Mr. Lawrence Toet (Elmwood—Transcona, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, as we debate third reading of Bill S-5, I want to express my full support for the Nááts’ihch’oh national park reserve act.
The purpose of the bill is to formally establish and protect Nááts’ihch’oh under the Canada National Parks Act as our nation's newest national park. This would the forty-fourth national park Canada has created since it first set aside lands in the Rocky Mountains for Banff National Park.
Located in the Mackenzie Mountains of the Northwest Territories, this newest national park borders on the Yukon territory and shares part of its boundary with Nahanni National Park Reserve. At 4,895 square kilometres, it would be the fifteenth-largest national park in Canada.
I want to express my appreciation to fellow parliamentarians who have spoken in support of Bill S-5. It is clear that support for the protection of Nááts’ihch’oh national park reserve under the Canadian National Park Act cuts across party lines and is a vision shared by all.
However, as we move toward the end of debate on Bill S-5, I do want to address some of the perceptions that have emerged during discussion on Bill S-5, both in this chamber and in committee.
In short, some of the commentaries suggested our government lacks the commitment to both protect Nááts’ihch’oh national park reserve and to honour the undertakings we have made to the first nations and Métis of the area in the establishment agreement that we signed in March 2012.
The first issue I wish to address is the public consultation program.
A number of members have raised concern over the fact that so few of the over 1,600 participants in the consultation program indicated a preference for the boundary that closely resembles the one that was chosen.
When Parks Canada released its three boundary options for comment in 2010, it was very clear in its material that it was not a vote but a discussion. The agency clarified that it was possible that none of the three options presented would be the boundary, stating:
|| The three boundary options being presented are not formal proposals and it is unlikely that the final park boundary will look exactly like any of them.
Indeed, the final boundary was not any of the options presented for public consultation. At the request of the Sahtu Dene and Métis in 2012, the government added a 20-square-kilometre extension of the national park reserve boundary into the O'Grady Lake area. The purpose of this addition is to facilitate visitor access to this new national park in a very beautiful area.
As the consultation program demonstrated, the government's proposal to create Nááts’ihch’oh national park reserve generated considerable support among Canadians. Over 96% of the participants who submitted written comments expressed their support for this initiative to create a new national park, and over 61% cited as important the protection of the habitats of important wildlife species such as grizzly bears, caribou, Dall sheep, and mountain goats. Passage of Bill S-5 would be the best means for this House to positively respond to this level of support.
Consultation programs are but one element of an overall approach to deciding upon whether to create a new national park, under what conditions, and with what boundaries. In the case of Nááts’ihch’oh, the results of the 2010 public consultation program were not the only factor in deciding the boundary. Our government also had to consider the final views of the Government of the Northwest Territories and the Sahtu Dene and Métis; the results of the mineral and energy resource assessment that was undertaken the by the Geological Survey of Canada; the strategic value of the minerals in the area to Canada; the needs and plans of the current mineral development companies that have interests in the Nááts’ihch’oh area; and the views of other implicated federal departments.
The result of this process is a proposal for 4,895-square-kilometre national park reserve that would protect the upper reaches of the South Nahanni River as well as habitat for woodland caribou and grizzly bears, while allowing for the development of existing mineral claims and leases and for potential future mineral development.
The second issue I want to address is the suggestion that Parks Canada would not be able to maintain the ecological integrity of Nááts’ihch’oh national park reserve.
The Canada National Parks Act states:
|| Maintenance or restoration of ecological integrity, through the protection of natural resources and natural processes, shall be the first priority of the Minister when considering all aspects of the management of parks.
The establishment agreement we signed with the Sahtu Dene and the Métis commits both parties to sustain the ecological integrity of the South Nahanni River watershed.
Several speakers have cast doubt on our government's commitment to ecological integrity in light of the recent report of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development on Parks Canada and ecological integrity. I want to dispel this concern. Parks Canada continues to maintain professional and technical science capacity at each of Canada's national parks in order to deliver science-based programs such as ecological monitoring and restoration and the protection and recovery of species at risk. It will be no different in the Nááts’ihch’oh national park reserve.
In his report, the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development concluded that:
|| Parks Canada...is fulfilling its key responsibilities for maintaining or restoring ecological integrity in Canada's national parks. The Agency has developed a solid framework of policies, directives, and guidelines for fulfilling its key responsibilities....
The commissioner also highlighted the fact that Parks Canada is recognized as a world leader in developing guidance on ecological integrity. I would note that Parks Canada is transparent with the Canadian public on the state of our national parks' ecological health, as we are the only country in the G8 that is reporting on the state of ecological integrity in our national parks system.
Parks Canada is also recognized internationally as a leader in building respectful, trusting relationships with aboriginal peoples, which includes the active use of traditional knowledge in ecological decision-making. It would be no different in the Nááts’ihch’oh national park reserve.
All of this augurs well for the ecological future of Nááts’ihch’oh, as our government has the legislative mandate for ecological integrity the staff and resources, and the track record to ensure that this park would be left unimpaired for the use, benefit, and enjoyment of future Canadians.
The third issue I want to address is the ability of Parks Canada to promote tourism associated with Nááts’ihch’oh national park reserve.
The agreement between Parks Canada and the Sahtu Dene and Métis confirms that a shared purpose is to “encourage public understanding, appreciation and enjoyment of the Park” and to “enhance the experience of visitors to the Park”. I am pleased to note that between 2009-10 and 2013-14, Parks Canada measured a 4% increase in visitation to our national parks, which is almost a half a million new visitors. Our government has seen growth in visitation to a range of sites. Gros Morne National Park, on the west coast of Newfoundland, saw a 6% growth between 2012-13 and 2013-14. There was a 21% growth in Cape Breton Highlands National Park in Nova Scotia, a 13% growth in Ontario's Bruce Peninsula National Park, and a 31% increase in visitation to Manitoba's Wapusk National Park.
At the urging of the minister responsible for Parks Canada, the agency is developing an approach to unleashing the economic potential of our northern national parks with a focus on more aggressively attracting visitors to experience northern Canada and the culture of the aboriginal people who call these lands home.
Clearly Parks Canada continues to deliver quality ecological integrity and visitor service programs, and, most importantly, it continues to deliver on its mandate to maintain and make use of the national parks so as to leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.
Finally, there have been suggestions during this debate that in creating Nááts’ihch’oh national park reserve, we would simply cut the ribbon on a new park and then abandon it, offering press releases but not funding its development and operation. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Among other things, the agreement signed by Parks Canada and the Sahtu Dene and Métis states that a shared purpose is to create employment and business opportunities for beneficiaries of the affected Sahtu communities. Since we signed that establishment agreement with the first nations in 2012, Parks Canada has moved to immediately implement the terms of the agreement. For example, the minister of the environment appointed representatives to the management committee that is to advise on the management of Nááts’ihch’oh. The management committee provides advice to the minister and the Sahtu Renewable Resources Board on various matters, including renewable resource issues, the park management plan, employment, training and economic opportunities for members, and protection measures.
Until a new office is constructed, Parks Canada has opened a temporary office in Tulita and hired four employees, including the site superintendent. One of these is a Sahtu beneficiary. Parks Canada is advertising all positions locally in the community and consulting with the Sahtu on how best to attract Sahtu beneficiaries. In hiring staff, Parks Canada is taking into account special considerations for Sahtu cultural knowledge and provides preferences to qualified Sahtu members.
After signing the establishment agreement, Parks Canada started discussions with the first nations on the supply of offices, a visitors' centre, a warehouse, and housing units. In the end, the total capital investment in the community will be $3 million.
Clearly, we have not just cut a ribbon and run. We are committed to fulfilling the terms of our agreement with the Sahtu Dene and Métis and have moved to immediately implement it. We have committed the necessary funds to establish, develop, and operate this new national park. We are taking steps to ensure that this new national park reserve will not only protect the environment but make a meaningful contribution to the social and economic well-being of the community. This legislation would protect the lands and waters of a nationally significant landscape in the Nááts’ihch’oh national park reserve of Canada.
In passing the bill and making it law, we are providing Parks Canada with the powers necessary to protect this national treasure for the benefit of all Canadians. It is not just here in Parliament but across our nation that people work to protect the great symbols of our nation, the great institutions of our democracy, and the natural and cultural heritage that stand as a testament to the history of our great nation. We owe them our gratitude.
In conclusion, I hope that all members will support passage of Bill S-5 and the formal establishment of Nááts’ihch’oh national park reserve under the Canada National Parks Act.
Mr. Dennis Bevington (Northwest Territories, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise and speak to Bill S-5. Of course, we support the development of national parks, and as a national party, we are very much in favour of Parks Canada.
