House of Commons Hansard #46 of the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was national.

Topics

Canada National Parks Act
Government Orders

12:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Monte Solberg Medicine Hat, AB

That is a really bad idea, Larry, I have to tell you.

Canada National Parks Act
Government Orders

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Yukon, YT

I look forward to hearing the discussion on it by the member for Medicine Hat.

These land removals can only be done by amending the National Parks Act, which is what we are discussing today.

There has been broad public support, including support from affected first nations, provincial first nation groups, provincial, regional and district governments, including environmental NGOs.

The environmental assessment suggests impacts can be mitigated and the removal of lands will not unduly compromise the ecological integrity of Pacific Rim. There will be no impact on Riding Mountain.

No additional funding is required by Parks Canada or DIAND, and a $2.5 million mitigation fund will be provided to Parks Canada by DIAND.

The outcome of these minor amendments will be that the removal of lands from Pacific Rim will resolve the critical housing problems in Esowista and improve the quality of life of its residents. The removal of lands from Riding Mountain Park will fulfil Canada's obligation to re-establish an Indian reserve. Of course, it will strengthen our relationships with those aboriginal communities.

As I said at the beginning, there will be a minimum impact on the ecological integrity of Pacific Rim Park. That is the one aspect I want to talk about today.

The excising of land from Pacific Rim National Park Reserve to provide for the expansion of the Esowista Indian Reserve has raised a question of whether this has implications for the ecological integrity of Pacific Rim. I am pleased to address this question directly.

Pacific Rim National Park Reserve is located on the beautiful western coast of Vancouver Island. It is a narrow strip of lush rain forest buffeted by Pacific winds and waves. It is a landscape intertwined with first nations' history and culture. This reality is embedded in the art of the west coast first nations. The representation of ecological elements of the forests as well as the adjoining waters is a characteristic of this art. One has only to recall the marvellous works at the hands of the late Bill Reid.

This is the culture that will dominate the management of the future Indian reserve lands currently within the park. It is a culture that matches with the primary purpose of all national parks, the maintenance or restoration of ecological integrity of national parks.

As was intended, the report was very frank in pointing out the challenges that face our national parks. It confirms that most of Canada's national parks have been progressively losing precisely those important natural components which they are dedicated to protect. Accordingly, the panel has called for a fundamental reaffirmation of the legislative framework that protects the parks, together with policies to conserve these places and the appropriation of funds necessary to support these efforts.

Parks Canada committed itself to implementing the report and the recommendations fully insofar as it was legislatively and fiscally possible. It is now being done with full dialogue with all affected parties and is helped tremendously by the funding announced in the budget of 2003.

Parks Canada's first priority is to maintain or restore the ecological integrity of our national parks. This was prescribed by the governing legislation, the Canada National Parks Act, proclaimed in February 2001. Clause 8 states:

--the maintenance or restoration of ecological integrity through the protection of natural resources and processes, shall be the first priority when considering all aspects of the management of parks.

Why is ecological integrity so important? It is important because the loss of natural features and processes deprives Canadians of the opportunity to use and enjoy these places for the purposes for which they were intended. Loss of ecological integrity contradicts the very purposes for which our parks were set aside and constitutes an irreversible loss of heritage to both current and future generations.

Thus, by making ecological integrity our priority, we are also making people our priority by protecting our precious heritage places, now and forever.

Achieving the maintenance or restoration of ecological integrity also means putting science first. Parks Canada is committed to become a science-based organization. This includes traditional ecological knowledge.

Our parks and our national historic sites are very important symbols of Canada. Canadians, through personal visits and other learning mechanisms, can use these places to enhance their pride and knowledge of Canada and Canadians.

Parks Canada is committed to an expanded outreach program to convey accurate, interesting and up to date information to Canadians. I am sure many people have seen the tremendous visitor sites at Canada's national parks and the various interpretative programs for those visiting the parks. The provision of information by the Internet is a priority for Parks Canada. This approach is paying off, as millions are visiting the Parks Canada website on a monthly basis from not only Canada but also from countries such as Australia, Japan, Italy and Germany.

This type of proactive outreach continues to intensify and is aimed at our urban areas. The objective is, in effect, to bring our national parks and their values to people who may not otherwise have the opportunity to visit them or may visit them only infrequently.

Our marketing programs emphasize the primary conservation purposes of our national parks. Accordingly, visitors are encouraged to understand and respect these purposes and to plan their activities and visits to align with them.

