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.

National Capital ActPrivate Members' Business

April 28th, 2014 / 11:25 a.m.
See context

Conservative

David Sweet Conservative Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, as always, it is an honour to speak here in the House of Commons, representing my constituents from Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale, and today, more specifically, all Canadians, as we debate Bill C-565.

I would like to use this time to address an integral issue at the heart of this debate on Gatineau Park, which is the effective and realistic protection of Gatineau Park, its beauty, biodiversity and ecosystems, as well as its integrity, status, and significance as an integral part of Canada's capital region, a larger region that also requires protection for generations to come.

The government has a record of trying to move forward with proposals to amend the National Capital Act that would offer strong and effective protection to not only the park but also the entire national capital region. This record includes Bill C-37 in 2009 and Bill C-20 in 2010, both of which unfortunately died on the order paper, as well the signalled intention to introduce a similar government bill in the near future.

On the other hand, the latest attempt by the opposition to pre-empt our efforts, as embodied in Bill C-565, comes up short by being too narrowly focused and too short-sighted.

I think we can all agree that the key to ensuring the beauty and vitality of not only Gatineau Park but also the entire capital region for generations to come is by taking concrete legislative and administrative steps to protect the natural gifts that we have.

Recognizing this fact, over the past several years the government has introduced Bill C-37 and Bill C-20, both of which sought to strengthen and update environmental protections for the entire national capital region, including the greenbelt and Gatineau Park.

These bills sought to legislate the national interest land mass, or NILM, concept, a designation applied to both Gatineau Park and the greenbelt, which would offer strong protections and oversight, including requiring project proposals to be reviewed by the National Capital Commission and prohibiting the disposition or transfer of property within these green spaces without Governor in Council approval.

Under these previous bills, the Governor in Council would also have enjoyed the authority to oversee the criteria and process for designating property in the national capital region as NILM land. Additionally, these bills required the NCC to manage its properties in accordance with the principles of responsible environmental stewardship, which would have obligated the NCC to always consider possible environmental impacts when managing its properties in the entire national capital region.

By contrast, Bill C-565 is unnecessarily restrictive as it only applies protections to Gatineau Park. As my fellow colleagues have pointed out previously, there is a lot more to the national capital region than Gatineau Park alone. We are also surrounded by the greenbelt and multiple urban green spaces that fall under federal authority and the NCC's stewardship.

Bill C-565, curiously, unfortunately, and needlessly, introduces measures to protect only one of these parks: Gatineau Park. This approach in Bill C-565 is overly narrow and we must ensure that any re-opening of the National Capital Act enhances the protection of all green spaces in the capital region, including both Gatineau Park and the greenbelt.

With regard to protecting the integrity of Gatineau Park and its boundaries specifically, and in addition to their designation of the entire park as national interest land mass, the previously mentioned government bills sought to legislate defined boundaries for Gatineau Park and the greenbelt. By explicitly defining the boundaries in the National Capital Act, these bills would have ensured that the park was protected and that its boundaries could only be altered by the Governor in Council when absolutely necessary, such as when required for the public benefit, for example. This would combine active protection of the park with a necessary degree of flexibility in recognition of the unique characteristics and location of this natural asset.

Let us talk about the environment protection of Gatineau Park specifically. Protection of the natural systems and internal integrity of the park figured prominently in the previous government bills in this area, and I can assure the House that these imperatives remain a priority for this government.

As already emphasized during our previous debates on this issue, the government remains fully committed to the protection and maintenance of the park as a destination of natural beauty and recreation for all Canadians as well as for international visitors to our capital. This commitment to environmental protection was evidenced in the previous government bills through their application of the concept of “ecological integrity”.

Ecological integrity is a concept used in the Canada National Parks Act and is applicable to all of Canada's federal parks, with a view to ensuring their protection and preservation. Bill C-37 and Bill C-20 both sought to apply this concept to Gatineau Park, including to all of its ecosystems and biodiversity, in order to provide the park with this high degree of environmental protection.

At the same time, one of the key proposals to protect Gatineau Park in the member's bill is the imposition of an obligation on the NCC to purchase all privately owned properties in the park. We are talking about approximately 377 properties in the park with a roughly estimated current market value of $100 million. Furthermore, this $100 million does not take into account the inflation in property prices that would almost certainly materialize as a result of this legislative obligation.