As an MP from the Northwest Territories, my job in Parliament is to make sure that the people in the Northwest Territories get the deal they agreed to with the Conservative government. That is my job, and if I do not do that, I am not doing my job. Therefore, when the hon. member said that somehow this is linked to the flowery thought of all these national parks and that I am opposed to it, that is not the case at all. My job here is to represent the people of the Northwest Territories and the people of the Sahtu. That is what I am here for, and I know that job.
We are pleased, and we hope that the bill will pass later today and that we will all agree to get it done before Christmas, because really, this expansion of the Nahanni National Park Reserve is a Christmas gift to Canada. It is not necessarily simply from the government; it is from the people of the Sahtu Region. The first nations, the people who have settled their land claims, had the ability to say to the Government of Canada that they were willing to enter into a partnership and create a national park reserve in their territory on the land their ancestors lived on, which is theirs to use. They went ahead with this for the good of Canada and for the good of everyone. I think that is who we should be celebrating here today: the people of the Sahtu Region. They are the ones who are ultimately responsible for this national park.
I could say the same thing about the Dehcho Region during the first expansion of the Nahanni national park. It would not have happened without the support of the Dehcho people.
Now we have a third park in the Northwest Territories that our first nations people are looking to develop and create. That is the Thaidene Nene, which is located on the eastern edge of Great Slave Lake. It is a beautiful area, and these people are working very diligently with Parks Canada, with everyone they can, to promote and develop this sacred area, which they understand will be a world-class national park in the future.
Our people in the Northwest Territories are onside with national parks, but we want to make sure that the Conservative government is onside with what it takes to create a national park. It is not just an agreement on the land that will be put in a reserve. It is the understanding that we need to build the infrastructure. We need to make the opportunities for that national park, one of many in the Northwest Territories, to flourish and provide the people of the Sahtu Region with an opportunity to show the beauty of their region, to bring people into Canada, and to offer something that is unique and wonderful in an ever-shrinking world: wilderness that is well preserved and is part of a natural ecosystem. That is what we have with Nááts’ihch’oh park. It is a wonderful opportunity.
We are onside with this endeavour. We look forward to the bill going through third reading here today and leaving this place, with the understanding that it can go to the Governor General for final approval. That would be a very good thing to happen.
It is not that we agree with everything that has happened with the park. There are people who have said that the boundary should be larger, but that is something the government has made a decision on. That is the role of the government. It chose not to listen to the people. Therefore, the Conservatives are moving forward with this reserve, and we have to accept that. That is fine. We will deal with it. There will be other governments in the future that may make the changes required to completely control the ecosystem in that area and make sure it covers the whole watershed. Those are issues we can deal with later.
The national park reserve sets out an area whose final boundary will be renegotiated. There will be opportunities to deal with that. Therefore, this is not a problem and we can move ahead.
I want to switch gears and talk about the Sahtu Region. The Sahtu Region in the Northwest Territories is an amazing area. It has natural resources that have been exploited for many years by Imperial Oil at the Normal Wells oil field. When we think of it, the current government and the Liberal government before it have always refused to allow the royalties, the dollars collected from the Normal Wells oil field, to be returned to the people of the north.
The government tells us what is in the devolution agreement. It says it owns part of that oil field and that it is not going to share it. How did it get ownership of it? It traded the rights to take royalties from Imperial Oil for a one-third share of ownership. Therefore, on a deal that was struck between the Liberals and Conservatives—I do not know who struck this deal, but they made a deal—the government collects the money as ownership rather than royalties, and tells the Northwest Territories government that it is not going to get a penny out of it. This has been going on for 40 years.
When we talk about putting a little money into a national park in the Sahtu Region, that is after the government has fleeced the people of the Northwest Territories, taking all the money out of their pockets from the oil field. That is what the Conservatives did. They cannot deny it; that is the history. With the Liberals and Conservatives, it is the same old story. It is really an unfortunate aspect of the development of the Northwest Territories that this resource is not considered part of any devolution agreement and has been taken out of the equation.
What happens in the Sahtu Region? There is limited infrastructure development, there is a high cost of living, people have less than adequate community resources. That is the situation in the Sahtu Region. No wonder people are looking to a national park for an opportunity to improve their lot in life.
There was some talk in the last couple of years about fracking oil. Shell went in and other companies were fracking oil there. That is fine. At $60 a barrel now, that is over. It is finished. It is not going to happen. Nothing like that is going to happen in the Sahtu Region for a long time. We have an opportunity now to develop other resources, most of which have been identified as tourism. Local people can be involved in this and we can see some sort of economy creeping in on that basis.
It is a sad fact of northern development that these kinds of arrangements are made. Governments take and do not return. Resource development in every other region of the country is used to develop the region. Royalties are used to improve the situation so that the region can develop. In this case in the Sahtu, those monies have amounted to about $120 million to $150 million a year over many years. That might be reduced a bit now with the price of oil going down, but those are the kinds of dollars we are talking about that have been kept out of the Sahtu Region.
The government has not reinvested. It says it owns this resource, but does it put the money back into the region to make sure that it is good? Any normal public government with the right and responsibility to collect money from a region generally puts something back into the region.
I am glad that the government has agreed with the Sahtu people to create the national park, but it might explain why my concern lies more with the promises that are made about the development of the park and the investment that the government is willing to make in national parks in the Northwest Territories.
In the case of the Nahanni expansion, the dollars were actually cut back. There were some seven years in which infrastructure was not developed, and then the dollars intended for infrastructure are cut by 50%.
How does that work? Did you not think about inflation? Does inflation not come into developing infrastructure? Do you not—
Mr. Dennis Bevington:
Mr. Speaker, I have to admit that I was talking about the Liberals and Conservatives together, and perhaps when I said “you”, the Conservatives did not realize that I was lumping them in with the Liberals for their refusal to deal with the north respectfully when it comes to this particular aspect of northern development in the Normal Wells oil field. The Conservatives have stuck with the Liberal line.
Regarding the “you” that I was referring to, I apologize for any confusion I might have caused my Conservative colleagues this close to Christmas, because I know they are probably thinking about mistletoe and Christmas pudding and all the rest of that. I am really happy for them because it is a good time of year and I am sure we will all enjoy ourselves at Christmas.
However, I want to go back to tourism because with oil at $60 a barrel in this country, we are going to have to do something other than resource development. Sixty-dollar oil is not going to make this country run properly. Let us talk about tourism and what the government has done for tourism over the last years since the Conservatives have been in power.
With regard to tourism, the marketing investment made by various nations in tourism in 2011 was as follows: Ireland, $211 million, a 14% increase; Mexico, $153 million, a 4% increase; Australia, another resource-developing nation, $147 million, or a 30% increase; France, a similar increase, Canada—we should be up there—$72 million, a 10% decrease in our marketing effort by the current government. Every other country in the world has taken tourism seriously. What is wrong with the Conservatives? Do they not understand that bringing people into this country helps our balance of trade, that it creates jobs and opportunity for real people? Whether it someone working in a gift shop in Victoria or paddling a canoe for a visitor in the Sahtu Region, or whatever people are doing, they need the support of the federal government.
We need to sell Canada. We need to sell these beautiful national parks that we have created. We need to put that on the table. Yes, perhaps some national parks have seen increases in their tourism, and we could pick out a few of the smaller ones and say that is great. Yes, national parks are going to be a selling point for Canada, but we have to sell them. We have to invest in them. We have to make the marketing decisions that will improve the opportunities for tourism to increase so that we can actually benefit from them.
Perhaps we should simply invest in oil, which jumps from $147 a barrel down to $60, back up to $100, and now down to this. How is this going to work for Canada? It is not sustainable. This type of activity cannot be the main stem of our economy. We need to go back to the basics of how we make a living in this country. We cannot be living high off resource development when prices are so fragile. Some days resources are going to make a lot of money for people and those people will put more money into housing, causing the price of housing in Calgary to rise to a point where sooner or later it will fall and hurt everyone. However, what happens when interest rates go up and all those young people who have resource-development jobs paying them $180,000 a year and have bought expensive houses no longer have those jobs anymore? We are going to see the same situation that occurred in the 1980s.
Why should we be so focused on resource development? Why not invest in things that we can control? Tourism is a great opportunity.
Let us think about it over Christmas. As people are eating their plum pudding, as they are enjoying the love and affection of their family, which I am sure all of us are going to do and look forward to so much, let us think about tourism. We should think about the opportunities that exist for this country to share what we have. We should think about the beauty of the Sahtu Region and about the incredible nature of the Nahanni National Park.