Parks Canada is committed to improving ecological integrity in a number of ways: first, through communication, specifically, enhanced interpretation and educational activities; second, in reducing facility impacts; and third, by implementing up to date environmental management practices and technologies.

Within our tourism and marketing planning, it is important that we are fully aware of the huge economic value and significant social contribution of our parks, both on the local and the national levels.

I would stress that one cannot sustain economic benefits without enhancing both the natural environment of the parks and the visitors' enjoyment of them. It is only common sense that we must maintain or restore the ecological integrity of our parks. People will simply refuse to visit parks that are unacceptably degraded.

I would equally stress that any changes must and will be implemented in full consultation with partners, including provinces and territories, national and regional tourism, non-governmental bodies and of course first nations.

A priority area of the panel's report concerns the impact developments that have their origin in places external to park boundaries. To deal with such factors, the panel has called for renewed and extended partnerships. The proposed transfer of lands is one such partnership.

In this respect the panel was coming from a place of which we are all familiar, the notion that what I do in my own backyard can have significant effects in my neighbour's backyard. It is difficult to overestimate the importance of these issues. As we know, our national parks have many concerns which are shared in common by partners such as territories, provinces, aboriginal peoples, private landowners and various other interests.

In particular, I have never known nature to recognize or respect a human boundary. One day a grizzly bear may be in a national park and the next day in another jurisdiction. Rivers likewise flow through various jurisdictions. Acid rain from many kilometres away becomes a park problem when it impacts national park resources, and the list goes on.

Fundamentally, renewed and extended cooperation among neighbours who share common concerns is the only option toward maintaining ecological integrity. It is in this spirit that first nations and Parks Canada intend to work together to ensure that the ecological integrity of Pacific Rim is indeed a priority.

The bottom line is that we must improve the ways we work together if we are to safeguard the future of national parks. The nature of programs we devise will be so established in cooperation and consultation with interested partners. It is very important to keep good relations with those people on all sides of the park. They indeed are very important in helping to build the success of the park and to maintain its ecological integrity because of the effects they have on the park even though they are outside the borders.

Throughout this process the prerogatives of constitutionally defined jurisdictions, as well as the rights of private property owners, will be respected.

I will sketch a very broad overview of where Parks Canada is coming from and where it hopes to go. I am well aware of these types of considerations. In my own riding of Yukon we have some beautiful national parks, the last bastions of certain ecological protection of species. Therefore, it is very important that our partnerships with the adjacent people are good so we can protect that ecological integrity and some species that may not otherwise exist, right from the Arctic coast to Kluane National Park in the south.

In summary, first, the panel report on ecological integrity was an important milestone for the future of national parks in Canada. Parks Canada is taking it seriously and is moving forward implementing the directions it recommended. Its implementation in a purposeful yet sensitive way is bringing benefits to us all. Its neglect would have meant untold costs to all Canadians forever.

The provinces, territories and aboriginal peoples are and will be significant partners in achieving the protection of our national parks. Of course, because of the various interests and demands on those interests, this has to be done diplomatically and cooperatively with all stakeholders.

Viewed narrowly in terms of jurisdiction alone, Canada's national parks and other federally protected places, fall under the stewardship of the federal government, but they really belong to all of us. They are a legacy of each and every Canadian.

Let us enable future historians to say that on our watch we protected this precious legacy and even left it in better condition than we found it.

Let me assure members of the House that Bill C-28 would strengthen the relationship between Parks Canada and the first nations. In doing so, it would lead to the development of a model housing community living in harmony within the Pacific Rim National Park reserve.

I therefore urge all members to support passage of this bill. It would not only protect the ecological integrity of the parks involved but perform very important functions for adjoining first nations that need this very small amount of land so that they can be successful.

Canada National Parks Act
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12:30 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Bob Mills Red Deer, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the member, how does he explain to people when they say that we took a national park and subdivided part of it out and in fact decreased that national park?

Now, we have another national park somewhere else in Canada and we have a good reason to take out that national park, and would a nice big hotel complex not be just great there, or the city really needs it because it has to grow, or whatever? How does this member answer those questions from the Canadian public?

I also want to know, why does the member think that the bill has been rammed through in a two week period, defeating all opportunity to have public hearings and ensuring we have done due diligence? How does he justify that to the Canadian public?

Canada National Parks Act
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12:30 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to see the opposition is finally coming around to support parks in such a strong way. I wish that support had been there so strongly with the major additions we were making to national parks across the country and to new marine parks.