This proposal is also unnecessary. The NCC already has the authority, pursuant to a 2008 order in council, to purchase private properties in the park without seeking Governor in Council approval for each specific purchase. This has permitted the NCC to increase its ownership of properties in the park while also taking into account the availability and prices of the properties, the resources it has available, and the strategic importance of the sites for significant ecosystems, in prioritizing its property purchases in the park. This, in our view, is the most fiscally and environmentally responsible course of action for Gatineau Park and Canadian taxpayers.

Speaking of protecting Gatineau Park for all visitors, I want to address a problematic component of Bill C-565 that seeks to provide hunting rights in the park. Let me say that it is an absolute imperative of this government to protect and ensure the safety of all Canadians as well as international visitors to the park. We are talking about an area visited by over 2.7 million people per year, many of them young children. In light of these facts, it seems rather irresponsible to be proposing such hunting rights in a shared space, which could seriously jeopardize the safety of visitors to the park.

I would suggest that there is little debate that the National Capital Act, enacted 55 years ago, in 1959, could use a significant update. Although the act still effectively governs the National Capital Commission and its activities in the National Capital Region, it is clear that the NCC could benefit from updated enabling legislation in order to even more effectively administer its mandate in the national capital region, including the continued protection of Gatineau Park.

That being said, Bill C-565 does not enhance those protections in an effective or appropriate way and is, at the same time, unnecessarily narrow in its application solely to Gatineau Park. In our view, the bill would have negative consequences for the park, the region, and Canadian taxpayers.

This government has repeatedly introduced legislation in recent years to amend the National Capital Act in order to improve the NCC's transparency and governance structure, strengthen environmental protections, and provide the commission with effective and modernized tools to manage and protect its properties in the national capital region. These legislative proposals are evidence that we are working toward implementing a clear and comprehensive vision tor the continued protection and improvement of the entire national capital region and are seeking to provide the NCC with updated legislation to accomplish this goal.

I anticipate that the next government bill in this area will provide another embodiment of this commitment and our continued perseverance in this endeavour and I look forward to its introduction.

National Capital ActPrivate Members' Business

April 28th, 2014 / 11:05 a.m.
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Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Mr. Speaker, at this stage of our debate on Gatineau Park, it is important to note that all members of the House agree that Gatineau Park is an immensely beautiful treasure that needs better protection. Unfortunately, that is where our agreement ends right now. We do not agree on what kind of legal protection Parliament should provide for that park, which we all love so much.

The member for Hull—Aylmer believes that her bill, which we are debating here today, Bill C-565, An Act to amend the National Capital Act (Gatineau Park) and to make a related amendment to the Department of Canadian Heritage Act, is adequate.

The Conservative government would rather focus on its own bill, which it promises to introduce soon and which it claims is very similar to bills it has introduced in the past. The Liberal caucus believes that both the NDP and Conservative approaches are inadequate and do not provide sufficient protection for Gatineau Park while respecting the rights of property owners. However, the Liberal caucus is prepared to support Bill C-565 at second reading so that a committee can examine it and make amendments.

Let us consider the magnitude of the problem. Gatineau Park is the only federal park that is not protected by Parliament. Unlike national parks, this park's boundaries can be modified and its land sold, and roads can be built through it without Parliament's involvement.

Gatineau Park is managed by the National Capital Commission, which does not ban commercial or industrial activities or land development. As a result of inadequate legal protection, Gatineau Park has lost a significant amount of land. When the National Capital Commission redrew the park's boundaries in the 1990s, it severed 48 properties, for a total of 1,508 acres. At the same time, 334 acres were allotted for the construction of roads, which were built in violation of the commitments made in the master plan, bringing the total number of acres severed up to 1,842, or nearly 5 km2.

All this was done without Parliament's knowledge, let alone its approval. This would not have happened if Gatineau Park were protected under the Canada National Parks Act, which establishes in subsection 5(3) that the size of the park can only be reduced by an act of Parliament.

