An Action Plan for the National Capital Commission

An Act to amend the National Capital Act and other Acts

This bill was last introduced in the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in December 2009.

Sponsor

John Baird  Conservative

Status

In committee (House), as of Oct. 5, 2009
(This bill did not become law.)

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the National Capital Act to

(a) modify the governance structure of the National Capital Commission and increase its transparency;

(b) clarify the National Capital Commission’s responsibilities, including those regarding planning and sound environmental stewardship;

(c) establish the boundaries of Gatineau Park;

(d) enhance the National Capital Commission’s regulation-making powers;

(e) remove the requirement that the National Capital Commission seek Governor in Council approval for real estate transactions; and

(f) harmonize that Act with the civil law regime of Quebec.

This enactment also amends the Official Residences Act to clarify the National Capital Commission’s responsibilities regarding official residences. As well, it makes consequential amendments to other Acts.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

An Action Plan for the National Capital Commission
Government Orders

September 16th, 2009 / 3:45 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Royal Galipeau Ottawa—Orléans, ON

Mr. Speaker, as a servant of the national capital region in this House, I am especially pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-37, our government's action plan for the National Capital Commission.

Allow me to also note that I will be splitting my time with our wise chief government whip. I speak of the hon. member for Carleton—Mississippi Mills.

I am delighted to rise in this House to speak about the amendments to the National Capital Act introduced by our government.

Members of this House will not be surprised that my wife and I have walked, cycled, and skied every centimetre of every trail in this region. As a boy, I also swam at Petrie Island and at Britannia Bay. As a teenager, I even took forbidden midnight dips in Pink Lake. Come to think of it, my first date with my wife was a 40 kilometre bicycle ride to Pink Lake and back, 36 years ago today, during the Rosh Hashanah holidays of 1973.

I know well the scenic beauty and unique experiences that our capital has to offer to all who live here and to those who come to visit.

With my family and friends, I often enjoy the charms and treasures of our wonderful capital. This would likely be impossible were it not for the vision and hard work of the National Capital Commission.

It was at Camp Fortune that my wife, our four children and I learned to downhill ski and snowboard. Closer to home, the Mer Bleue cross-country trails, sheltered from the icy wind, are just superb.

A strong NCC means a strong national capital region, and we must ensure that the NCC is as effective and as responsive as possible. This includes increasing transparency and accountability. This has been a cornerstone of all our government's policies since taking office 1,319 days ago.

Let us not forget that this is the government that introduced the Federal Accountability Act. Our government has listened and we made changes to the NCC that will make it more open and more accountable to residents, to taxpayers and to all Canadians.

The Prime Minister's decision to appoint Marie Lemay as head of the NCC 20 months ago was an enlightened one.

The appointment by the Prime Minister of Russell Mills as NCC chair also was an inspired stroke of genius.

Naturally, they are supported by Maureen Hayes and a team of seasoned professionals.

Now, by introducing amendments to the National Capital Act, our government is presenting a vision for the future of the NCC. In order to ensure that Crown lands and historically important sites can be enjoyed by Canadians for years to come, we must act now.

The NCC plays a key role in protecting and preserving these lands.

Take the Greenbelt, for example. This great swath of land encircling urban Ottawa includes farms, forests and wetlands that total over 20,000 hectares. These lands provide places for people to experience outdoor pursuits and appreciate natural beauty, in some cases literally at their doorsteps.

The Greenbelt encircles Ottawa from Shirleys Bay in Ottawa West--Nepean to Green's Creek in Ottawa--Orléans. Nearly three-quarters of the total area is owned and managed by the NCC on behalf of the taxpayers of Canada. The rest is held by other federal departments and private interests practising sustainable farming and forestry.

More than one million visitors a year go walking, sliding down hills, cross-country skiing or snowshoeing there, among other places.

The environmental protection provisions in Bill C-37 will help protect fragile ecosystems in the Gatineau Park and in the Greenbelt while also ensuring that residents in urban and suburban Ottawa-Gatineau have a greater say in issues that affect them and their families.

The NCC also administers the Rideau Canal on behalf of Parks Canada.

Now a UNESCO world heritage site, the construction of the canal is one of the single most important developments in Ottawa's and likely Canada's history.

The Rideau Canal was a vital economic and military safeguard for the country in the 1800s. It is a tribute to the genius of Colonel John By and his Royal Engineers. I did not mean my engineers, just the Royal Engineers.