The Government of Canada, under our party, has made some major additions to national parks and just put in this new policy of ecological integrity. I am delighted that the member supports that.

In regard to the rest of his question, in his speech he spoke about the lack of negotiations and consultation. There was definitely significant negotiation between stakeholders, first nations, the mayors, NGOs and the provinces. It is not true that there was a lack of consultation. He talked about ramming it through in a two week period. However, he said that the bill was presented and briefed on in March. That was a lot longer than two weeks ago. We are in May.

He asked about the Canadian public. I have just discussed all the ways that the Canadian public was consulted. I certainly hope he is not removing the first nations, who are so affected and with whom this partnership is being made, from the Canadian public.

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12:30 p.m.

Liberal

Sophia Leung Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to rise today to speak to third reading of Bill C-28, an act to amend the Canada National Parks Act. This legislation would remove lands from the Pacific Rim National Park reserve and the Riding Mountain National Park for Indian reserve purposes.

Other hon. members have spoken to the specifics of this bill and about Parks Canada's national parks program and its celebration of our natural heritage. I would like to take a moment to speak about Parks Canada's cultural heritage program, the National Historic Site Program.

Based on its “National Historic Sites of Canada System Plan 2000”, Parks Canada will continue to mark the historic achievements of Canadians, in particular aboriginal peoples, women and ethnocultural communities. Parks Canada's goal is to bring about 135 new designations of national historic significance within a five year window, including 55 destinations specifically commemorating the history of aboriginal people, ethnocultural communities and women.

It should be understood that while the Minister of the Environment and Parks Canada are responsible for officially honouring the designated places or people, the actual choice of designations is made by the minister on the advice of the independent Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada. Any Canadian individual, group or government can make a formal submission to the board. This is a very thoughtful process we have created.

That said, it takes time, effort and extensive know-how to learn about the process and to complete the requisite submission. The process is rigorous because Canadians expect any national historic recognition to have deep meaning and importance. Parks Canada has launched major efforts in the past few years to ensure that more Canadians know how to initiate and complete a submission.

A good example is a major outreach program to ethnocultural communities launched last year. The program consisted of both information meetings and user-friendly education material. Parks Canada is going to communities and asking for their participation rather than waiting for communities to come to it.

The agency's recent efforts have ensured that sufficient nominations have been submitted to the Historic Sites and Monuments Board to meet its overall goal of an annual average of 27 new designations. Parks Canada is confident that it will achieve its targeted goal of 11 new designations a year specifically related to the achievement of ethnocultural communities, women and aboriginal peoples.

To achieve the three strategic designation priorities--women, aboriginal and ethnocultural communities--identified in the system plan, Parks Canada will maintain its focus on partnership efforts with aboriginal people, build awareness of the commemoration program, expand its work with ethnocultural communities, and strengthen its planning related to the history of women. The target for designations will be reviewed annually with the aim to ensure that historic achievements of Canadians of both genders and from all backgrounds are appropriately honoured by the nation.

As it moves forward with its system plan, Parks Canada can take pride in the achievements to date in celebrating aboriginal people's history through commemoration of significant people, places and events.

Let us look at a number of these sites in more detail. Kay-Nah-Chi-Wah-Nung National Historic Site, also known as Manitou Mounds, is near Fort Frances, Ontario. Parks Canada's partnership with the Rainy River first nation will ensure that this site, an important aboriginal religious and ceremonial ground for 2,000 years, is conserved and presented to all Canadians.

Chiefswood National Historic Site on the Six Nations Grand River reserve in southwestern Ontario is the birthplace of famed poet-performer Pauline Johnson. Chiefswood is being developed as a museum by the Six Nations Council in partnership with Parks Canada. Pauline Johnson has also been designated a person of national historic significance.

Kejimkujik National Park in Nova Scotia is now also commemorated as a national historic site, recognizing first nations use and occupation of the land. The earliest inhabitants of this park were Maritime Archaic Indians about 4,500 years ago. They were followed by the nomadic Woodland Indians who set up seasonal campsites along Kejimkujik's rivers and lake shores.

The Mi'kmaq, descendants of these people, have called this area home for the last 2,000 years. It is they who have produced the park's famous petroglyphs that represent the lifestyle, art and observations of the Mi'kmaq people in the 18th and 19th centuries. The park is administered by Parks Canada for all Canadians, but a Mi'kmaq network has been established to provide Parks Canada with advice on Kejimkujik from band members, elders, and political and spiritual organizations.

Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump was designated a national historic site in 1968. It is one of the world's oldest, largest and best preserved buffalo jumps known to exist. In 1981 it was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump has been used continuously by aboriginal peoples of the plains for more than 5,500 years and is known around the world as a remarkable testimony to pre-contact life. As a world heritage site, the jump is among such other world attractions as the Egyptian pyramids, Stonehenge and the Galapagos Islands.

Parks Canada is only one of the circle of friends that has provided support for a first nations-owned national historic site in Saskatchewan. Wanuskewin Heritage Park was created to be both a heritage park and a first nations centre. Wanuskewin became a reality in June 1992 and hundreds of thousands of people have visited this model of cross cultural partnership since opening day. Over 14,000 school children participate in cultural and educational programs at Wanuskewin each year.

Batoche was declared a national historic site in 1923. Its commemoration initially focused on the armed conflict between the Canadian government and the Métis provisional government in 1885. Today, Batoche also commemorates the history of the Métis community and is the home of Métis culture and heritage.

Surviving portions of the Carlton Trail and river-lot system and the roles of first nations in the Northwest Rebellion resistance are also commemorated. Administered by Parks Canada, the site benefits from a formally established shared management board with the Métis Nation of Saskatchewan.

Among persons of national historic significance, we might mention Mokwina, not a single man but several who held the name as a hereditary title given to the chiefs of the Mowachaht First Nation confederacy in British Columbia.

Nagwichoonjik national historic site is in the Northwest Territories. It covers that part of the Mackenzie River between Thunder River and Point Separation. It is of national historic significance due to its prominent position within the Gwichya Gwich'in cultural landscape. The Mackenzie River flows through Gwichya Gwich'in traditional homeland and is culturally, socially and spiritually significant to the people. Gwichya Gwich'in express the importance of the river through their oral histories, which trace important events from the beginning of the land to the present.

Gwichya Gwich'in history is told through names given along the river, the history and stories associated with these areas, and the experience drawn from these stories. The river acted as a transportation route, allowing Gwichya Gwich'in to gather in large numbers to dance, feast and play games during the summer. Archaeological evidence supports Gwichya Gwich'in oral histories concerning the importance of the Mackenzie River. Sites along the river show extensive pre-contact fisheries and stone quarries, which have ensured Gwichya Gwich'in survival through the centuries.

Canada's national historic sites are part of a larger family of special heritage places which include national parks and national marine conservation areas. They stretch from coast to coast to coast, from the Arctic to the Great Lakes and from the Pacific to the Atlantic. Together, the national parks, national historic sites and national marine conservation areas tell the story of Canada, with each one contributing its own unique story and sense of place and time. These special places have been set aside for the benefit of all Canadians.

Protecting our heritage is a national enterprise and can only be achieved through collaborative relationships. Just as aboriginal people help Parks Canada advance its mandate, Parks Canada endeavours to assist aboriginal communities. Bill C-28 is a good example of just such an initiative and I ask all members of the House to give speedy passage to Bill C-28.

Canada National Parks Act
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May 3rd, 2004 / 12:45 p.m.

Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia
Manitoba

Liberal

John Harvard Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Trade

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to address the House on the occasion of the third reading of Bill C-28.

Canada has the distinction of having established the first national park system in the world. Over the decades, this system has grown to 41 national parks and reserves, preserving for future generations almost 265,000 square kilometres of lands and waters, and there are plans to add an additional 100,000 square kilometres through the creation of eight more national parks. This legacy is possible because aboriginal people have worked with us to create many of these new national parks.

The creation and management of national parks is a delicate balance between preserving ecologically significant areas of importance to wildlife and meeting economic and social needs of communities, including those of aboriginal people. Parks Canada has increasingly worked in partnership with aboriginal people and communities to achieve these mutually supportive goals.

Bill C-28 is an important part of that effort, a bill which strives to provide for the aboriginal people of Esowista while working to maintain the ecological integrity of a national park whose focus is the preservation of the northern temperate rainforest, one of the earth's truly magnificent ecosystems.

The Government of Canada is committed to working with aboriginal people and other Canadians and stakeholders to protect other examples of our precious natural heritage through the creation of new national parks and national marine conservation areas.

In October 2002, the government announced an action plan to substantially complete Canada's system of national parks by creating 10 new parks over the next five years. This will expand the system by almost 50%, with the total area spanning nearly the size of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Five new national marine conservation areas will also be created.

