Fort Edmonton Park Asks for $1.5 Million, Will Need to Raise Admission Fees

Mix-up over COVID wage subsidies leads FEMCo into a serious shortfall

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When you’ve received nearly $50 million in federal funding, you tread carefully when it comes to criticizing the federal government.

Members of Edmonton City Council and leaders of Fort Edmonton Park did exactly that this week.

Fort Edmonton Park has a problem; it received nearly $1.5 million from the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidies plan during the height of the pandemic, to help cover costs during the COVID slowdown. The leadership of Fort Edmonton Management Company (FEMCo) later discovered that it wasn’t eligible to receive the subsidies from Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). Because FEMCo voluntarily disclosed the problem, $200,000 in interest was forgiven by CRA.

The reason that the Park was ineligible? Roger Jevne, the City’s Branch Manager of the Recreation and Culture Branch, said the feds decided that, because FEMCo is a solely-owned subsidiary of the City, it should not have got the subsidies in the first place. There are other municipally owned attractions across the country that are facing the same repayment problem.

But this left a problem; the park is $1.5 million in the hole, and FEMCo came to the city looking for a loan to bridge the gap. The Executive Committee approved it by a 5-0 count, but it still has to go to City Council on May 14 for a vote.

FEMCo already receives an annual $5.1 million in tax levy funding from the City.

As well, Fort Edmonton Park will have to raise admission rates, and is looking for the City’s blessing on that, as well.

Darren Dalgleish, Fort Edmonton Park’s president and CEO was asked what would happen if the City couldn’t provide the $1.5 million loan.

“There are two major impacts: One is the degree to which we can prepare for park opening and staff it, there would be fewer interpretive resources in the park — and that has, unfortunately, the opposite effect of what we are trying to create,” he said.

The second impact? The park is getting a $500,000 matching grant from Travel Alberta so it can expand its programming. But, if the budget takes a hit, FEMCo won’t be able to provide the $500,000 needed from its end.

“We simply can’t match that, we’d have to return that money,” said Dalgleish.

While members of FEMCo met with Liberal Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Official Languages Randy Boissonnault, it was clear there was no way out of the CRA jam.

And, both FEMCo and Mayor Amarjeet Sohi made sure to do a political tap-dance when talking about the feds. They made sure to praise the Canadian government for its $49 million contribution to the construction of the Indigenous Peoples Experience at the the park. And, Sohi, a former Liberal cabinet minister himself, stressed that there’s an “arm’s length” relationship between the government and Canada Revenue Agency — that one can’t directly influence the other.

“FEMCo is such a phenomenal organization and the park is such a phenomenal attraction in the city,” said Sohi. “We’ve got to figure out a way to support them out of this difficult situation and we can do this without much risk.”

(No toes were stepped on in the writing of this article.)