontario to assess the condition of SLPC’s assets,” Balfour explained. 

That funding will include paying for the replacement electrical grid for UCV. Balfour said that following the initial failure, the province and parks commission have worked to keep temporary measures operating while its replacement was designed. No specifics other than the estimated $8 million cost were given.

“In 2023-24, the ministry is providing funding for SLPC to undertake the design and construction work for a replacement system,” Balfour continued. 

No timeline was given for when funding would be announced, and no tender has been issued by the SLPC for the project according to the Ontario Tenders system.

To deal with some of the infrastructure projects, connections to existing municipal services in the Municipality of South Dundas and Township of South Stormont are planned. South Stormont is seeking a land swap in exchange for the SLPC connecting to municipal services. South Dundas chief administrative officer Tim Mills confirmed to The Leader that South Dundas is not looking to receive land in exchange for access. 

South Stormont’s recently adopted recreation master plan includes improving access to SLPC land in Ingleside, Long Sault, and along Hoople Creek between the two villages. No properties have been publicly identified as part of the land-for-access swap. 

“The ministry is aware and supportive of the ongoing discussions between SLPC and the Township of South Stormont,” Balfour said. 

When asked if the province will consider selling undeveloped land to fund capital projects, Balfour was non-committal.

“The purpose of the SLPC is to develop, control, manage, operate, and maintain the Parks and its heritage assets,” she said. “The ministry continues to support SLPC to address the most critical projects on the deferred maintenance list. SLPC operates under the authority of the St. Lawrence Parks Commission Act and must comply with all applicable Ontario Public Service Directives and Policies related to the acquisition and/or the sale of land.”

SLPC representatives did not respond to questions from The Leader by publication deadline.

Story by Phillip Blancher, The Morrisburg Leader, for the Local Journalism Initiative