I remember Jack Layton, Olivia Chow, and I went down the Nahanni River in the summer of 2007. We wanted to promote the expansion of the park. What an incredible area Nahanni National Park is. One of the reasons it is so incredible, and I do not think many people in this country realize, is that it is an area that was never glaciated. When we go down the canyons of the Nahanni for 200 kilometres, the rocks we see up on either side, a thousand feet into the air, are the rocks that were there a hundred million years ago. The patterns of change that have occurred over those years through erosion have created the most magnificent spectacle one could imagine.
What a treasure is Nahanni National Park. What an opportunity—
Hon. John Baird: The Prime Minister quadrupled the size of it.
Mr. Dennis Bevington: Mr. Speaker, then he reduced the budget.
We have seen that we have quadrupled the size of the parks and we have reduced the budget. How does that work? Why not invest in these parks? Why not think that these parks are the real opportunity for growth and tourism in this country? We cannot simply look on them as the whipping boys for cutting the budget for the government. That should not be the case.
National parks should be that sacred trust in which we put forward that opportunity to expand, to look at the wonderful wilderness we have. In a world of nine billion people, wilderness is one of the most valuable commodities there is. Going forward, we know that people will want to come and visit the parks. We know they will want to experience what we have here. Let us invest in that. Let us make that happen.
When my hon. colleague accused me of not liking national parks, that was absolutely ludicrous. I love the wilderness. I love what we are doing with the size and shape of our national parks, but we absolutely need to make sure that investment goes in, so that the people of the regions I represent will benefit. The Northwest Territories has given up more land for national parks than any other part of this country in the last 10 years. Let us see the investment go in to make that a reality for us.
Mr. Speaker, you have done an incredible job of keeping me in line. Thank you. I will stop my discourse there, because I can see I will not get much more applause from the other side, so I think this is a good time to quit.
Ms. Jinny Jogindera Sims (Newton—North Delta, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure today to rise and speak in support of Bill S-5, An Act to amend the Canada National Parks Act (Nááts’ihch’oh National Park Reserve of Canada).
I have heard a lot of talk about Christmas today in the House, and maybe it is because everybody is anxious to get to their ridings, meet up with their constituents and attend a lot of the celebratory events held around Christmastime.
However, when I look at the bill and this new park, we have to first acknowledge the Sahtu Dene and Métis people, the area's aboriginal people, for the wonderful gift of this park. I want to thank them on behalf of all Canadians.
I want to also thank my Conservative colleagues for accepting this gift and bring forward legislation for the park.
In the lengthy hearings that were held, there was huge overall support for the park. A number of options were looked at. Option 1 would have encompassed an area of 6,450 square kilometres, and would have provided the best conservation value, while providing an open area around the existing mineral interests. Option 2 encompassed an area of 5,770 square kilometres, which would diminish the achievement of conservation goals and would allow more mineral potential to be available. Option 3, the smallest land proposal, encompassed an area of 4,840 square kilometres, and took advantage of the mineral potential within the proposed park reserve, while providing some protection to key values.
Hearings were held on all three options. What we have before us today is not the preferred option of all those who attended the hearings. Of those who participated in the hearings and indicated a preference, 92.3% preferred option 1. However, before us today is option 3. This park is a lot smaller than the option preferred by those who expressed an interest but, at the same time, baby steps are better than nothing, and this is a step in the right direction.
I am not saying anything new or controversial when I say that we live in one of the most beautiful countries on this planet. I have had the pleasure to travel from coast to coast to coast in my previous life and had the privilege of visiting some of our remotest regions. I have seen the majestic beauty and diversity of our geography. Therefore, I, like other Canadians, am very concerned that we offer some environmental protection for some of the pristine north and biologically-diverse areas. However, with the creation of a park, we would guarantee for Canadians some level of conservation and an area for them to visit.
It would not be in the Christmas spirit if I did not say that this is a positive step on the part of my colleagues across the way, because it is.
My next plea to my colleagues across the way is this. Now that they have put forward legislation that we New Democrats will be supporting—though they could have gotten it through the House without our support—the key thing for them to do now is to provide resources. We have a knack for passing legislation that sounds very grand and gives a sense of hope to people, but if we do not resource the legislation we pass, it remains words on paper. We have heard over the last number of years how many of our national parks are in dire straits and need funding to be maintained.
In December of 2013, which seems like a long time ago, the Toronto Star reported that there was an almost $3 billion backlog in deferred maintenance at Parks Canada. I want to repeat that number: $3 billion in backlogged maintenance. If we throw into that context a new park, which New Democrats are supporting, we worry that the creation of this new park could just be an empty gesture unless we are willing to maintain the parks and do what it takes to keep them going.
In its November 2013 departmental performance report, Parks Canada identified aging infrastructure, inadequate levels of funding, and maintenance as key risks for the department. The Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development identified a wide and persistent gap between what the government commits to and is achieving.
Creating a park is wonderful, and we should take credit for that, but at the same time, let us make sure that we also put resources into the budget to support not only this park but also other parks that are getting run down. I would say that they are more than a little run down, according to the report that was given to us by Parks Canada.
When New Democrats looked at the 2013-14 budget announcement of spending on infrastructure in parks, the picture became even bleaker. The budget announced $391 million over five years to deal with crumbling buildings, roads, and dams. This amount will not even cover the backlog. More importantly, the amount the government is actually going to spend in the short term is ridiculous. Guess how much it will spend on all our parks in 2014? It will spend just $1 million. While that is a huge sum of money, I know, for those who work for a living, the evidence shows that the government is $3 billion behind in just doing repair work. It has budgeted just $1 million for that work; then in 2015, next year, it will spend $4 million.
The New Democrats are not surprised at the broken promises from across the way. The Conservatives have broken promises on a huge number of issues, which I will get to later. The government then says that after the next election, it will spend $386 million. Why is that spending only required after the next election, when the need, as identified in November 2013, is well into the billions of dollars?
Because of that, it is very difficult for New Democrats to take the government at its word. Of course, the NDP supports the creation of national parks in Canada's north, as well as across Canada, from coast to coast to coast. I am very proud that my riding of Newton—North Delta has local parks. The region has some amazing parks as well, and citizens from coast to coast to coast really appreciate them.
In my younger days, I spent much time camping in our national parks, from the time my kids were little until quite recently. It was an absolute pleasure to go into those parks and enjoy our beautiful scenery and everything that our parks had to offer, like kayaking, swimming, and so on. I say “until quite recently” because, to be honest, since my election, I have not really had the time to go camping with my children or grandchildren. However, it is certainly something I do look forward to next summer.
Here is a park that the Conservatives have brought forward after seven years of consultation and negotiations with the aboriginal peoples of that region. The Conservatives can create all the parks they want. After all, they have a majority. However, without funding and careful protection of the ecological integrity of this park and all national parks, the designation is relatively meaningless in conservation terms.
When I have visited our Pacific Rim National Park in B.C. on the west coast of Vancouver Island, I saw first-hand some of the upgrading that was needed. I have had the absolute pleasure of enjoying that beautiful park since moving to B.C.
I want to keep touching on the fact that we need resources to support our parks. It is like owning a house. I am sure many of my colleagues across the way own their own homes. When we own a house, if we do not do the repairs, it starts to crumble around us. First it gets run down, and then before we know it, it is crumbling. It is the same when we create parks. If we do not maintain them and invest in their maintenance and infrastructure, our parks become compromised and also start crumbling.
I am sure that my friends across the aisle do not want that to happen either. I know they are going to bring forward a budget in January that will have significant dollars attached to it, so that we can go forward and make sure that our parks are protected.
I just cannot imagine anyone in Canada being opposed to the creation of national parks, except perhaps for some mining interests and others that want to go in and extract goods. We have to find a way to support our extractive industries while at the same time making sure that we look after our environment. We have to make sure that for our grandchildren and our great grandchildren have parks that are pristine and protected as a national heritage that they can visit.
Coming from England, I was so overwhelmed by the geography of Canada when I first came here. I had all kinds of stereotypes in my head when I came from England, which were soon destroyed. They should have been destroyed, because a lot of my stereotypes were based on what I saw on television. However, at the same time, I saw the diversity of our geography.
I first moved to Quebec. It is a beautiful province. We enjoyed our two years in Quebec and its geography and wilderness. We spent a lot of time outdoors—every time we could get away in fact—and explored it and the surrounding areas.
However, whether we are in Newfoundland, the Yukon, B.C., or Saskatchewan, Canadians are very concerned about their environment and Canada.