Canada is blessed with exceptional natural treasures. We owe it to Canadians and to the world to protect these lands and waters.

This action plan calls on Parks Canada to work with all of our partners, the provinces and territories, aboriginal and rural communities, industry, and environmental groups and others, to complete this effort.

In March 2003, a little more than a year ago, the government allocated $144 million over five years and $29 million annually thereafter toward this effort.

This action plan has already produced two new national parks. The new Gulf Islands National Park Reserve of Canada protects 33 square kilometres of ecologically rare land in the southern Gulf Islands of British Columbia.

At over 20,000 square kilometres, Ukkusiksalik National Park of Canada protects virtually an entire watershed close to the Arctic circle in Nunavut. This park is the product of an agreement between the Government of Canada and the Inuit of Nunavut, forged over several decades of hard work, all focused on protecting land, water, caribou and polar bear for present and future generations.

Specific sites for more national parks have been selected in other natural regions across Canada: the southern Okanagan; lower Similkameen in interior British Columbia; Labrador's Torngat Mountains and Mealy Mountains; Manitoba's lowland boreal forests; Bathurst Island in Nunavut; and the east arm of Great Slave Lake in the Northwest Territories. Sites for the two remaining national parks are being identified by Parks Canada.

The government is also working with partners to establish five new national marine conservation areas, adding an estimated 15,000 square kilometres to the system. This will be a major step forward for global conservation of marine habitat. Canada has the world's longest coastline and 7% of its fresh water.

These national marine conservation areas will be located in ecologically unrepresented marine regions. Four sites have been identified, including Gwaii Haanas off British Columbia's Queen Charlotte Islands, western Lake Superior, British Columbia's southern Strait of Georgia and the waters off Îles de la Madeleine. A site for the remaining national marine conservation area has yet to be finalized.

In addition, the government will accelerate its actions over the next five years to improve the ecological integrity of Canada's 41 existing national parks. This will implement the action plan arising from the panel on the ecological integrity of Canada's national parks, whose report was endorsed by the government in April 2000, four years ago. Parks Canada, in order to achieve its mandate to protect ecological integrity, will have to work closely with aboriginal people and communities to ensure that we work toward common conservation goals.

Nowhere will this be more important than in the area of Pacific Rim National Park Reserve and the Esowista Indian reserve. Bill C-28 reflects our common goals of protecting the park while meeting the economic and social needs of the reserve's aboriginal people.

Bill C-28 reconciles the aspirations of Canadians for this national park and the aspirations of aboriginal people for their reserve. In the broader context, the government's action plan is the most ambitious action plan to expand and protect national parks and national marine conservation areas in over 100 years, since Banff National Park, Canada's first, was established way back in 1885.

It is a plan that requires the support of aboriginal people to achieve and I look forward to that day.

I urge the members of the House of Commons to give speedy passage to Bill C-28.

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12:55 p.m.

Liberal

Christian Jobin Lévis-Et-Chutes-De-La-Chaudière, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am extremely pleased to share some thoughts with you on Bill C-28, the purpose of which is essentially, as other colleagues have pointed out, to transfer lands from two national parks to two adjacent Indian reserves.

Most Canadians are aware that Parks Canada is the agency to which the federal government has entrusted the mandate of protecting and showcasing examples representative of our unique natural and cultural heritage.

To that end, Parks Canada has created three major components. Two of these, National Parks of Canada and National Marine Conservation Areas of Canada, deal with representative examples of our natural heritage, land and marine respectively. The other, National Historic Sites and Historic Canals, is responsible for Canada's program of historical commemoration, which recognizes nationally significant places, persons and events.

That is not all. Parks Canada also directs or coordinates other programs aimed at preserving other aspects of Canada's heritage, including federal heritage buildings, heritage railway stations, heritage rivers, the gravesites of Canadian Prime Ministers, and archeology.

Activities associated with the management and operation of Parks Canada focus on maintaining the ecological integrity of our national parks, the commemorative integrity of our national historic sitesand the viable use of our national marine conservation areas.

This is consistent with the federal government's commitment to put the principles of sustainable development into action.

In its most recent action plan tabled in this House, Parks Canada also stated the major directions it would take over the next five years.

One of the fundamental elements is the commitment to get Canadians more involved in all facets of Parks Canada. This is a matter of shifting from a culture of consultation to a culture of involvement.