In addition, because the land management system is inadequate, the NCC has allowed considerable urbanization within the park. Since 1992, 125 residences have been built inside the park.

Despite repeated NCC commitments to acquire private property, some 296 private properties, consisting of 2,112 acres, remain within Gatineau Park. Moreover, several large private properties remain inside the park that risk being turned into major subdivisions, which would impede the park's evolution as a conservation site intended for public enjoyment.

Gatineau Park must be given the same kind of legal protection and parliamentary oversight as Canada's national parks.

Through amendments to the National Capital Act, the park must acquire the legal status, borders and land management mechanism needed to ensure transparency in its administration and guarantee its long-term protection.

We must give this park the protection framework that various citizens' groups have been advocating for decades and help the NCC fulfill its commitment to gradually acquire the private properties, while respecting landowners' rights to continue to live in the park.

Today, the Conservatives are saying they want to come back to this issue with something equivalent to their Bills C-37 and C-20, which died on the order paper in 2009 and 2011. That is not exactly reassuring.

These bills did not offer Gatineau a proper legislative framework, failed to meet basic park protection criteria, perpetuated developments and road building, and would have impaired the park's ecological integrity.

Under these bills, the park boundaries could be changed by administrative decree, without oversight or parliamentary debate.

Now we have the NDP Bill C-565. This bill establishes but a moral obligation to ecological integrity. Measures to ensure the protection, preservation, and management of Gatineau Park for the benefit of current and future generations are put forth with little framework and no real legislative backbone.

In fact, at least three aspects of Bill C-565 could represent setbacks.

First, although Bill C-565 gives the NCC the mandate of acquiring the real property situated in Gatineau Park, it stipulates that:

10.1 (2) The Commission may not, in pursuing its objectives, infringe upon the property rights attached to any real property...located within Gatineau Park.

By so doing, Bill C-565 weakens the NCC, since the existing National Capital Act allows the NCC to expropriate private lands whenever it becomes necessary for the purposes of its mandate.

Bill C-565 will create a dangerous precedent by removing the NCC's ability to expropriate land. It will allow large landowners to divide their land and build new residences in the middle of the park, which would be completely contrary to the park's public and ecological purpose and all the park master plans.

The problem with Bill C-565 is that it does not include a mechanism for acquiring the land.

This is why there is a need for a right of first refusal. Clear regulations would give the NCC the first chance to purchase private property should the private landowner decide to sell, subsequent to which, parkland may be bought and sold on the open market.

People who own land in Gatineau Park could continue to live there and leave their property to their children through estates and trusts. It is important to note that the NCC supported the use of such a right of first refusal when it appeared before a Senate committee in 2007.

Second, although the most recent Gatineau Park master plan clearly establishes that the park's ecological integrity is a management priority, clause 2 of Bill C-565 simply states that the NCC will “protect Gatineau Park’s natural biodiversity, as well as its underlying ecological structure and environmental processes”.

Simply saying that the NCC is to protect the park's natural biodiversity is not as strong a mechanism for preserving the park's ecological integrity as making that protection the first priority. Let us remember that the Canada National Parks Act considers protecting ecological integrity to be a management priority.

Third, Bill C-565 could open the door to hunting in Gatineau Park. Right now, fishing is allowed in the park, but hunting is prohibited.

It is clear that serious amendments are needed to Bill C-565, to better back the NCC objectives of long-term ecological integrity while respecting the rights of landowners. Many amendments would be required.

Indeed, the bill provides no mechanism for public consultation, completely ignores the issue of Quebec's territorial integrity, and fails to make conservation the first priority of park management, which, as I said, is a cornerstone of the Canada National Parks Act.

Above all, the bill should provide, subsequent to consultations with the Quebec provincial government, a real protective legislation for Gatineau Park via an amendment to the National Capital Act.

Such a legislative framework by Parliament would support the NCC's role as park manager and would give the park the same kind of statutory protection and adequate parliamentary oversight that is given to national parks throughout Canada.

We have our work cut out for us. We need to conduct an in-depth examination of this issue in committee in order to find legal protection that works for our beloved Gatineau Park.