Here I will digress just for a nanosecond to say that I am also hearing from Canadians that they are very embarrassed at the actions our government has taken recently when it comes to the protection of our environment and the role it has played internationally. Quite honestly, I was so taken aback when I heard the Prime Minister say that it would be crazy to regulate the oil and gas industry, because I remember hearing many times from ministers and the Prime Minister how those regulations were coming. Then suddenly, it is all an act of craziness.
We are very concerned about the environment and, as a result, we New Democrats do want to say that this is a little step in the right direction on the part of the Conservatives. After all, creating a park is a good Christmassy thing to do. However, at the same time, I have to plead with my colleagues across the way that they look at some of the deregulation they have done, some of the environmental protections they have taken away, and that they reinstate many of those to protect our waterways, our pristine coastlines, and our lakes.
I would say that in my beautiful province of British Columbia, we are very dependent on the tourism industry, so we just cannot imagine the kind of damage that would happen if there were an oil spill along the B.C. coastline. We have seen how many years it takes to do the cleanup and how many billions of dollars it takes. Because of the pristine nature of our lakes and rivers, we are also concerned about these because we do not want them to become the victims of oil spills as well.
We want to ensure that the government members across the way, in the spirit of Christmas and as they look to other good things they want to do, really look at their government's degradation of environmental protection. My plea to them is that they not do it for themselves, but for their children, their grandchildren, and their great-grandchildren. If they do not have children or grandchildren of their own, they should do it for the sake of all the children who will follow us and live on this planet long after many of us have gone.
When talking about our environment, it is not a joke. I want to say that whether I visit an elementary school or high school, I am so delighted to get the privilege of visiting schools in my riding where the students decide the agenda. They decide what they want to ask me about. I do not walk in and say what we are going to talk about that day. I am invited in and the students ask me questions. The top two questions in every classroom I go to are related to the environment, to climate change. Our young people get it. Whether I am visiting Princess Margaret Secondary School in my riding or Tamanawis Secondary School or NDSS, the students are fully engaged.
Here we are, the day before the House recesses for Christmas, and I take this opportunity to wish my colleagues across the aisle and on this side, and Canadians from coast to coast to coast, a merry Christmas to all who celebrate Christmas, and to people who do not celebrate Christmas, happy holidays. I wish that they enjoy this time with their family. This is the time when all of us get together and sit around the fire and tell old stories. I am really looking forward to spending the Christmas break with my beautiful grandchildren and the rest of my family.
Merry Christmas to you as well, Mr. Speaker, and happy holidays.
Mr. Jonathan Genest-Jourdain (Manicouagan, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, first of all, I would like to indicate that I will be sharing my time with the member for Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing.
The underlying impetus for this legislative tool to amend the Canada National Parks Act in order to create the Nááts’ihch’oh national park reserve is indicative of the environmental citizenship emerging in Canada. The very study of the bill before us today is indicative of the emergence of a discussion that is being held across the country and advanced by the media.
If we look at the media landscape and the evolution of thinking across Canada, it is not difficult to discern that people are mobilizing. In this case, it is happening at the opposite end of the country, but it is also happening in northern Quebec, where I am from, and New Brunswick.
Social and environmental considerations are front and centre, and it is highly likely that these issues, which people really identify with, will be included in some election platforms in 2015. October 2015 is quickly approaching, and some political parties are trying to do some damage control.
My colleagues mentioned that Canada had made commitments to protect biodiversity, fauna and flora. However, despite these commitments, UN rapporteurs have come to Canada over the past few years and our international environmental rating has gradually dropped.
Recently, Canada has been criticized with regard to its greenhouse gas emissions and environmental protection in general. Scathing reports have been published by various national and international authorities.
This government is preparing itself for the 2015 election and must therefore improve its image. As a result, in the bill before us, the government is being more open or, at the very least, has softened its previously strong stand that favoured investment, industry and economic prosperity above all else.
In 2014, the problem is that the government is pitting social and environmental imperatives against economic imperatives. As I have often said in the House, public involvement and environmental considerations should not be seen as a hindrance to economic expansion; rather, they should be a prerequisite to and an integral part of economic development. There is a way to strike a balance and to put such claims into perspective.
In this case, it seems that most people who are affected by the measures set out in the bill thought that the park would be bigger. When I examined the documentation related to this bill and the bill itself, I saw that consultations were held. Meetings were held with people in a remote region and public officials compiled their concerns and objectives.
However, what I noticed that everyone was saying, at least in the comments that were brought to my attention, was that they wanted the protected area to be bigger. Local residents, community stakeholders and people on the ground all indicated that they would have liked the protected area to be bigger, even though the mere fact that we have a bill before us today to create a park and a protected area shows that the government is being more open and has made some progress. Nevertheless, stakeholders indicated that more openness would have been appreciated and would have been beneficial in this case.
The area proposed for the national park reserve has long been recommended for conservation in land use processes by the aboriginal people of the Sahtu. Such conservation would also align with the Government of Canada’s commitment to conserve the greater Nahanni ecosystem and the ecological integrity of the area.
Despite these commitments, our country has a poor rating and a poor international and local reputation when it comes to protecting the environment and taking the public's concerns and wishes into account.
The upcoming election will be key, and there is a very good chance that these critical issues will come up during the 2015 election campaign.
Despite its commitments, the government agreed to the demands of the mining industry and excluded vital wildlife areas to allow for mining development in these areas. This information was also brought to my attention. Goodwill aside, and although the protections in this bill are non-negotiable, economic considerations and industrial lobbies had an influence here. The bill we are studying today was made to order, if I can say that, since some areas that are better for investment and natural resource extraction were excluded. Some consideration was given to protecting economic interests and the interests of industry on this land. Although there was some desire to protect resources, the government still chose to exclude certain areas that are more conducive to economic development.
With that in mind, there are some concerns with the size of the park, including the omission of vital caribou breeding grounds and lack of protection for source waters for the Nahanni River. I have been here for nearly four years, and we have seen how the government has gradually offloaded its environmental responsibilities. It has also offloaded the protections that are in place for resource conservation, biodiversity and ecology. The government has offloaded those protections to serve the goals of big industrial lobby groups.
That is also why we have been seeing a growing resistance and more citizen engagement right across the country. The public has had to make up the lost ground because the legal and government protections that should take precedence have all simply been removed from the political reality of 2015. The government is being open today because it knows that environmental, public and social considerations will be top priorities during the next election. The government is changing course, but only very slightly and a little too late. It is a fairly weak protection, but at least it shows some foresight.
To conclude, I would like to quote the words of Rocky Norwegian, president of the Tulita Renewable Resources Council who said:
|| We accept what is in front of you today in the hope that in the not too distant future the boundaries will be expanded to include more land.
Even stakeholders and those directly involved are aware of mounting opposition and the emergence of these concepts and considerations that, for far too long, were dismissed outright. In 2015, with climate change the way it is right now, people know that future governments are going to have to deal with the issue. If it is an NDP government, I can assure you that the size of this proposed park will be expanded and that environmental and wildlife considerations will be the top priority. The pendulum will swing back again in 2015. It would be commendable and welcomed by everyone.
I submit this respectfully.
Mrs. Carol Hughes (Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, before I begin, I would really like to wish happy holidays to my colleagues in the House, the Parliament Hill staff, my constituents and my family.
I think that is very important. In a few days, we will not be here and people will be twiddling their thumbs because they will not be able to watch us on television.
Nevertheless, happy holidays and happy new year to everyone.
I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak to Bill S-5, which would see the creation of the Nááts’ihch’oh national park in the Sahtu Region of the Northwest Territories, hence amending the Canada National Parks Act.
The NDP will be supporting this bill. However, it is important to note that we question the government's motives behind the option it selected, which would protect less of the land mass than what would have been preferred.
There were actually three options, and I will just go through them.
Option 1 included a total of 6,450 square kilometres. It was developed to best protect conservation values while providing an open area about existing mineral interests. It is important to note that 92.3% of those who spoke on this and indicated which option they wanted selected this one.
Option 1 was really for the protection of the entire South Nahanni River watershed, with activities related to mining limited or restricted to areas outside the watershed, which was 15.7%. Of importance to participants was preserving the habitat of important wildlife species, such as grizzly bears, caribou, Dall's sheep, and mountain goats, which was at 61.3%, and protecting the ecological integrity of the complete South Nahanni watershed, which was about 10%.
I am quoting from the final public consultation report by Terriplan consultants. As I indicated, the report said, “Option one was the preferred boundary for 60 participants (92.3%), due to the capacity of this option to provide the most protection of the watershed wildlife habitat while accommodating some mineral resource potential.”