We also need to recognize the important economic contribution made by heritage areas. Almost one-quarter of Canadians visited a national park last year and 2.5 million visited a national historic site, contributing more than $1.2 billion to Canada’s gross domestic product.

Heritage places are often the main economic driver in many rural and isolated communities in particular. Every dollar the Government of Canada invests in Parks Canada generates economic spinoffs of $3.50. This certainly has a significant multiplier effect.

This is why Parks Canada, with the support of the Canadian tourism industry, is now putting the emphasis on the notion of sustainable tourism. This is perfectly compatible with the desire to provide visitors with the best possible experiences and with the agency's public education mandate. However, to achieve this goal, the agency must first be able to welcome these visitors.

The reality is that the heritage assets for which Parks Canada is responsible are deteriorating. The Auditor General pointed this out in her previous report. Close to two thirds of our national historic sites are in a state that ranges from poor to marginal. In light of these figures, the Auditor General reminded us that once a heritage asset is lost, it is lost forever.

The places that have marked Canada's history can take various forms. It can be a building, a battlefield, a shipwreck, a park, a sacred aboriginal site, a bridge, a house, a burial site, a railway station, a whole urban neighbourhood, ruins, a school, a channel, a court of justice, a theatre or even a market.

During the last generation, one fifth of these historic sites have disappeared. This is why the Government of Canada has launched a broad consultation process on how to best preserve and commemorate our country's historic sites. These consultations led to an exhaustive strategy for historic sites.

I should point out that the historic places initiative is mentioned as an excellent example of federal-provincial-territorial cooperation.

Parks Canada's business plan also reflects the agency's desire to put more emphasis on aboriginal people. Some of the places where the history of aboriginal people was written take us back up to 10,000 years.

Moreover, we must recognize that Parks Canada would be unable to establish and to manage the majority of new national parks and new national historic sites without their enthusiastic and committed help.

Parks Canada seeks to respond to this enthusiasm by working closely with aboriginals at the local, regional and national levels.

The CEO of the agency says that he is convinced that the wise counsel of elders and chiefs will make it possible to continue on the road of restoration and learning. The bill accomplishes just that.

By taking lands from national parks without affecting their ecological integrity to solve serious housing problems and to correct an ongoing irritant, the Government of Canada shows that it is firmly committed to improving the lot of aboriginals and that it wants to preserve the ecological health of the treasures that are our national parks.

I therefore invite my colleagues to join with me in passing Bill C-28.

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1 p.m.

Liberal

Anita Neville Winnipeg South Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, the passing of Bill C-28 would rectify an error made to the detriment of the Keeseekoowenin First Nation and solve the acute housing shortage on the Esowista reserve of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation.

If its passing allows us to make progress on the quality of life and land claims of these first nations, it is largely thanks to Parks Canada's work, which has transformed the Canadian government's commitment to enhance its relationship with aboriginal peoples into reality.

In 2000, land from Riding Mountain National Park was removed and given to the Keeseekoowenin First Nation. At that time, the government was re-establishing that reserve. Subsequently, the government determined that a survey error had been made when five hectares were not returned with the original parcel. The government, through Bill C-28, is correcting that oversight now.

The Riding Mountain field unit consists of Riding Mountain National Park of Canada and the Riding Mountain East Gate Registration Complex national historic site of Canada. Established in 1929, Riding Mountain National Park protects approximately 3,000 square kilometres of ecosystems representative of the southern boreal plains and plateaux natural region of Canada.

Build in 1933-34, the Riding Mountain East Gate Registration Complex national historic site was designated in 1992 and is a significant example of the rustic design traditions and early auto tourism of the 1930s. The national park is a part of the Riding Mountain Biosphere Reserve, designated under UNESCO's “Man in the Biosphere” program in 1985.

In 2002, approximately 350,000 visitors took advantage of the programs and services delivered in the national park and national historic site in this field unit.

There are six first nations reserves within 100 kilometres of the park, falling geographically within three different treaty areas. Three of these reserves are located south of the national park boundary, with one, reserve 61A, falling within the national park on the northwest shore of Clear Lake. A ministerial agreement exists with Keeseekoowenin Ojibway First Nation for the Senior Officials Forum, whose objectives are to develop more positive, productive and mutually beneficial working relations.

The community of Wasagaming is located in Riding Mountain National Park and provides recreational, educational and cultural activity for visitors to the park. The community contains 525 cabins, 254 cottage lots and 37 commercial leases.