National Capital ActPrivate Members' Business

March 7th, 2014 / 2 p.m.
See context

Selkirk—Interlake Manitoba

Conservative

James Bezan ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to Bill C-565.

Gatineau Park has an important place in our national capital region's history. The idea for a park in the Gatineau hills dates back to the 1800s.

In the early 20th century, two reports were commissioned, both of which recommended that the Canadian government create a park in the hills.

On July 1, 1938, the Government of Canada recognized the concept of Gatineau Park and the groundwork was laid with the introduction of a budget for the purchase of land in the Gatineau valley.

In 1959, the government introduced the National Capital Act. This legislation created the National Capital Commission, which was given the authority and responsibility to protect Gatineau Park, as well as many other properties, parks, and green spaces in an extensive area defined in the act as the national capital region.

The act states that the commission's mandate is:

...to prepare plans for and assist in the development, conservation and improvement of the National Capital Region in order that the nature and character of the seat of the Government of Canada may be in accordance with its national significance.

Gatineau Park is fully subject to this mandate, as it forms part of the national capital region.

Today, the park's millions of annual visitors, who are both residents of the region and tourists, enjoy its trails, forests, and lakes year-round, and I certainly enjoy them myself.

In recent years, there have been numerous efforts made by the government to study and improve the tools and mechanisms by which the commission administers and protects land and properties within the capital region.

In 2006, an independent panel was commissioned to study the mandate, mission, and activities of the 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 that formal protections of these lands be strengthened.

The panel subsequently published its report, which included 31 recommendations regarding the commission's operation, governance, and resources.

One key recommendation was to strengthen the commission's environmental stewardship role with respect to green spaces in the capital region, including Gatineau Park.

In 2009, and again in 2010, this government introduced Bill C-37 and Bill C-20 respectively, both titled “An act to amend the National Capital Act...”.

These bills defined boundaries for Gatineau Park, strengthened the importance of the environmental stewardship role of the National Capital Commission, and defined ecological integrity.

These bills were much more proactive and forward-looking than Bill C-565 and, unlike the chief opposition whip's bill, they also updated the commission's outdated authorities and governance structure and protected other federally owned lands in the region, following closely the recommendations of the panel from 2006.

The intention of these legislative proposals was to provide the National Capital Commission with all the tools it needs to fulfill its mandate.

Unfortunately, both these bills died on the order paper.

I wish to inform the chief opposition whip that I will be opposing her bill, for the following reasons.

First, the government will be introducing, shortly, a bill to amend the National Capital Act, which is far more comprehensive than Bill C-565. The government's bill would modify the governance structure of the National Capital Commission; clarify the commission's responsibilities regarding planning and sound environmental stewardship; establish boundaries for Gatineau Park and the greenbelt; enhance the National Capital Commission's regulation-making powers; as well as reduce some outdated constraints related to real property authorities.

It would be similar, in fact, to the former legislation introduced by the government in the recent past.

Second, Bill C-565 would impose a mandatory and legislative obligation on the National Capital Commission to acquire all real properties in Gatineau Park. This obligation would be extremely costly as there are presently more than 300 privately owned properties in the park. The consequences of legislating this obligation would be to inflate the prices of the properties within the park, and the National Capital Commission would be required to purchase them at any price. This is not a responsible way to spend taxpayers' money. This element of Bill C-565 is neither necessary nor desirable.

In 2008, the government put in place responsible measures through an order in council providing the commission with the authority to acquire any available real property inside Gatineau Park. The National Capital Commission uses due diligence to take into account the availability and the prices of properties, as well as the resources it has available in prioritizing property purchases in the park. These purchases, I think members will agree, must be made responsibly.

Third, although Bill C-565's proposed legislated obligation on the National Capital Commission to protect biodiversity in Gatineau Park would generally align with government policy, the current mechanisms in place, as well as the forthcoming government bill, would accomplish this goal more effectively.

The National Capital Commission is already mandated to protect biodiversity and promote educational and recreational activities in the entire national capital region, which includes Gatineau Park. The commission's 2005 Gatineau Park master plan also establishes priorities for actions in the areas of conservation and stewardship. Moreover, the forthcoming government bill would define and implement the concept of ecological integrity, which more accurately parallels existing government conservation legislation and policy, including the Canada Parks Act, and which would ensure that sound environmental stewardship is a main priority in managing the park.

