Camping on the Campaign Trail

Canada is smack dab in the middle of a national election campaign. PlayGroundology‘s international friends may have twigged that something was awry north of the 49th with the flurry of TIME magazine-led media coverage reporting on some past transgressions of the current Prime Minister prior to him holding political office.

This post has to do with a particular campaign promise made this past Thursday nearly a week after TIME broke the news that made a surprised world sit up and take notice. Let me disclose at this point that:

  • I am a Canadian citizen;
  • I do not have a membership in any political party;
  • I am among the ranks of undecided voters – 11% of the electorate at the most recent reckoning;
  • the camping campaign pledge will not be a clincher or a deal breaker for me whoever I wind up casting my ballot for on October 21.

That’s right, you read correctly there is a campaign pledge related to providing young people the experience of camping in a national or provincial  park.


As part of a nature conservation package, the Liberal Party announced:

  • We will give every child the chance to learn how to camp by the time they reach grade eight, expanding the successful Learn to Camp program;
  • This will make it possible for 400,000 kids each year to learn the skills to enjoy camping; and;
  • We will give 75,000 less privileged children and their families an up to four night trip to one of Canada’s National or Provincial Parks:
  • This includes camping accommodations and a travel bursary of up to $2,000 so that families can more easily afford a once-in-a-lifetime trip to more national parks like Banff, Gros Morne, Forillon and the Cape Breton Highlands.

Predictably, the small ‘c’ conservative media outlets and columnists pilloried the idea. One of the Sun Media chain’s well known writers opined:

“This is at one and the same time one of the most patronizing and one of the most naive policies ever proposed during a Canadian election.”   Lorne Gunter

John Ivison, a colleague of Gunter’s on the national media stage, had this to say in The National Post:

But handing over public money to fund camping holidays for low-income and new Canadian families takes nannyism to heights not even the Trudeau Liberals have reached hitherto.

Well, I did mention that we are in the midst of election sweepstakes. The fevered, adversarial campaigns are susceptible to hyperbole in the opinion sections and amongst the chattering classes.  Television news from Canada’s two major stations – CBC and CTV – provided more balanced coverage with a focus on the available facts as did Québec’s La Presse.

Canadians do love to spend time in the outdoors to embrace a number of activities including camping as the Statistics Canada graphic below illustrates.  Our public parks are sought after with vacationers from around the world coming here to get a taste of Canada’s nature experience. This summer we met families who traveled from Europe throughout the three weeks we camped in Quebec and New Brunswick. Why not ‘less privileged children’ and their families too?


There’s a global movement working to reconnect kids with the natural world. Given the documented benefits of outdoor play and the growing body of research linking time spent in natural environments to positive health outcomes, this is something that we as a society should continue to focus and push forward on.


As for the costing of this campaign pledge I have no expertise there. There is no arguing though that we need recruits to lead change on the environmental frontlines. Perhaps this type of program will provide an aspirational window that could turn into an organic eco-action incubator.

Our kids have been camping since they were infants. If there is still such a thing as leisure, or pleasure camping when they are adults, I am quite confident that they will be there enjoying and caring for the natural world. Making access to this kind of experience more widespread seems to be a laudable policy objective particularly when we need every hand on deck to save us from ourselves.


This past weekend, people traveled from across the country to spend the weekend in the woods outside of Ottawa and take part in the Canada’s first Outdoor Play Summit. Educators, health care, recreation and design professionals, urban planners and others are looking to connect more kids with the natural world. Organizations like the Child and Nature Alliance of Canada and Earthday Canada are working to  make this happen. Perhaps there is a role for them and longstanding groups like Scouts Canada and the Canadian chapter of the International Play Association should this policy ever see the light of day.

PlayGroundology friends – what do you think, would this idea make your policy deliberations if you were leading the discussions? As for myself, I would potentially see this idea as a much better investment than tax cuts or any other kind of breaks for the 1%.

2 responses to “Camping on the Campaign Trail

  1. Hi Alex, I have been pondering the potential impact and population reach of this promise. Like you this is not something that will change my vote but its positive that its on the agenda.

    The promise seems to be linked to the environment and not to health and social impacts. I did Google the Learn To Camp program and came up with a youtube video on immigrant families in Keji. I don’t know much more about the program.

    I tend to look at these kind of policies from several angles:

    1. Do we have evidence that it works?

    Kids outside is good for health and PA and likely for the environment. This program seems to be limited to a one time, several day, visit to a national or provincial park. Most of our parks are located far away from population centres ( Keji is a two hour drive from Halifax ) and don’t lend themselves to daily use on a year round basis. So I don’t think this program, on its own, can overcome the nature deficit facing kids.

    2. Are we reaching a significant percentage of the target population?

    5,068,587 — The total number of students enrolled in public elementary and secondary school programs in Canada in 2015/2016, continuing a slight upward trend seen since 2011/2012

    So if they reach 400,000 students that is 12.5% of the population. Thats better than some programs but still aways to go.

    Every student should get to enjoy at least one ( or more ) national park experience in Canada

    4. What are the alternative ways to achieve the objective? ie get more kids outside on a daily basis

    We will need to look at our urban and neighbourhood areas and how kids access and use outdoor environments. Where I now live in the North end of Halifax is not an environment that facilitates contact with nature for anybody if you don’t have a car. What can we do to change that? Possibilities include more parks and open space as we build and rehab neighbourhoods; ensure public transit to near urban parks; build schools with natural trails and open space; build skills and commitment by kids and parents to use and enjoy the natural environment and many more I’m not likely thinking of.

    Love getting your newsletter. keep it up. Mike


    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Mike – thanks for your thoughtful and well researched reply. These are solid comments and considerations that you make regarding this Election 2019 campaign promise. As you note this would be a step in the right direction but only a partial answer to involving a significant number of kids in exploring the natural world in a non-urban setting. The Nova Scotia group ‘A for Adventure’ has had some involvement with the Learn to Camp program and are great ambassadors for nature adventures. I have started a new project – Atlantic Canada Adventures – which is progressing at a modest pace (hopefully more time to dedicate to it over the coming months). It will look at activities, places and strategies that can help kids increase their participation and engagement in the natural environment and in outdoor settings throughout Atlantic Canada. Certainly not a lot of parks in North End Hali to choose from but one of my favourites is Fort Needham Memorial Park.


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