Option 2 had a total area of 5,770 square kilometres. It would diminish the achievement of conservation goals and would allow more mineral potential to be available.
As members can see, we are going down the line here.
Option 3 was actually the smallest proposal, with a total area of 4,840 square kilometres. It would take advantage of the mineral potential within the proposed park reserve while providing some protection to key values.
As I indicated, option 1 was preferred. Option 3 would allow for mining to occur. Again, only 65 of the 1,600 consultation participants expressed a boundary choice. However, the government proceeded with option three. As we can see, the preference was option 1.
Here are some of the concerns raised in the process. This is from a press release from CPAWS entitled “Disappointing boundary for new Nááts’ihch’oh National Park in Nahanni Headwaters”. The comment in it is from Éric Hébert-Daly, the national executive director of CPAWS.
|| Creating a new national park in Canada is welcome news. Unfortunately, this park boundary does not reflect the extensive scientific evidence of what’s needed to protect the Nahanni watershed, nor does it take into account the overwhelming public support for protecting the entire Nahanni headwaters expressed during the public consultation on the proposed park. More work is still needed to protect the Nahanni.
The article goes on to indicate concerns about the impact this would have on critical habitat for two woodland caribou herds, as well as grizzly bears, Dall sheep, and mountain goats. I mentioned that a little earlier. It further states:
|| The legislation tabled yesterday would create a national park that leaves the most important habitat for these species outside the park.
The article goes on to say that it is about:
||...the most critical wildlife habitat areas, including caribou calving and breeding grounds, and major upstream tributaries of the South Nahanni River, which flow into Nahanni National Park downstream.
These are not comments that we should take lightly. The article continues that this organization:
||...has worked for more than four decades to protect the Nahanni starting with creation of the original Nahanni National Park Reserve in the early 1970s. In 2009, we publicly celebrated the Dehcho First Nations and Government of Canada’s action to massively expand Nahanni National Park Reserve. And, for many years, we have worked to secure protection of the Nahanni headwaters.
As we can see, people have been working on protection extensively, and yet the government is not really heeding the concerns being raised before it makes its selection.
Let me take a few minutes to inform the House about some of the content included in the final consultation report of August 30, 2010, which came out of Parks Canada's consultation process.
I see I only have two minutes remaining, which is not a lot of time, so I am going to talk a bit about other concerns that were raised. My colleague from Nanaimo—Cowichan talked about the report that found the number of positions with respect to Parks Canada, the dollars that are not being invested or are being removed from Parks Canada, and the impact this is going to have on this park.
Since I cannot go into detail, I will close by reiterating the fact that, while the terms and conditions of the constitutionally protected Sahtu land claim agreement have been met, including the creation of an impact benefit plan and management committee, New Democrats remain concerned about the government's commitment to the park. While increasing the land mass of the park is welcome, it should be noted that there is still an opportunity to realize the ultimate goal of expanding to protect the upper watershed of the South Nahanni River.
In case people are just tuning in, I want to wish my colleagues here, the staff on the Hill, and all of my constituents and family a very merry Christmas and a happy new year.
Ms. Rosane Doré Lefebvre (Alfred-Pellan, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise in the House today to speak to Bill S-5, which seeks to create the Nááts’ihch’oh national park.
Before I continue, I would like to say that I will be sharing my time with the charming member for La Pointe-de-l'Île, my colleague from the other side of the Rivière des Prairies. I look forward to hearing her speech.
I am always extremely concerned about any issues that affect the protection of Canada's land and wildlife. In the past, I had the opportunity to study environmental geography at the University of Montreal and then work for Quebec's ministry of natural resources and wildlife in Mont-Laurier. I carried out a number of tasks, for example, work related to fishing in the experimental lakes. I also travelled the province and visited its wildlife reserves. I noticed the impact that taking care of our protected areas and ensuring that we have good protected areas had on different communities for a variety of reasons.
In this case, the Nááts’ihch’oh reserve is very pleased to see that a park is finally going to be created after seven years of negotiations. However, unfortunately, the Conservative government has chosen to support the demands of the mining industry, creating a park which excludes vital wildlife areas and still allows mining development in those areas. That is unfortunate. The government often excludes specific areas that are extremely important for biodiversity when creating protected areas, national parks and wildlife reserves. I was able to see how important such protections are for wildlife when I was working for Quebec's ministry of natural resources and wildlife. For example, logging occurs in the more northern areas of Quebec. That is part of Quebec's economy. It is extremely important. However, logging is done in consultation with employees of Quebec's ministry of natural resources and wildlife. When I worked there, we had to create a multi-resource forest inventory to ensure that logging was done in a environmentally responsible manner. It is a very complex issue. We had to verify whether the logging would affect sensitive ecosystems and whether threatened species were present in the area. It is always very difficult to put these things in perspective.
I am pleased that a national park is being created in a region where natural resource development is on the rise. That is very important. I hope that the protection of the land and the resources in the proposed park will be clearly defined.
I really want to stress my disappointment with the fact that the bill does not include vital wildlife areas and that the government is favouring the existing mines. There is support for mining to the detriment of the flora and fauna. We know that there are often many threatened species or species at risk in these areas. We must provide adequate protection for our land.
This is not my area of expertise. I read the documents outlining what is happening. I saw that consultations were held and I must congratulate the government for that. It is often criticized for not properly consulting Canadians. By all accounts, ideas presented during consultations were more or less taken into consideration, and at least different options were put forward.
Three options for the size of this national park were presented. I do not have the exact figures here, but one option was about 7,000 square kilometres, another was closer to 6,000 square kilometres and the last one was closer to 5,000 square kilometres. The smallest area was the option chosen for the park. We try to have the best protection in a country that is vast and has very sensitive areas, especially as a result of climate change. Consequently, it may have been preferable to have a larger area.
I also looked at what happened in committee when it studied the bill at third reading stage. A number of people, especially aboriginal chiefs, people from first nations communities or remote areas in this sector mentioned that they were very pleased that a national park was being created.
However, they were hoping for more space for their traditional activities, wildlife and plants, as well as respect for aboriginal communities. Still, I believe that everyone, both here in the House and elsewhere, including the witnesses, agrees that there should be a national park there.
To me, issues related to protecting our spaces are extremely sensitive for another reason. I represent the region of Laval, which is an island in the Montreal suburbs. Many people think it is a big suburb with big highways, but that is not all it is.
We are lucky to have some beautiful parks on the island of Laval, but they are not well known. The island lies between Rivière des Mille Îles and Rivière des Prairies. Currently, many residents are mobilizing to create a park. Their organization is called Sauvons nos trois grandes îles. There are several islands in Rivière des Mille Îles with extremely fragile ecosystems. People are taking action to make the three largest islands, Île Saint-Joseph, Île aux Vaches and Île Saint-Pierre, into ecological sanctuaries.
These islands are in the eastern part of Laval, very close to my riding. I am very lucky to represent eastern Laval because we still have a lot of green space. About 80% of the land is agricultural, and everyone can enjoy our very beautiful spaces, including forests.
There is also another very interesting park, Bois de l'Équerre, which we call Laval's lungs. This is a sensitive issue because Laval is a very diverse city with a steadily growing population. We are trying to protect our green spaces. Bois de l'Équerre is probably the largest park on the island of Laval that is protected to a degree. My hat is off to that group because I know that it is very active in protecting its spaces.
The people of Laval are very aware of the challenges of protecting land. In the past, many protected green spaces were used to build new shopping centres even though they should not have been used for anything else. Things were built where they should not have been. The people of Laval are fighting to keep their green spaces and land protected. I am proud that the people of northern Canada are fighting and, after seven years of consultations, have been given the opportunity to have a national park on their land.
I am very interested in House procedure, especially when it comes to bills. Unfortunately, the government often uses time allocation motions and limits debate in committees. However, I am pleased that debate on this issue has not been cut short and that the process was followed at committee stage. I am pleased to see that the House stands united on this question. I want to tell my colleagues opposite that I hope we can repeat this fine example of teamwork. I hope they will stop muzzling the opposition and imposing the government's approach.
I do not have a lot of time left to talk about our position and how we would address national parks as the first federal NDP government. Hopefully I will get some questions about that because it is of great interest to me.
In the meantime, the holidays are fast approaching and everyone in the House has worked extremely hard. I would like to thank all of the employees of the House of Commons, the pages who work with us every day and all of my colleagues in the House. I wish them happy holidays. I would also like to wish the people of Alfred-Pellan, whom I represent, a joyous holiday season. I hope to see them very soon over the holidays.