The Riding Mountain field unit employs 60 people year round and 170 people in the summer. It is estimated that the socio-economic benefits to the region are $50 million annually.

Employment of people of aboriginal heritage currently represents 15.7% of the field unit workforce, an increase from 7.2% in 1998 and exceeding the province of Manitoba workforce availability by 10%, the Parks Canada representation at 8.2% and the national aboriginal labour market availability at 2.5%. However--and we must work on this--the majority of these positions are entry level.

The Senior Officials Forum was established through ministerial agreement in 1998 between Parks Canada and the KOFN with the objective of achieving a mutually beneficial, positive and productive working relationship that would assist in resolving issues of common concern and common interest. A contribution agreement was approved in 1999 in support of the forum.

A concept for the establishment of a coalition of first nations with interests in Riding Mountain National Park is currently being discussed with nine first nations who are members of the West Region Tribal Council. The coalition, if successful, would provide opportunities for discussion and resolution of issues that are of mutual interest to both Parks Canada and the first nations.

In relation to Bill C-28, in 1896 land on the north shore of Clear Lake in the province of Manitoba was set aside as an Indian Reserve 61A to be used by the Keeseekoowenin Ojibway First Nation as a fishing station. The Indian reserve was located within a Dominion Timber Reserve.

When Riding Mountain National Park was created in 1929, it included most of the Dominion Timber Reserve and Indian Reserve 61A. The Keeseekoowenin Ojibway First Nation was relocated outside of the national park.

A specific land claim settlement agreement concluded in 1994 between Canada and the Keeseekoowenin Ojibway First Nation re-established 61A. Most of the associated lands were removed from Riding Mountain in 2000 with the passage of the Canada National Parks Act.

Due to an error in the preparation of the legal description for the land removal, a five hectare strip of land was omitted and remained within the park. The amendments to the Canada National Parks Act would fully re-establish Keeseekoowenin Ojibway First Nation Reserve 61A and rectify the error that occurred.

I think we are dealing with a pretty straightforward situation. The government made an error and Bill C-28 would rectify it.

In the case of the Esowista Reserve, lands are being removed to address a housing shortage on the reserve. The reserve was a seasonal reserve for fishing, which due to population growth has become a place of full time residence. Consultations were conducted with stakeholders, including local communities and environmental organizations, who recognized the unique nature of the situation and agreed the land must be provided to the first nations.

British Columbia agrees that the province and federal government must work together. Environmental assessments have been done and the area that will be given to first nations is the area that will be least impacted. Moreover, environmental assessments will continue to be done through the $2 million mitigation fund. In no way are parks being closed. The parks would remain open and available to all Canadians protecting the ecosystems these two parks represent.

It is time to correct the mistakes in Riding Mountain National Park and address the situation in the Esowista Reserve. I urge my colleagues to support the bill.

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1:10 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is the House ready for the question?

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1:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

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1:10 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

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1:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

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1:10 p.m.

An hon. member

On division.

(Motion agreed to, bill read the third time and passed)

The House resumed from April 29 consideration of the motion.

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1:10 p.m.

NDP

Wendy Lill Dartmouth, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to Bill C-29. I want to begin by saying we would like to see the bill returned to committee for further study.

The bill deals with accused who are basically unfit for trial, although it took a lot of reading to figure that out. I am not a lawyer and I do not think Parliament should be writing legislation that only lawyers can decipher. My colleague, the justice critic for the NDP, has put forward a bill asking for plain language policies in the House and in the drafting of our legislation.

Just very briefly, this is one of the most complex pieces of legislation before the House, mostly because of the intricate obtuse language in which it is written. The justice committee will need some time to review the bill to ensure that the offenders described in it do not lose the rights other offenders enjoy simply because they suffer from mental illness. It is a major concern because these are often the offenders who do not have adequate access to justice. I will borrow some information from my colleague from Regina—Qu'Appelle who has studied this problem in detail. Section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms states that:

Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination....

Imagine that the rights conferred by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms were only available if they were affordable. Imagine if our rights to life, liberty and security were available only if we were sufficiently wealthy to secure them for ourselves. What if the right to have a court proceeding translated into a language that we understand were violated because the government stance is that only those who can afford to hire their own translators can enjoy these rights? What if our right to be fairly represented by counsel amounted to nothing more than our ability or inability to hire the best lawyer we could afford?