Fourth, with regard to the boundaries of Gatineau Park, Bill C-565 proposes the same delineations as the previous government bills on the subject, using the 1997 boundaries established by the NCC board of directors. However, Bill C-565 also includes a prohibition on selling or transferring any public lands within the boundaries of the park. The inclusion of this prohibition in Bill C-565 illustrates the lack of knowledge and experience of the hon. member for Hull—Aylmer concerning the flexibility required to ensure effective long-term management of Gatineau Park.

Currently the National Capital Commission has designated Gatineau Park as national interest land mass, or NILM. NILM properties cannot be sold or transferred without Governor in Council approval. This NILM designation enables the National Capital Commission and the government to protect parks and federal lands that are of national interest, but it also provides the necessary flexibility to sell, transfer, or acquire properties when necessary in the public interest and to service communities.

Fifth, Bill C-565 states that the National Capital Commission cannot infringe on real property rights. In my opinion, this amendment is redundant, as real property rights are protected in the Code civil du Québec and are an area of provincial jurisdiction.

Sixth, Bill C-565 states that the National Capital Commission is to take into account the needs of the aboriginal populations and local communities, including the use of subsistence resources. Bill C-565 does not elaborate on whether this is meant to create hunting and fishing rights within Gatineau Park. If so, the National Capital Commission would have to modify or create regulations to ensure proper oversight and monitoring of these activities. This would be costly for the National Capital Commission and could have consequences for visitors to the park. An impact assessment would also have to be done to ensure that this inclusion aligns with government-wide aboriginal policy and treaty rights.

Finally, Bill C-565 would amend the Department of Canadian Heritage Act to specifically refer to Gatineau Park. The reason is that in September 2013, economic action plan 2013 transferred the activity and event mandate to promote Canada's national capital region from the NCC to the Department of Canadian Heritage, and a corresponding amendment was made to the Department of Canadian Heritage Act. However, since Gatineau Park is already part of the national capital region, there is no requirement to specifically identify this part of the capital region and not others.

Moreover, pursuant to an memorandum of understanding signed in October 2013 between the NCC and the Department of Canadian Heritage, the National Capital Commission continues to assume responsibility for, among other things, the management of activities, events, and promotions for Gatineau Park and the Mackenzie King Estate, while the Department of Canadian Heritage continues to manage activities relating to the urban lands for the capital region.

I am of the opinion that Bill C-565 is not an effective vehicle for protecting Gatineau Park. I would like to take this opportunity to reiterate the government's commitment to introducing comprehensive legislation shortly, which would ensure the continued long-term protection of Gatineau Park and provide the National Capital Commission with the tools necessary to manage and protect the entire capital region for all Canadians.

National Capital ActPrivate Members' Business

March 7th, 2014 / 1:35 p.m.
See context

Calgary East Alberta

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and for International Human Rights

Mr. Speaker, I would like to speak about the importance of protecting Gatineau Park and why Bill C-565 misses the mark on this important issue.

We can all agree that Gatineau Park is one of the jewels of the national capital region. The park represents 7.5% of the total land area of the national capital region and comprises 361 square kilometres of green space; 200 kilometres of exhilarating cross-country trails; 165 kilometres of breathtaking hiking trails; 50 lakes; a downhill ski resort; multiple ecosystems, such as the Eardley Escarpment and Pink Lake, as well as boasting a great diversity of wildlife.

Remarkably, this pristine natural environment lies within a 15-minute drive of Parliament Hill in downtown Ottawa, a fact that no doubt contributes to its over 2.7 million visitors each year. We, as Canadians, and especially as residents of this region, are lucky to have Gatineau Park but also the greenbelt and other urban parks situated so close to the capital.

The government entrusted the hefty responsibility of protecting the park and all of the capital region's green space to the National Capital Commission through the National Capital Act in 1959. The commission was mandated in that act to prepare plans for, and to assist in the development, conservation, and improvement of, the national capital region, including Gatineau Park, to ensure that the nature and character of the seat of the Government of Canada reflected its national significance. That mandate remains relevant and important to this day and the commission continues to implement it faithfully. Notably, the government reaffirmed the importance of the commission's continued implementation of that mandate of planning, conserving, and improving the entire national capital region, including Gatineau Park, in the first budget implementation act of 2013.