Ms. Ève Péclet (La Pointe-de-l'Île, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I will echo all my colleagues who spoke today to wish happy holidays, merry Christmas, and a happy new year to all the House staff, all my colleagues who sit here with me and all the residents of the riding of La Pointe-de-l'Île. I look forward to seeing them over the holidays at various events. I wish them happy holidays as well and a very happy new year.
We have the good fortune and even privilege of living in such a large country with so much green space. I think Canada is truly a great country.
Who could be against virtue? I think that creating national parks is part of our identity. No one can really be opposed to designating a vast green space and protecting flora and fauna. Naturally, I rise in the House in support of Bill S-5, which was introduced in the Senate. I would like to be able to congratulate the government, but unfortunately I cannot, since this bill came from the Senate. The government could have introduced this bill itself in the House. It would have been known as bill C-5 and it could have demonstrated the government's unwavering determination to create Nááts’ihch’oh national park.
However, we must acknowledge that the government has made a commitment. It has made a commitment not only to the aboriginal Sahtu people, but also to the Northwest Territories, to work on preserving land, territory, fauna, flora and our waters, wherever necessary.
However, I think it is important to note that since this government came to power, we have seen a drop in funding, which affects both the number of scientific staff at Parks Canada and the infrastructure. For example, in December, the Toronto Star reported that there is a backlog of almost $3 billion in deferred maintenance at Parks Canada. We are talking about $3 billion. That is a lot of zeros. We are not talking about a little maintenance work here and there. We are talking about a huge backlog that will have a negative long-term impact on the protection of our national parks, on funding and on our tourism industry. You cannot snap your fingers and fix a $3 billion backlog, especially for a government that is practising fiscal restraint. With this $3 billion figure, I cannot imagine that we will see a single dollar invested in the coming years if the Conservatives remain in power.
The Parks Canada departmental performance report indicates that more than $17 million was allocated for resources conservation and $22 million was allocated for infrastructure. However, this money was not spent. My colleague spoke about announcements that were made but, unfortunately, not delivered on. In this case, the Parks Canada departmental performance report proves it. Funding that was announced for heritage resources conservation and for townsite and throughway infrastructure, for example, was allowed to lapse in 2012 and 2013. We are talking about millions of dollars.
We can applaud the government's promise to create a national park for resource conservation and infrastructure improvement.
We must applaud this. However, what is the government's long-term commitment to maintaining and preserving our resources? It can create as many national parks as it likes, but what will happen if the funding is not allocated? National park becomes just an honorary title. A national park is created in order to recognize the importance of the area to Canadians and also the fundamental importance to our country of the resources found in that area, the fauna and flora.
I urge the government to pass a meaningful bill that will do more than just create a park and its boundaries and to promise the people who live there that it will invest in the conservation of the natural resources. Budget cuts have had very serious consequences. For example, 33% of Parks Canada scientists have been cut, 60 out of 179 positions.
We are well aware that resource conservation goes hand in hand with science and study. Scientists are essential to preserving our flora and fauna and allowing people who live off the resources in the area in question to continue to do so. Conservation goes hand in hand with science. It is an almost indestructible symbiotic relationship. The Conservatives therefore cannot create a national park and cut scientists by 35%.
The commissioner spoke, for example, about a pattern of broken promises and commitments to change course, and that is unfortunate. The government promised to protect Canada's natural spaces. Unfortunately, that promise has not yet been kept. When I speak about promises, I am not talking about creating national parks but about really ensuring that the natural resources they contain are preserved.
Far be it from me to take away from the government the fact that it is supporting the creation of a park reserve and making it a part of Parks Canada. I simply want to extend my hand to the Conservatives and say that if they promise to protect that space, then we would like them to make some other commitments related to that promise. The national park, aboriginal peoples and local residents deserve to know that their government is going to keep its promises.
I would also like to mention that the government chose the smallest of the three options, when the option that was supported by nearly 93% of stakeholders involved the creation of a conservation area that left an open area around the mineral interests. The people who shared their views with government really took mineral interests into account, thinking that perhaps the Conservatives would respect their thoughts on the situation. Unfortunately, the Conservatives instead chose to listen to the interests of the mining industry for reasons that I cannot explain.
This shows that the government speaks out of both sides of its mouth. It promises to do everything in its power to protect our resources, our wildlife, but at the same time, it takes approaches that do not protect breeding grounds and green spaces in our great country.
Ms. Marie-Claude Morin (Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Surrey North.
Since this is my last speech in the House in 2014, I would like to wish all of the employees of the House a happy holiday. I will not name them all, because I am afraid I would forget some. I wish the same to my colleagues, certainly, and of course to the people of Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot.
It is my pleasure today to speak to the bill to amend the Canada National Parks Act. More specifically, it concerns the Nááts'ihch'oh national park reserve of Canada. Please excuse my pronunciation, since I do not speak that language fluently. The park is located in the northern one-sixth of the South Nahanni River watershed in the Northwest Territories.
Obviously, as all my colleagues who have spoken today have said, the NDP supports the creation of this national park. Of course, we are never opposed to initiatives like this, since we are concerned about the preservation of local plants and wildlife.
However, in spite of the fact that the vast majority of the public wanted a bigger park, the Conservative government has chosen to give in to the demands of the mining industry by excluding areas that are essential to the survival of wildlife from the park and allowing mining in those areas. In my opinion, this is truly appalling. The Conservatives have completely failed to listen to the communities and have no regard for the needs of the people who live there. However, we are starting to become accustomed to this kind of practice on the part of the government.
The aboriginal peoples in this region have long recommended, in discussions about land use, that the area proposed for the national park reserve be preserved. That concern about preservation is also consistent with the Government of Canada's commitment to protect the ecosystem in the greater Nahanni region and preserve the ecological integrity of the area. If the government does not act to preserve these fragile ecosystems, who will? I do not know.
Consultations showed that the public overwhelmingly supported the creation of a larger park, as I said earlier, but the Conservatives basically disregarded public opinion and decided to protect the smallest of the three possible areas, failing to include some very important wildlife reserves. It goes without saying, but it seems to have to be said anyway: Canada has a particular wealth of plant life and wildlife. As we approach the year 2015, we cannot allow ourselves to endanger plant and animal species. That is what happens when we neglect such important things.
In opting for the smallest area, the Conservatives listened to the mining companies and simply turned a deaf ear to local residents, who know their region and their land and the species they share it with. It is particularly appalling that their opinion was so completely ignored. Yes, they were consulted, but they were not listened to. That is pure negligence.
We support the creation of the park, but we question the government’s motives. We are afraid that the land area of the park will not be sufficient, particularly because areas that are essential to caribou breeding and the water sources for the Nahanni River will not be protected.
I would also like to add that there is no sense in creating a national park without the funding that is needed to maintain it. On that point, the Toronto Star reported in December that Parks Canada had a backlog of nearly $3 billion in deferred work. That is a rather substantial sum.
We are talking about the environment, fragile ecosystems, plant life and wildlife. That $3 billion should have been invested appropriately. There should even be more money invested in these kinds of things.
In its November 2013 departmental performance, Parks Canada noted that aging infrastructure and inadequate funding and maintenance were a high risk for the agency. Here again, as I said earlier, this is a matter of negligence.
The Parks Canada departmental performance report also said that over $17 million allocated to heritage resource conservation and $22 million intended for townsite and throughway infrastructure was not spent in 2012-13. I consider that to be serious.
According to the Commissioner of the Environment, there is a wide and persistent gap between what the government commits to doing and what it is achieving. Is the government going to honour its commitments? Here again, we do not know. Even for the smallest area, will the commitments be honoured? We still do not know. We are in the dark.
The budget cuts have had serious consequences, including the loss of 33% of the scientific staff complement. Sixty out of 179 positions have been eliminated. Those positions were genuinely essential. We know that the government does not like scientists very much and we can see that here in these results. The figures are rather glaring.
It is disturbing to see the pattern of broken promises the commissioner notes, such as the commitments to change course and ensure protection that never materialized. Will this commitment materialize? Is there going to be any follow-up? Will this park be left by the wayside? I would very much like to know.
If we add to this the money allocated for park infrastructure in the 2013-14 budget, the picture is even bleaker. In that budget, $391 million was allocated over five years for repairing buildings, roads and dams that are falling apart. That amount is not enough to catch up, but it gets worse. The funds that the government plans to invest in the short term are completely ridiculous. In 2014, it plans to invest $1 million. I spoke earlier about a backlog of $3 billion, but here they are talking about an investment of $1 million. In 2015, they plan to invest $4 million, and after the election, $386 million. That is bizarre. I will say no more on that count. I will let people think about it all.