Today, it is a favourite route for boaters. In winter, a nearly eight kilometre stretch of the canal is transformed into the world's largest naturally frozen skating rink. It is a cornerstone of our heritage and the centrepiece of our national capital that continues to awe visitors from around the world.

Here I would like to pay tribute to Henry Storgaard and to all the board members of the Rideau Canal festival. The work that they did this year was amazing. I was thrilled to support them.

By the way, I also commend Michel Gauthier's efficient organization.

It is important for children across the country to learn about the Rideau Canal, a cornerstone of our heritage and the centrepiece of our national capital that continues to awe visitors from around the world.

On behalf of Canadian taxpayers, the NCC owns and maintains many green spaces and parks. Many people who visit the region remark favourably on the quality of these facilities. In downtown Ottawa near the National Arts Centre we have the luscious Confederation Park. In my youth, it was an ugly parking lot. Before that, it was a luxury apartment building.

Now, it hosts various cultural events throughout the year, such as Winterlude, the Ottawa International Jazz Festival and the National Capital Marathon Race Weekend, just to name a few.

Those who live and work here know that these parks are delightful places to escape to, at lunchtime for example, to read, meditate or simply relax.

These are but a few examples of what the NCC has to offer, on a daily basis, to both locals and visitors.

I encourage all hon. members to vote in favour of this bill and to help keep the national capital region and the National Capital Commission doing the good work that they are doing right now for the benefit of all Canadians.

I encourage hon. members from all sides to vote for Bill C-37, thereby helping the NCC to continue the excellent work it is doing for the benefit of all Canadians.

An Action Plan for the National Capital Commission
Government Orders

September 16th, 2009 / 3:55 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Marcel Proulx Hull—Aylmer, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very disappointed with the speech by my colleague from Ottawa—Orléans. He bursts his buttons extolling the virtues of the parks of the National Capital Commission. He boasts on behalf of the National Capital Commission about the use made of the greenbelt and the parks in the region, where, he says, people can go and read.

I would say that Bill C-37, as it now stands, is unacceptable.

My colleague spoke about the greenbelt. I do not think he took the time to read the bill. If he had, he would know that the preservation of the ecological integrity of NCC properties does not include either the greenbelt or properties in the greenbelt.

I would like to know why he thinks Bill C-37 is so good when it refers solely to Gatineau Park and not to the greenbelt at all.

An Action Plan for the National Capital Commission
Government Orders

September 16th, 2009 / 3:55 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Royal Galipeau Ottawa—Orléans, ON

Mr. Speaker, I think the partisan tone of the question I just heard is rather unhealthy.

Of course the benefits of the greenbelt and the other acquisitions of the National Capital Commission preceded the government of which I am a member. The pleasures we enjoy now existed previously. They are the result, actually, of the genius of Jacques Gréber.

I think it is really inappropriate for the hon. member for Hull—Aylmer to take advantage of an occasion like this to engage in partisan attacks.

An Action Plan for the National Capital Commission
Government Orders

September 16th, 2009 / 3:55 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, I do not want to be nasty or engage in partisan attacks, but I think my colleague from Hull—Aylmer asked what is basically a very legitimate question.

Bill C-37, which is before us now, talks about protecting the ecological integrity of Gatineau Park. That is clearly what it says. Nothing is said at all about protecting the ecological integrity of the greenbelt.

My colleague asked a question of the hon. member for Ottawa—Orléans, that is to say, what is his reaction to this gap in the bill.

It is very important, in my humble opinion, to protect the ecological integrity of the greenbelt on the Ontario side of the National Capital Region, and I include in that the parts of the greenbelt in the riding represented by the hon. member across the aisle.

I therefore want to repeat the question asked by my colleague from Hull—Aylmer, namely, whether my colleague across the way thinks that the ecological integrity of the greenbelt should also be protected.

An Action Plan for the National Capital Commission
Government Orders

September 16th, 2009 / 4 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Royal Galipeau Ottawa—Orléans, ON

Mr. Speaker, I greatly appreciate the fact that the hon. member for Ottawa—Vanier was able to ask his question without falling into a partisan tone.

The prime objective of Bill C-37 is precisely the accountability of the commission to Canadians. That is the main focus of the bill.