This government understands and shares Canadians' interest in Gatineau Park and continues to support the NCC's efforts, and itself also continues to play a leadership role in taking meaningful action to protect and conserve the park. Our government wants to reiterate to Canadians its absolute commitment to protecting Gatineau Park and other green spaces in the national capital region.

The government has demonstrated its ongoing commitment by twice introducing an act to amend the National Capital Act and other acts in the recent past, once as Bill C-37 in 2009 and then again as Bill C-20 in 2010. Both of these bills contained strong legislative protections for Gatineau Park, including provisions that defined the boundaries of Gatineau Park, strengthened the importance of the environmental stewardship role of the National Capital Commission, and both defined and required the commission to apply the concept of ecological integrity. These bills also sought to comprehensively update the commission's outdated authorities and governance structure to ensure that the commission had the necessary tools at its disposal to truly protect the national capital region's natural spaces and to fulfill its entire mandate.

While both of these government bills unfortunately died on the order paper, I am pleased to note that the government plans to introduce a similar bill in the near future, again illustrating its commitment to protecting the park. In this respect, our government's position is that Bill C-565 does not offer a particularly effective approach to protecting Gatineau Park and is far too restricted in scope.

Need I remind the opposition whip that in the national capital region we live and work in close proximity to many more green spaces than Gatineau Park alone? We are also surrounded by the greenbelt and multiple urban green spaces that fall under federal authority and the NCC's stewardship. Bill C-565 unfortunately only introduces measures to protect one of these parks, Gatineau Park, coincidentally the park closest to the opposition whip's riding.

Our government feels that the approach in Bill C-565 is far too narrow, and we have always taken a strong position, as evidenced by the previous bills just mentioned, that any reopening of the National Capital Act must ensure the enhanced protection of all green spaces in the national capital region, including Gatineau Park and the greenbelt.

Bill C-565's restricted scope also means that it would only focus on one dimension of the National Capital Act concerning Gatineau Park, and in so doing would neglect to address some of the other aspects of the act that could use updating.

While the government strongly believes that the National Capital Commission remains the federal body best placed to ensure the promotion, protection, and conservation of green spaces in the capital region, including Gatineau Park, we also need to provide this crown corporation with a modernized governance structure and updated authorities, in addition to strengthened protective measures for the park, the greenbelt, and other properties held by the commission. This would enable it to better continue to successfully implement its mandate.

As I noted earlier, the government is committed to reintroducing new legislation in the near term, similar to previous Bills C-37 and C-20, which would offer these more comprehensive reforms to the act and provide a more broad-based protection to the green spaces in our capital region.

Its ambit aside, there are also insurmountable and substantive problems with Bill C-565. I will only address one here, that being its problematic imposition of an obligation on the NCC to buy all real estate property in Gatineau Park. We are talking about 377 properties that are privately owned in the Park, with a roughly estimated current value of $100 million. Adopting this amendment in Bill C-565 would clearly cause the market prices of properties in the park to inflate, while concurrently legally obligating the commission to purchase these same properties, regardless of the price. This is far from a responsible way to spend taxpayers' money.

It is important to note that in September 2008, our government sought and obtained an order in council that grants the commission with the authority to purchase private properties in Gatineau Park without seeking Governor in Council approval for each specific purchase. This has already provided the commission with a more efficient and streamlined process for increasing its ownership of property within the park according to the established priorities and resources available.

The National Capital Commission has explicitly identified the acquisition of properties in the park as one of its priorities, and has set aside funds exclusively for this purpose. Our government provided a $10-million increase in ongoing annual funding for capital expenditure to the National Capital Commission in its 2007 budget.

The commission has to date adopted a balanced approach that maximizes the benefits to taxpayers by buying properties based on availability, price, and pre-determined priority. The commission plainly already has the authority, the funds, and the solid policy and planning mechanism to effectively manage acquisitions in Gatineau Park.