To conclude, yes, we support these kinds of initiatives, because we are concerned about protecting the environment. Obviously, we cannot be opposed to something positive. It is crucial, however, that local populations be consulted. The government cannot just hold consultations for fun and to be able to say they were held; the people have to be listened to. The communities’ welfare and wishes should come before the welfare and wishes of big corporations, as well.
The government also has to inject the needed funds into maintaining these parks. As a final point, we must not do things in half measures when it comes to protecting the environment. Future generations will thank us.
Mr. Jasbir Sandhu (Surrey North, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to speak in this House on behalf of my constituents from Surrey North on this very important bill, Bill S-5, which would amend the Canada National Parks Act to create a national park reserve for Canada. The name of the park that would be created in the Northwest Territories is Nááts’ihch’oh.
It is an honour, on days like today, to work together in the House and look to future generations. I think of the times that my son and daughter, and my whole family, would spend in our national parks.
I have had the opportunity over the years to visit both provincial and national parks, which are important for our communities. I know that people in my community enjoy the parks that are part of Surrey North. Therefore, it is an honour to support the bill before the House, which would create a national treasure.
Members speaking before me have talked about the gift that the aboriginal first nations people have given to all Canadians. I want to thank them on behalf of all Canadians, and particularly on behalf of people from Surrey North, for giving this wonderful gem to Canadians for generations to preserve.
I have thought about travelling to that part of the world. I listened to our NDP member from the Northwest Territories who always speaks highly of the areas in the Northwest Territories. I am hoping to get the opportunity, along with my children, to go and see that part of the world.
Of course, we need to preserve these parks for our future generations, as well as the habitats that are part of our wilderness and make us unique. Canada is a huge country with many parts to it. One of the things we can do is to ensure that future generations have the opportunity to enjoy this wilderness. We must preserve it not only for future generations to see but also for the animals inhabiting those areas, so that they can roam free and live in their natural habitat.
There were three options of area that were considered in the creation of the national park. Unfortunately, the Conservatives chose the option that had the smallest area, and I think there are some concerns about that from a number of people who were involved with the consultations. They had preferred the larger option for the park; however, the Conservatives chose the smaller option. Yes, it is a step in the right direction, but there was an opportunity to further enhance the park reserve. However, I am still happy that we at least chose an option that would provide a national park for generations to come.
I come from British Columbia, and I know the role tourism plays in its economy. There are hundreds of thousands of jobs created through tourism across this country. It is a way to diversify our economy, especially since we have seen commodities fluctuate in the last number of weeks, whether oil or other commodities. For example, oil has gone from $147 a barrel a few months ago down to about $61 this morning. Therefore, it is important for us to diversify our economy; and tourism is a natural for Canadians, as I know it is for British Columbia. There are many jobs attached to tourism, and creating parks like this can help to enhance the natural beauty of Canada and also diversify our economy with tourism-related industries.
Unfortunately, so many times I have seen, whether with a crime bill or a veterans' bill or a bill relating to first nations, the fact that we can make all the laws in the world that we want in creating things like parks, but there has to be funding available. There has to be money provided to ensure that some of the things we are doing in the House are carried through. That requires resources.
We know from reports that Parks Canada basically has a backlog of about $3 billion in maintenance work that needs to be carried out and that money is not available. That money has not been provided or allocated by the current government. If we are going to create these parks, we need to provide the funding to maintain these parks to ensure that we are doing everything we can so that these parks can function for generations to come.
Again, going back to how reserving a national park and how tourism can work hand in hand, my colleague talked earlier about the importance of tourism. He pointed out a number of other countries, such as Australia and France, that are actually making investments to increase their tourism.
However, what we have seen from the Conservative government are cuts to tourist-related programs aimed at attracting more tourism to this country, especially in British Columbia, where we have some of the finest skiing mountains in the world. They are right in our backyard. Some of them are a couple of hours away from Vancouver and some are actually minutes away from downtown Vancouver.
I understand the importance of tourism and how it plays into our economy. We can always do more to increase tourism.
Obviously, we support the creation of this park.
When we consult first nations and local people, we can achieve a lot of good. I have seen, in this particular case, the government work with the first nations, the Sahtu Dene and the Métis, in the Northwest Territories to work out an agreement to create this wonderful park. That is what we get when we consult people. When we consult people at the ground level, when we consult the very people who are going to be affected, the result is usually good.
Unfortunately, the current government, time after time, fails to consult the local people. We can see what is happening with the Rouge park in Scarborough, the urban park that is being created there. The consultations have gone sideways and many people in the community are opposing it.
Again, I want to thank the people of the Northwest Territories, the Sahtu Dene and the Métis, for giving this gift to Canadians at Christmas.
Talking about Christmastime, I know that my son is waiting for me at home. We are going to look for a video and find out how much it costs. Then we are going to appeal to Santa and, hopefully, it will be in his stocking or under the tree.
I want to take this opportunity to wish all Canadians and, in particular, my constituents in Surrey North, a very merry Christmas and a happy new year.
Mr. Andrew Cash (Davenport, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise in this place today to speak on behalf of the good people of Davenport in the great city of Toronto at third reading of this important bill. It is important in a number of different ways.
As many of my colleagues have already underlined, we will be supporting this bill. However, in my last speech of the year, it is important to reflect on what we can learn from this bill and its process, including what it says about the Conservative government.
It is true that we have had much debate on the bill and the various decisions that were made leading into third reading. What I would like to focus on, though, is the process and the fact that, once again, we see the government not listening to the very people who should be a vital part of the process. It brings me back to my own constituency in Toronto. I would like to talk a little bit more about some flaws in the process and connect it to the bill.
I just want to let you know, Mr. Speaker, that I will be splitting my time with the member for British Columbia Southern Interior.
We have significant infrastructure projects right across the country. I will focus on the riding I represent. We can talk about the Line 9 project. Currently, we have a project that is running dirty diesel trains from the airport to Union Station in Toronto.
We have a variety of issues where the public has been unable to weigh in on and have an impact on the decision. For example, in my own riding, we have a nuclear processing plant that has been there for 50 years. We are supposed to have a full public engagement program, and people living right across from the plant did not even know that the program existed, because the government has said that it is not going to play the public engagement card too strongly. It sees that as an impediment to it doing the things it wants to do.
Fundamentally, what we are saying on this side of the House is that if we do not have social licence or if we have not consulted fully with first nations, projects simply cannot go forward. For example, if we want to run a large piece of infrastructure through a heavily populated community like the one I represent, and we are going to run that infrastructure using 19th century diesel technology that the WHO has ranked up there as a carcinogen similar to arsenic and mustard gas, we need to talk to the people who are going to be living right there. We need to get their buy-in, and if we do not, we have to find a way through. We have to consult. We have to listen, and listening is not something that the Conservative government likes to do. We saw this with this very park proposal.
I would also like to talk a little bit about the deficit in infrastructure improvements and how that is also part of a trend. Just in case my hon. friends across the way think that the deficit issue with regard to parks is a one-off, unfortunately it is not. We saw in December 2013 the Toronto Star reporting that there was an almost $3 billion backlog in deferred maintenance at Parks Canada.
The Conservative government loves to cut ribbons. It loves to announce big projects, but it is really not interested in supporting the infrastructure and improving it.
We have billions of dollars of infrastructure deficit in the city of Toronto. We have a public transit system that was built for 1960s population use. It is about twice the requirement now.
The government loved to pop by, especially when its buddy Rob Ford was the mayor, and cut some ribbons and popped some champagne when the Prime Minister wanted to help him out by putting some federal money into public transit. However, the problem is that we have a huge operational deficit. What cities, municipalities, and certainly the city of Toronto, need is a government that realizes that it cannot just come up with a big-time capital announcement. It has to be there for the whole project.
Therefore, it concerns us that the government does not understand the need for long-term, sustainable funding. An example is the need for public transit across the country and certainly in my city.
This bill and the process show a very disturbing trend by the government. It is trend that we will most certainly see change after the election in 2015 when we can make some significant changes with the first NDP government in the history of Canada.
Mr. Alex Atamanenko (British Columbia Southern Interior, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak in support of Bill S-5. As has already been said in the House, the NDP supports the creation of national parks and the preservation of ecosystems and habitats that are essential to the survival of plants and wildlife.
Consultations revealed that the public overwhelmingly supported creating a bigger park. Unfortunately, the government ignored public opinion and decided to protect only the smallest of the three potential areas, neglecting to include very important wildlife areas. Witnesses spoke about the park.
For example, the hon. Ethel Blondin-Andrew, chairperson of the Sahtu Secretariat, said the following:
|| The Sahtu Dene and Métis support the establishment of the park. We maintain that any park in the settlement area must be created and managed in partnership with the Sahtu Dene and Métis and based on our cultural traditions, spiritual values, and economic aspirations.