If the members across the way think the bill should be improved, I encourage them to propose amendments during the debate.

An Action Plan for the National Capital Commission
Government Orders

September 16th, 2009 / 4 p.m.
See context

Carleton—Mississippi Mills
Ontario

Conservative

Gordon O'Connor Minister of State and Chief Government Whip

Mr. Speaker, I would like to speak on one key feature that is highlighted in Bill C-37, An Act to amend the National Capital Act, and that is the protection of Gatineau Park. Gatineau Park is an outstanding feature that represents about 7.5% of the total land area in the National Capital Region. Within a 15-minute drive of Parliament Hill and downtown Ottawa, one can appreciate the natural environment. The park is so far removed from the bustle of city life that deer, bears and even timber wolves reside there.

There are many sites and facilities in Gatineau Park that attract people who like to enjoy the outdoors, not just during the summer months, but in all four seasons of the year. For instance, camping is permitted in specific sites in the Lac Philippe area during both summer and winter months. Also the network of cross-country ski trails is considered one of the greatest in North America with close to 200 kilometres of trails.

Another feature is the Eardley Escarpment which hosts the richest and most fragile ecosystem in Gatineau Park. The escarpment, which divides the Canadian Shield and the St. Lawrence Lowlands, provides for spectacular views from its highest point at 300 metres.

The idea of a park in the Gatineau Hills dates back to the 1800s. There were two reports commissioned in the early 20th century recommending that the Canadian government create a park in the hills. The Government of Canada recognized the concept of Gatineau Park with the introduction of a budget on July 1, 1938 for the purchase of land in the Gatineau Valley.

Today, the park's visitors, who are both residents of the region and tourists, enjoy its trails, forests and lakes in summer as well as winter.

Federal interest in Gatineau park is under the responsibility of the National Capital Commission which manages a number of properties, parks and green spaces in the national capital.

Gatineau Park is included within the National Interest Land Mass. Such designation indicates a formal expression of the federal government's interest in the long-term use of these lands to create a capital that will inspire Canadians with pride and be passed on as a legacy for future generations.

Gatineau Park is facing a number of challenges that could have long-term impacts on the park. The population is increasing in the national capital region, and the southern portion of the park is increasingly surrounded by urban neighbourhoods. There is a greater range of activities taking place in the park, and the number of park visitors has also increased to the point where there are now over 1.7 million visits annually.

In 2006, an independent panel was commissioned to study the mandate, mission and activities of the National Capital Commission. Many people and interest groups who were consulted felt the long-term sustainability of the green capital lands, especially Gatineau Park and the Greenbelt, were at risk and strongly advised some formal protection be bestowed on these lands.

In December 2006, the panel published its report with 31 recommendations regarding the commission's operations, governance and resources. One recommendation was that the NCC's environmental stewardship role be strengthened with respect to the federal green spaces in Canada's capital, including Gatineau Park.

I want to point out two actions the government has taken to help the NCC in its overall management of Gatineau Park. First, budget 2007 provided for an increase in annual ongoing funding of $10 million in capital expenditures for the NCC. The increase will enable the NCC to rehabilitate assets, particularly those within the National Interest Land Mass such as Gatineau Park.

Second, in September 2008, the National Capital Commission was granted approval to purchase private properties in Gatineau Park without seeking Governor in Council approval of each specific purchase. With this new approach it will be more efficient and effective for the commission to increase its ownership within the park's boundaries.

Admittedly Bill C-37 does not specifically create a new national park in the context of the Canada National Parks Act. One of the key objectives of the national parks system is to have a good representation of each of the natural regions of Canada. Gatineau Park is located in a region that is already represented by the Mauricie National Park. Also, since title of some lands in Gatineau Park still remains with the Province of Quebec, the Government of Canada has no intention to change that ownership.

Although Gatineau Park is not recognized as a national park, the bill does introduce several mechanisms that serve to greatly improve the protection of Gatineau Park. In developing these mechanisms, consideration was given to the provisions found in the Canada National Parks Act.

The government proposed legislation including a legal description of the boundaries of the park. Any changes to the boundaries could be made only by the government through an order in council.

Second, Bill C-37 requires that the National Capital Commission give due regard to maintaining the ecological integrity of Gatineau Park through protecting its natural resources and processes. This would mean that the commission would have to take into account the impact on the lands, fauna and flora in the park before making any decisions regarding the park. In fact, it is worthwhile noting that the objective of maintaining ecological integrity in managing parks is stipulated as the first priority of the minister responsible for the Canada National Parks Act.

