No two candidates represent the conflict between conservation and tourism in Alberta Parks quite like the Banff-Kananaskis’ candidates: Conservation scientist Sarah Elmeligi (NDP) and Tourism Secretary Miranda Rosin (UCP).
Elmeligi has lived and worked in the district for over 16 years. She acknowledges the importance of the tourism industry, but is concerned about the strain tourism puts on the land and communities.
“How do we manage and welcome people from all over the world but still retain our sense of community identity?” asked Emeligi.
This question highlights the disproportionate use of the region’s services, such as emergency services by tourists over locals.
This story is part of an editorial partnership between the Calgary Journal and MacEwan University journalism.
The area has also faced issues of over-tourism which negatively impacts tourism as a whole, locals, and the environment and lead to the closure of Moraine Lake Road to private vehicles.
Elmeligi’s background as a researcher gives her unique insight into these problems and those of the many diverse people of Banff-Kananaskis.
“I have been to every single community before I was even the candidate,” Elmeligi said. “I’ve met with a range of stakeholders to talk about all kinds of issues from climate change to grazing lease management to tourism infrastructure management and planning.”
Elmeligi’s passion for finding solutions that serve both the wildlife and humans reflects the same pride that many residents of the riding feel.
“People have an affinity to the Eastern slopes and to the Rocky Mountains, and that’s why they choose to live in this riding.”
Running opposite Elmeligi is Alberta’s current secretary of tourism, UCP incumbent Miranda Rosin.
Rosin won the Banff-Kananaskis riding for the UCP in the 2019 election with 51.3 per cent of the vote, beating NDP incumbent Cameron Westhead by 1969 votes. Previously, Westhead was the elected MLA in 2015 for what was then the Banff-Cochrane riding.
Rosin made headlines early in her term for standing with the people of Springbank, Redwood Meadows, and the Tsuu T’ina First Nation in opposing the Springbank dam.
She also drew media attention and faced criticism for her controversial statements regarding health restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rosin’s campaign focus is on the betterment of Alberta through various means, including focusing on tourism, the environment, and dealing with rural crime. She emphasizes what Banff-Kananaskis can do for Alberta economically.
“Banff-Kananaskis has so much to offer the province. We have been such an economic bastion for so long, and we just really are the face of what the world knows to be Alberta.”
Rosin boasts job creation and a booming economy as some of the UCP’s accomplishments during her time in office.
“Alberta is thriving. The people welcome hundreds of thousands of jobs. Our economy is stronger and more diversified than it has ever been,” Rosin said.
Under Rosin’s leadership, visitor numbers to Banff have almost returned to pre-pandemic levels; however, the workforce has yet to recover.
In pre-pandemic years, many of the workers in the park’s area were from abroad, but these international workers haven’t returned.
Despite accommodation and food services being the largest portion of the workforce, businesses are still severely shorthanded and unable to meet the demands of the recovered tourism industry.
During Rosin’s time in office, the UCP has been criticized for its unclear and inconsistent action regarding Alberta Parks.
Political scientist Duane Bratt, a professor at Mount Royal University, thinks this may affect Rosin’s chances of being reelected.
“The flip-flop that the Conservatives had to make on parks hurts her,” Bratt said. “And she hasn’t had very good relations with either the town of Banff or the town of Canmore—the two largest centers in Banff-Kananaskis.”
Bratt went on to say that the election in Banff-Kananaskis will be a good predictor of the outcome of the provincial election.
“If the NDP can’t swing Banff-Kananaskis, they’re not going to win the election,” he said. “ [But] the UCP can still win, even if they lose that riding.”
Elmeligi urges Albertans to vote this election cycle.
“Get to know the candidates in your riding and then make sure that you have your say in who your representative is in the Alberta legislature. It can be incredibly important.”
Rosin, for her part, urges voters to reflect on where the province is today compared with four years ago.
“We’re an incredible place to call home right now, and that is very much the result of deliberate policy actions, but none of that happened by accident… I just hope that Albertans remember that come ballot time.”