I will conclude by reiterating the government's commitment to introducing comprehensive legislation to amend the National Capital Act in the near future. This legislation would protect Gatineau Park, as well as other federally owned green spaces like the greenbelt. It would provide updated tools for the National Capital Commission to continue to deliver on its mandate and to perform its valued work.

The government is committed to protecting Gatineau Park for Canadians, not only in the present, but for decades to come.

November 4th, 2010 / 11:50 a.m.
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Liberal

Marcel Proulx Liberal Hull—Aylmer, QC

Mr. Chair, this brings me to a question for the clerk, that I will put through you.

The Government of Quebec had been invited as a witness, if memory serves me, during the consultations or testimony given at the time of Bill C-37. If memory serves me, the Government of Quebec did not deign to come here to testify.

Is my interpretation of the facts correct or were there other circumstances?

November 2nd, 2010 / 11:55 a.m.
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Liberal

Marcel Proulx Liberal Hull—Aylmer, QC

We discussed all of this, Mr. Chair, in our study of the previous bill, Bill C-37. We had very interesting witnesses, but...I'm having a senior moment.

October 26th, 2010 / 12:40 p.m.
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Liberal

Marcel Proulx Liberal Hull—Aylmer, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair. I simply want to point out to my colleague, Mr. Nadeau, that it is no surprise that we are discussing the Greenbelt this morning. On the contrary, it was part of the amendments that were made to Bill C-37. And I would add that it is now the government adding this clarification, which requires us to discuss the issue of the Greenbelt.

In amendment G-1 we clarified the proposed bill by accepting a new definition of ecological integrity. One of the objectives in including the greenbelt in this particular bill is exactly that, to make sure that the ecological integrity within the greenbelt, where possible, will be protected. As you are very right in saying so, as we go along, the definition of the greenbelt will be better known.

Thank you.

October 26th, 2010 / 12:35 p.m.
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Bloc

Richard Nadeau Bloc Gatineau, QC

Mr. Chair, the first question we need to ask ourselves is: Why did no one see fit to include the Greenbelt and all the related legislative provisions in Bill C-37 when it was brought forward in June 2009, in order to lay things out clearly or, at least, ensure that everything was done in accordance with the rules that would have been established.

We heard Mr. Dubé and Mr. Proulx talk about the wide variety of lands that make up the Greenbelt, which, by the way, spans a vast area. This was put to us today without any groundwork having been done, without any evidence from knowledgeable witnesses on the matter, which is one of the National Capital Commission's many responsibilities. Either it was a mistake, or it was not done intentionally to provide an opportunity to gather more sound arguments for discussion down the road, especially in terms of defining the duties and responsibilities related to the famous Greenbelt.

We did it for Gatineau Park, and that is great, but we did not do it for the Greenbelt. It is extremely difficult to accept, even if we say that we will provide an explanation in a schedule. We are required to vote on all the elements contained in the bill before us, not on things that appear out of nowhere in an amendment on a major issue concerning the National Capital Commission.

Mr. Chair, I am not trying to take away from the Greenbelt or diminish its importance. It is just that we did not study the issue, we did not propose it for consideration, we did not set out the necessary parameters to pass legislation on the issue and then clearly identify the corresponding responsibilities.

It is also to protect the Greenbelt. It is important to keep in mind what Russell Mills said before he was appointed chair of the National Capital Commission's board of directors. He said that he did not have a problem with carving up the Greenbelt; he was willing to hand it over to the private sector. Forgive me, but let's define everything first and give the Greenbelt legislative protection, to prevent the Russell Mills of the world from, one day, selling off pieces of the city of Ottawa's environmental heritage.

To do that, we need a piece of legislation. But we do not have that here. We should have done it in due course. It is never too late to do things right, but it would have to be through another motion or another amendment to the current act, in order to ensure that the job is done well and that the Greenbelt is given adequate protection. The boundaries need to be known and established, to be sure that we, as lawmakers, are protecting an area with known and established boundaries. We would also need to ensure the sustainability of this land for future generations of Quebeckers and Canadians alike.