To enable the National Capital Commission to fulfill the requirements regarding the ecological integrity of Gatineau Park, the bill also introduces a provision that allows for regulations to protect not only the natural resources and process on all NCC properties but also specifically the ecological integrity of Gatineau Park.

As we know, the commission presently has a schedule of fees for various uses of different sections of Gatineau Park. For example, campers at Lac Philippe and cross-country skiers who use NCC trails are asked to pay specified fees. This practice is similar to charging fees for the enjoyment of Canada's national parks. In accordance with the bill, the commission would also have to obtain government approval prior to introducing regulations that prescribe user fees.

With respect to the question of the impact on private properties, I should first point out that there are approximately 300 private owners in Gatineau Park. However, these lands collectively represent only 2% of the total area of the park. Bill C-37 respects the rights of private property owners.

In recognition of the importance of consolidating the lands in Gatineau Park to safeguard their natural integrity, the National Capital Commission has explicitly identified the acquisition of properties in the park as one of its priorities and has set aside funds for this purpose. To the extent that properties in Gatineau Park remain privately owned, any plans for their development would be subject to applicable environmental laws and zoning regulations.

In closing, I want to reiterate the government's commitment to protecting the future of Gatineau Park for Canadians not only for the present but for decades to come.

An Action Plan for the National Capital Commission
Government Orders

September 16th, 2009 / 4:05 p.m.
See context

Liberal

David McGuinty Ottawa South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to pick up on a theme that the minister raised in his remarks about ecological integrity.

The work on ecological integrity was driven largely by a former Liberal minister of the environment, Sheila Copps, who convened a national panel on ecological integrity and then took the findings and results of that panel and sorted them, integrating them into the National Parks Act and beyond in the federal government.

One of the things we learned through that process was that ecological integrity is something that is difficult to achieve when a land mass of park like this one is not properly connected to other ecological zones or is not properly buffered.

The worst case scenario is what has happened in the city of Boston, where a similar park, though smaller in scope and size, has had its ecological integrity completely reversed and there is not a single remaining indigenous species of flora or fauna in that park today.

Can the minister help us understand exactly how the government will move to make sure ecological integrity is in fact achieved?

An Action Plan for the National Capital Commission
Government Orders

September 16th, 2009 / 4:10 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Gordon O'Connor Carleton—Mississippi Mills, ON

Mr. Speaker, the act commits the government and the NCC to the proper responsible environmental stewardship of the park. It is innate within the nature of the NCC to protect the green lands in the Ottawa area and the green lands on the Gatineau side. The boundaries of Gatineau Park are being clearly set.

We also have money for purchases of private properties if they become available, to continue to generate a pure park. The intention long term is to have a pure park there as much as possible.

We will be looking after the ecological effects of the park.

An Action Plan for the National Capital Commission
Government Orders

September 16th, 2009 / 4:10 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Marcel Proulx Hull—Aylmer, QC

Mr. Speaker, my question of course is for the minister.

I would like him to explain to me what is meant by the expression “pure park” in relation to Gatineau Park, number one.

Number two, my understanding is that the minister also has a large section of the greenbelt in his riding, and I am wondering how he feels about the fact that no mention has been made of the need to protect the ecological integrity of the greenbelt in his riding.

An Action Plan for the National Capital Commission
Government Orders

September 16th, 2009 / 4:10 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Gordon O'Connor Carleton—Mississippi Mills, ON

Mr. Speaker, there are two questions.

Regarding the first, the long-term intention is that if private properties within the park become available, the government has provided money to purchase them so that we can continue on a long-term basis to create a park that does not contain alien buildings.

With respect to the greenbelt in my own riding and the greenbelt itself, the NCC has the mandate to maintain that greenbelt. From time to time there may be minor adjustments to the greenbelt because of the need to widen roads, et cetera, but the greenbelt itself is being protected and has been for many years.

An Action Plan for the National Capital Commission
Government Orders

September 16th, 2009 / 4:10 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have been listening carefully, but the minister recognized in his comments that during the public consultation phase in 2006, the public clearly said they also wanted the ecological integrity of the greenbelt to be protected. In response to the question, he did not specify whether or not he would be prepared to support an amendment to the bill whereby the protection of the ecological integrity would apply not only to the park, as it stands now in the bill before us, but also to the greenbelt.