Naturally these requirements sound absurd, and so they should. Each of these situations is a violation in and of itself that no court of law should be allowed to tolerate. Luckily for Canadians the charter does not guarantee the rights and freedoms set out subject only to how much we could afford, at least not in theory. That is because the charter forms part of the Constitution, making it inviolable and uninfringeable. Truly it is the supreme law of Canada. Accordingly to this, then, none of the above mentioned absurdities could be allowed to arise or persist.

As with many things, that which is true in theory often fails to translate into truth in practice. In practice, the absurdities mentioned above represent realities for many Canadians who come into contact with the justice system. The reality is that governments at both the provincial and federal levels are currently subjecting our rights to their affordability.

This has been allowed to happen because disparities across the provinces, stemming directly from funding problems, are compromising our right to equal protection and benefit under the law. It is about time we actually practise what we codify as law. Pretty words will get chucked at the Bar and justice will too if we do not take action to restore accessible and affordable legal services across the provinces and territories.

Justice should not and cannot continue to be limited only to the rich and well off. If our legal system does not reflect that point, we run the risk of losing the validity of one of the most important pillars of a democratic society. The Constitution does not simply say that all Canadians are equal under the law. It also says that Canadians have the right to equal protection and equal benefit under the law.

Can it be said that a person who has a public defender appointed to them enjoys the same protection and benefit of the law as the defender who assembles a team of high profile lawyers? I would say not. It cannot be said that a person in British Columbia who is denied legal aid with their child custody and support claim receives the same protection and benefit of the law as the person in Manitoba, where those services are offered by legal aid. Nor can one pretend that the law offers equal protection and benefits to everyone when some people are forced to sacrifice more than others in order to have equal access to the courts. This, however, is a reality in Canada for far too many Canadians.

Therefore, this is what we believe needs to be done. First, we need to standardize legal aid coverage across the provinces. Differences between the provinces means differences between Canadians. Disparities in services mean that the likelihood of obtaining justice is dependent more on the administration of the law rather than the law itself.

If a service is offered in any of the provinces or territories, it should be available and in every other province and territory. This is not to say that legal aid has to cover every matter, but it does rightly require that a legal service provided for Canadians in one region be provided in every region, as provided for under the charter.

We believe also that we need to standardize legal aid eligibility across the provinces. To illustrate the disparities or arguably the injustices in legal aid, by way of example, assume that a Canadian earns $20,000 a year. If that Canadian lived in British Columbia or Manitoba where the financial eligibility criteria is capped at $23,000 and $27,000 respectively, they would be eligible for free legal services. If, however, the same Canadian lived in either Ontario or Quebec where the cap is $15,000 and $17,500 respectively, they would be denied these essential and otherwise unaffordable services. Therefore, access to the legal system should not be denied to Canadians based on their incomes.

We also need to revise the financial evaluation process so that it recognizes that families have priorities other than just paying to obtain justice, such as keeping their families fed and housed. Current guidelines for financial evaluation set aside a modest exemption for personal assets. After that, however, governments expect legal costs to be paid out of personal assets, such as one's bank account, car, RRSP or home.

Can it still be considered justice if a family is successful in their legal battle but has done so by losing their home, their vehicle or their retirement savings? Obviously not. That is why guidelines need to be more equitable and sensitive to an applicant's responsibility to feed, clothe and shelter their families.

For most Canadians, the barriers to obtaining justice is the sheer cost of legal services provided by lawyers. Rather than have the public engage the legal profession in an adversarial debate over how much lawyers should earn or what their services are worth, it should be recognized that the government and the legal profession are in the position to enter into a mutually beneficial relationship with the goal of providing the public with valuable services.

It is time to provide tuition credits as well for law school students. One way to provide more affordable, accessible counsel would be to increase the numbers of lawyers available. To this end, the government must recognize the increasing cost of law school and should explore the possibility of providing tuition credits or refunds to law school students who enter practice after graduation.

It is also time to provide tax incentives for pro bono work. In the interests of providing a greater number of lawyers to those who cannot afford it, the government should provide lawyers with greater incentives to represent those with lower incomes on a pro bono basis. This could be achieved by something as simple as a tax incentive or rebate for those lawyers who engage clients in the type of work.

Unless I have misread the charter, I thought the rights and freedoms of Canadians went far beyond provincial jurisdiction and I did not think we had to shell out our savings simply to look after inequitable legal costs in various provinces and not in others.

In closing, the NDP supports having this bill sent to committee for further study and further improvement, and we look forward to being involved in that process.