I believe it is timely for me to talk about our proposed national park in the south Okanagan's lower Similkameen.
Ever since my election in 2006, I have been in contact with those opposed to the proposed park as well as those in favour. There is no question that the vast majority of my constituents in this area want some form of protection for this pristine area. However, there are differences as to how this can be accomplished.
After listening to both sides, I have come to the conclusion that the only way to preserve this fragile ecosystem is by means of a national park. Failing to do so will leave these areas under threat of mining and development regardless of what safeguards the provincial government of the day implements. Although a great deal of work has been done by Parks Canada to move this process forward, there has been some dissatisfaction with the process.
As a result of political pressure, the current B.C. Liberal government has withdrawn its support for a national park. In my conversation with our previous minister of the environment in 2012, I was reassured, however, that should the position of the provincial government change, the federal government would once again get involved in the process. This is encouraging news. I would like to thank the federal government for its commitment.
I would also like to quote from a letter that Ms. Doreen Olson, coordinator of the South Okanagan-Similkameen National Park Network, received from the federal Minister of the Environment in December of 2013. It states:
|| I would like to assure you that our government recognizes the important role that Canada's system of national parks plays in providing Canadians with meaningful experiences and opportunities for discovery. Since its creation over 125 years ago, Canada's system of national parks has continued to grow, and our government has put significant efforts into increasing Canada's protected areas.
|| Our government is committed to ensuring that our national parks continue to provide Canadians and visitors the means to connect with our country's national heritage.
This gives us hope. The key now is for the government of British Columbia to re-engage in the process.
There have been a number of concerns about the proposed national park, the most serious being the lack of first nations' involvement on a government-to-government basis.
Since then, the Okanagan Nation Alliance has conducted a feasibility study and found that it is:
||—feasible to explore further discussions with Parks Canada about a future National Park Reserve, so long as Syilx Title, Rights and interests are protected and respected. The Syilx Parks Working Group advocates a collaborative and consensus based model with Parks Canada similar to those in Gwaii Haanas.
There are two other concerns: the ability of our local helicopter school to continue training in the proposed area and ranching. While both of these issues have been addressed by Parks Canada, they could and should be a vital part of any negotiations between the provincial and federal governments.
It should be noted that there is a growing overwhelming support for the national park from the Okanagan Basin Water Board, Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen, Regional District of Central Okanagan, Regional District of North Okanagan, Town of Osoyoos, city of Vernon, British Columbia Wine Institute, Kelowna Chamber of Commerce, South Okanagan Chamber of Commerce, and tourism associations such as Oliver Tourism and Destination Osoyoos, as well as a number of environmental groups such as the South Okanagan-Similkameen National Park Network.
In addition, thanks to the former mayor of Osoyoos, Stu Wells, the Union of B.C. Municipalities passed a resolution in support of the park. There is also support from the City of Greenwood. A resolution was passed, stating the following:
|| The City of Greenwood fully supports the re-engagement of discussions between the Government of British Columbia and the Government of Canada, towards the establishment of a new National Park in the South Okanagan-Similkameen; and asks to be consulted throughout the process to ensure that we are partnering in economic development, tourism, and business development strategies and programs.
I would also like to issue a big thanks to Dan Ashton, Penticton MLA and chair of the province's all-party Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services for his support. The standing committee recently completed its report and has recommended that the province work with the federal government and local stakeholders to assess the feasibility of, and support for, the establishment of a new national park.
I should add that as was pointed out in previous statements and questions, it takes a long time for this process to take place. It takes many stakeholders, and I firmly believe that the time is right for the Government of British Columbia to re-engage with the federal government to get this process moving so that we can leave a legacy for the future.
Last but not least, I would like to single out and thank Doreen Olson of the South Okanagan-Similkameen National Park Network for her years of tireless efforts in promoting the establishment of a national park. I do not know how many meetings I have had with Doreen or how many meetings she has had with other folks, but I would just like to thank her and those in her organization for their effort.
The B.C. Minister of Environment, Mary Polak, recently visited our area to consult with residents, and I thank her for doing so. I had written the minister in November of 2013 asking the Province of B.C. to formally re-engage in negotiations with the Government of Canada and first nations. So far we have not had a positive reaction from the government of B.C.
We have a chance to do something right for future generations to come. I strongly urge the Province of B.C. to re-engage with the federal government and first nations. We have a potential win-win situation: the protection of our environment, tourism dollars for our area, a beautiful opportunity for people from all parts of the world to come and visit this pristine area, and, of course, full-time employment, which will certainly support our local economy. We cannot allow ourselves to miss this opportunity.
I strongly urge the Government of British Columbia to work with the federal government and to re-engage with the federal government, first nations, and other stakeholders to make the national park in the South Okanagan-Similkameen happen.
Mr. John Rafferty (Thunder Bay—Rainy River, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time.
Bill S-5 would create a national park in the Sahtu Region of the Northwest Territories. For geographical reference, the region is centred around the Mackenzie River and stretches towards the Yukon boundary with an incredibly beautiful mountain range and the magnificent wilderness of the Northwest Territories.
I had the pleasure some years ago to live in the Northwest Territories for a number of years. I can tell members that when I say the “magnificent wilderness of the Northwest Territories”, indeed that is what it is.
I guess we could think of this park perhaps as a Christmas present for the Sahtu Dene of the Northwest Territories, but there is a Scrooge there too, and I would like to talk about the Scrooge.
There were three options that were set out for the park. Option 1 was a total area of 6,450 square kilometres. It was developed to best protect conservation values while providing an open area around the existing mineral interests. Option 2 was a total of 5,770 square kilometres, which diminished the achievement of conservation goals and allowed more mineral potential to be available. Option 3, which is the one that was chosen by the Conservatives, was the smallest proposal, with a total area of 4,840 square kilometres.
Not everybody was happy with that third option. I will read a quote from Alison Woodley, the national conservation director for the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, or CPAWS. She said:
|| Creating a new national park in Canada is always welcome news. But this boundary does not reflect the extensive scientific evidence of what’s needed to protect the ecological integrity of the Nahanni watershed, nor does it reflect the overwhelming support that was expressed for protecting the Nahanni headwaters during the public consultations.
That is just one example.
I do not want members to get the idea that we do not support national parks. Of course we support the creation of parks, but we question the government's motives, and we have some concern with the size of the park, including the omission of vital caribou breeding grounds and the lack of protection for source waters for the Nahanni River.
Section 16 of the Sahtu Dene and Métis Comprehensive Land Claim agreement sets out the terms and conditions for the establishment of a national park in the Sahtu settlement area. Included in these terms and conditions are several clauses for review of the plans for the park after a period of not more than 10 years. I say this because whichever government replaces this particular one next year will have a responsibility to ensure that this plan is reviewed as it moves forward. In fact, these sorts of plans should be like the veterans charter, for example. They should be living documents that continually get looked at.
Another person who was not very happy with the option chosen for the park was Stephen Kakfwi, the former premier of the Northwest Territories. He is quite disappointed in the way the boundary lines were drawn. He said in an interview that the Prime Minister is protecting the mining interests more than environmental interests. I will quote directly from an interview on August 23, 2012:
|| He’s taken the heart right out of it. The middle of it is carved out, so that mining can happen, dead center in the middle of this proposed national park.
There is another Scrooge here, and I use “Scrooge” in particular because, quite frankly, creating national parks is an empty gesture if there is no funding to go along with it.
In December 2013, the Toronto Star reported that there is an almost $3 billion backlog in deferred maintenance in Parks Canada. Of course, budget cuts have had a huge impact. Budget cuts have led to a 33% staffing cut in science in Parks Canada, which means that 60 out of 179 positions have been eliminated.
Add the 2013-14 budget announcement of spending on infrastructure in parks, and the picture is even more bleak. This year, meaning 2014, the government will spend on national parks—remember, I just said there is a $3-billion backlog in infrastructure—$1 million.
The government can create all the parks it wants, but without funding and careful protection of the ecological integrity of this, and of all national parks, the designation is relatively meaningless when we speak in terms of conservation.
Let me finish with a quote from our member for the Northwest Territories. He was speaking on the funding for national parks, in the House of Commons. He stated:
|| Across the entire north, there have been sacrifices on a number of occasions with national parks. What have we seen out of that? We saw the loss of over 64 positions throughout the three northern territories. The three northern territories carry 12 national parks in Canada. Twelve of the 44 national parks in Canada are in those three territories. The commitment of the people of the north to national parks is large.