An Action Plan for the National Capital Commission
Government Orders

September 16th, 2009 / 4:10 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Gordon O'Connor Carleton—Mississippi Mills, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am one of the great supporters of the greenbelt. I believe it is part of our heritage and it must last as long in the future as possible. The greenbelt allows the growth on the Ottawa side to be controlled, so that there is growth on one side of the greenbelt and growth on the other and we can protect this belt.

The long-term goal of the NCC would be to try to protect as much of the ecological basis of the greenbelt as possible, and if members visit the greenbelt, as I do quite often on a day-to-day basis, they will be doing that.

An Action Plan for the National Capital Commission
Government Orders

September 16th, 2009 / 4:10 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to address the bill. It seems the National Capital Commission exists by virtue of the simple fact that there is not likely to be in this country a federal district, ever is a long time, but not soon for sure, because I do not think there is any appetite for it in either province, Quebec or Ontario, other than that the concept comes up every once in a while only to be shot down. Given that there is not likely to be a federal district any time soon, the National Capital Commission takes on even greater importance, because it is basically, therefore, the only tool that exists, the only agency that exists, to see to the appropriate development of not just green areas, but the capital itself. Therefore, I place a great deal of importance on this matter, since I represent a riding that is in the heart of the nation's capital, and I firmly believe in the importance to any country that its capital be a good reflection and accommodation of the entire country.

There is another concept that has to play in the crafting of legislation and consideration of such legislation, and that is the evolution on both sides of the river of the municipal authorities over the past three or four decades. If one were to take a close look at the growing maturity of the planning capacity of both the municipality on the Outaouais side in Gatineau and on the Ontario side in Ottawa and trace the history of the evolution of that authority and that power, one would see a greater capacity, a greater sophistication, and a greater maturity in the planning capacity of each.

However, when the National Capital Commission was created many moons ago, that was not the case. Therefore, the legislature at the time thought it best to give the National Capital Commission perhaps wider planning authority and less of a consultation mandate than I think it should have today.

These are some of the overriding, overarching considerations that will be reflected in my comments on this proposed bill.

The first element on which I would like to focus is one that was mentioned by my two colleagues, the members for Ottawa South and Hull—Aylmer, as well as by myself, and it deals with ecological integrity.

We, on this side of the House, obviously agree with the concept of protecting and maintaining ecological integrity. However, does the bill do what must be done? I believe this is a perfectly legitimate question in two respects.

First, is the concept of ecological integrity given enough priority? Second, is it applied equally enough throughout the land? We asked that question but it still remains unanswered.

Regarding the importance, at least from my point of view—and I think my colleagues on this side of the House share this concern—I believe that the issue of ecological integrity should be a priority. If one looks carefully at the wording of this bill, such is not the case. I could find the exact wording, but it says that in its planning, the National Capital Commission must give consideration to the maintenance of ecological integrity. That is not giving priority to ecological integrity. If one draws a comparison with the way this legislative assembly has dealt with national parks—and I am not suggesting that Gatineau Park has the same status—and if one looks at this issue in particular, one can see very quickly that in the case of national parks, ecological integrity is a top priority. It should be the same for Gatineau Park, but that is not what the bill does. That is a first observation and a bit of a disappointment with regard to the government's proposal. I think this should be amended should the bill make its way to committee.

The second concern is equally important. It is the whole concept of a greenbelt, which is as important on the Ottawa side, in the National Capital Region, as Gatineau Park is on the Outaouais side of the region. The bill, as far as I know and unless I have misread it, makes no provision for protecting the ecological integrity or even for maintaining it. There is no mention of priority here, even. There is the whole issue of the entire greenbelt.

I can tell you as an MP for the Ontario side of the National Capital Region that this is of paramount concern to me and that it concerns many of my fellow citizens. I am pleased to note, however, that the member for Carleton—Mississippi Mills recognized in his remarks that, in the consultations conducted by Mr. Paquet in 2006, and as indicated in his report, this concern for preserving the greenbelt and its ecological integrity had been raised by the people of our region.

However, the wording proposed by the government expresses no interest in protecting the ecological integrity of the greenbelt. This risks becoming an issue because it is quite important.

The second question concerns the whole issue of the plan for the national capital. Bill C-37, An Act to amend the National Capital Act and other Acts, proposes that every 10 years the National Capital Commission submit a 50-year plan or plan for the development over 50 years of the National Capital Region to the Governor in Council and that the plan be submitted for approval only to the Governor in Council. For those watching us, the Governor in Council means cabinet. In the 30 days thereafter, if I am not mistaken, the Governor in Council must table a bill in this House.

It does not go far enough. Like Parliament, the House is called on to approve master plans for national parks. It is sufficiently important that members representing all ridings in Canada decide on the development plan or the comprehensive development plan for their national capital.

It would be a golden opportunity to have a debate and a vote in this House at least every 10 years so that the duly elected representatives of the people of Canada can decide on the sort of capital they want.

That is not asking too much. The fact of ratifying the plan—if it or they were ever ratified—would simply confirm Canadians' perception of their capital. To ask only cabinet, the Governor in Council, to approve these plans every 10 years is inadequate. If the bill goes to committee, I will certainly insist that an amendment be called for as well to permit those who represent Canadians, the members of this House of Commons, to make decisions on their capital.

The other advantage of such a measure would be that once every 10 years all members would be asked to think about their capital, its development, its future and how Canadians in their riding, regardless of where they are in the country, connect with their capital. This sort of debate and interaction between members from across the country and the national capital could only benefit the country. We all know that people often tend to be critical of Ottawa. However, we must make our capital a place of pride that all Canadians can be proud of and where they can find something for themselves. That is the second point.

Third, I do not believe there have been consultations by the government on the legislation after the Gilles Paquet exercise, and that is too bad. I asked Ontario representatives, Quebec representatives and municipal representatives on both sides of the river if they had been consulted on the legislation and the answer was no.

It is a bad way to start. The government, having received the report from Gilles Paquet, should have taken it upon itself to consult the municipal and provincial authorities, if only to start creating a consensus and also to show that this would be the way of the future.

There is an incredible importance in the fact that the National Capital Commission itself would consult its municipal and provincial partners on a regular basis. The government, not having done that, shows a terrible example. Perhaps we should even consider amendments to the legislation that would create a mechanism that would oblige the National Capital Commission in this consultation on a regular basis.

If we are to create a plan for the National Capital Region, which hopefully would be approved in the House every decade, I think the strength of that plan would obviously be greater if it were the result of some serious consultation with municipal and provincial authorities in the National Capital Region.

The fourth point has to do with the role of planning. The land-use planning in the entire National Capital Region, its economic development, and the location of jobs must necessarily be included in the master plan that the National Capital Commission will prepare to submit to the Governor in Council and, I hope, to the House for approval every ten years.

The role that the National Capital Commission will play in the plan is not very clear insofar as this development and the integration of it is concerned. I have supported the famous 75-25 split in public service jobs—75% on the Ontario side and 25% on the Quebec side—ever since it was formulated and it should be built into the legislation and into all NCC plans, at the very least.

The distribution of these jobs within each of the regions on both sides of the river is also important. There has to be a balance within these regions, which should also be reflected in the plan. Why do I emphasize this? Because it should also be included in all the planning around transportation.

When we are talking about transportation, we are talking about public transit and the network of roads and bridges. As soon as the issue of transportation is raised, we fall into discussions which, I hope, will not be interminable, even though they have always seemed to be so far. The government had a golden opportunity to introduce a bill and make amendments to the National Capital Commission Act that would have given it the ability and authority to do what needs to be done in order to plan appropriately for economic development and the integration of road and public transit networks on both sides of the river.

In the Outaouais, there are plans for Rapibus. Very good. In Ontario, there is light rail. How will these two networks be integrated? The National Capital Region is an integrated economic unit and this fact should be taken into account in the rules, in the legislation governing the National Capital Region, and in its mandate and its planning obligations. However, this does not seem to be the case. I am rather concerned about this deficiency in the bill that the government introduced in June, if I remember correctly, and that we will now spend a few minutes discussing. It is very important because it concerns the future of our community and the future of the Canadian capital. We need to do our homework and do it right. I think there are some problems in this regard.

There are a number of areas where we may agree on the technicalities of the various authorities that the NCC should have in terms of its flexibility for acquisition and disposal of land, as long as the ecological integrity is respected. That is why it is so important to put it in for the Greenbelt as well.

If we are to say that we will not protect the integrity of the Greenbelt but give the NCC the authority to acquire and dispose of lands without coming back to the higher authorities, whether it be the Treasury Board or cabinet, then we may open the door to some things we do not want to see. Therefore, it is attractive to tie in both ends.

I have no problem as a legislator in granting some authority to institutions and agencies such as the National Capital Commission. I come from an milieu where we had delegated much higher authority than we seem to in this Parliament. Therefore, I am quite open to that. However, it has to be done within the context where the expectations of preserving certain things, such as the ecological integrity of a Greenbelt, are well spelled out and cannot be deviated from.

If we do not spell out the fact that we expect the ecological integrity of the greenbelt to also be respected, then I would be very hesitant to increase the authority of the NCC in acquiring and disposing of land, perhaps in the greenbelt. That is how it ties in. If we have protection of the ecological integrity of the greenbelt as well, the rest flows very easily.

Finally, this is a personal bone that I have with the government. Here would have been a very good example of a bill that could have been set up for referral to committee before second reading. We have heard a willingness to co-operate from all parties. We have heard some concerns from the three opposition parties so far, and we may hear some more, about some things that are in the proposed bill and some things that are not in it.

I would hate to be forced into a situation, should the bill go to committee after second reading, to be told that we could not amend it a certain way because it might be seen to be expanding the bill, that we could not do a certain thing because blah, blah. Whereas if we had referred to committee before second reading, after five hours of debate or less, whichever committee would get this would have had the opportunity to really bite into this legislation and do what was best.

When we were on the other side in a minority situation, I was a deputy House leader. We made it a point to ensure that as many bills as we could were referred to committee before second reading, because we wanted to trust the committees. We wanted to give leeway to the committees and their members to do what was right, and it worked.

The fact that the government refuses time and again to refer any bill to committee before second reading shows that it does not want to work with the opposition parties. It shows that it does not trust in the capacity of individual members to get along in a committee setting to do what is right for the public good, to do what is right for legislation. The government refuses to acknowledge, when it comes down to it, that we all have the same interests in protecting the nation's capital, in this case, or protecting the interests of our fellow citizens, in most legislation, but it does not want to give us that. It seems to say “It's my way or the highway”.

In great part that sometimes leads to the situation we now see in the House, where it is very difficult. That side has no desire whatsoever to listen to anything from this side.

Should the bill go to committee and should there not be a willingness to accept certain amendments, I will not support the legislation after second reading. That has to be very clear. I have said this after having spoken for 20 minutes, and those guys were not listening. I detailed quite clearly the legitimate preoccupations that I am conveying to the House on behalf of my constituents, but it does not seem to sink in.

It is unfortunate that we may end up in that situation, but if that is the desire then so be it. As for me, I will continue to work positively to try to improve the legislation should it go to committee.

An Action Plan for the National Capital Commission
Government Orders

September 16th, 2009 / 4:30 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Royal Galipeau Ottawa—Orléans, ON

Mr. Speaker, I assure my colleague from Ottawa—Vanier that I listened to all his remarks attentively. I would also remind him that on more than one occasion we have worked with him on a series of files he considered important and that we are prepared to continue to do so in this matter, including on the amendments he feels might improve the bill.

Naturally, environmental matters are important for the greenbelt. The contents of this bill reflect the results of public consultations we conducted. Parliamentarians' views are equally important, as is most certainly the view of the member opposite.

Now it is rather regrettable that they are voting against a bill that represents a significant improvement over what existed when they were in the department because they were there for 13 years and did not do it. Now they complain that we are doing it badly or inadequately.

An Action Plan for the National Capital Commission
Government Orders

September 16th, 2009 / 4:35 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, I said that I was prepared to support this bill at second reading so long as many of the problems I have raised are resolved in committee. That means that I hope the government is prepared to consider and support certain amendments. We have submitted questions to the minister. I put the question to the member for Carleton—Mississippi Mills on this subject specifically. He was not prepared to answer. That leads me to assume that all the amendments may well be blocked. If that is the case, when the bill goes to committee after second reading and the government does not permit improvement of the bill, we will vote accordingly. I personally am prepared to let it go to committee after second reading, but on a number of conditions, which I insist on. We will see what happens.