But that is not the case right now, and so we have this grey area referred to earlier. You cannot just cook this up, and come here and tell us that everything is hunky-dory and that we should have confidence in it even though we were not given the slightest opportunity to discuss it or to hear from witnesses on the matter, if only regarding the boundaries of this extremely diverse and significant area.

October 26th, 2010 / 12:10 p.m.
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Liberal

Marcel Proulx Liberal Hull—Aylmer, QC

To start with, this is not a new concept. As your witness just said a few minutes ago, the greenbelt is known in the Ottawa region. It's being referred to in all types of different municipal, provincial, and federal uses.

To say that it's a new concept to the bill.... I don't agree with Mr. Nadeau. We had witnesses. When we had hearings on Bill C-37, we had witnesses come and explain to us what the needs were to protect the National Capital Commission's part of Ottawa known as the greenbelt. The greenbelt does exist in Ottawa. It's to pin down what territory it covers.

Now, if we were to accept this way of doing things, does it mean that for schedule 2.1 to be legal or to be accepted eventually it would have to come back to this committee, sir? We would be accepting schedule 2.1, but in fact the schedule doesn't exist, so we would have to create that schedule sometime in the future.

October 26th, 2010 / 12:10 p.m.
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Bloc

Richard Nadeau Bloc Gatineau, QC

Mr. Chair, I agree that this amendment is out of order, primarily because it introduces something that was not included in what was presented to us previously in Bill C-37 or currently in Bill C-20.

Therefore, we will vote against the amendment.

October 26th, 2010 / 12:10 p.m.
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Liberal

Marcel Proulx Liberal Hull—Aylmer, QC

Mr. Chair, once again, things are being hidden, as was the case when we were studying Bill C-37. A bit further on, we will come to a point when we will want to discuss the description for Gatineau Park. I think the bill has some 37 pages of descriptions.

Right now, we are being asked to endorse a term because the government implied that there was an intention to extend the same protection to the Greenbelt as the protection that will apply to Gatineau Park. So we are being asked to add the Greenbelt without knowing what it refers to.

If you were to ask 10 Ottawa residents to define the Greenbelt, no two people would give you the same answer. It is very unfortunate that the government wants to keep us so in the dark. It would certainly be a first to agree to include a term in a bill without being able to define it. I am very disappointed.

October 21st, 2010 / 1 p.m.
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Conservative

The Chair Conservative Merv Tweed

I'll have to interject there.

I thank our guests for being here today. We do appreciate your time and your comments.

For the committee, on October 26 we're going to start with Bill C-509, the Canada Post libraries bill. If we have time, we will start on Bill C-20. I am going to suggest to the committee members that if they have amendments to either of those bills they please have them to the clerk's office by Friday. Before we start Bill C-20, we will be discussing a motion to suggest that the evidence considered in the previous session for Bill C-37 be a part of the Bill C-20 study.

Thank you.

This meeting is adjourned.

October 19th, 2010 / 11:10 a.m.
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Conservative

Brian Jean Conservative Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

I have no difficulty with that. I was only trying to make it simpler to save committee time.

However, I do have, from Transport Canada, in both official languages, the differences between Bill C-37 and Bill C-20. I would like to hand those out to committee, but if this is ruled out of order, we're not going to challenge it. We'll deal with it as the committee deals with it, unless other people have a different desire.

October 19th, 2010 / 11:10 a.m.
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Conservative

Brian Jean Conservative Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

Mr. Chair, I think what the motion was attempting to do was to fast-track Bill C-20—or Bill C-37—to the point at which it was last left by committee members.

Quite frankly, I'm prepared to do whatever is required in respect of the members' wishes, but I would like to have the opportunity to hear from the new members specifically in regard to their position on it prior to any other issue.

I know that Mr. McCallum hasn't had an opportunity to address the issue itself, and I know that Ms. Crombie was here, of course, when we dealt with the previous legislation. But of course, I would like to hear from Mr. Guimond as well.

An Action Plan for the National Capital CommissionGovernment Orders

May 25th, 2010 / 5:25 p.m.
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Bloc

André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, it will come as no surprise that my arguments will go along the same line as those presented by the hon. member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel. My colleague and the hon. member for Gatineau have a deep knowledge of the national capital region. Their ridings are part of, or next to the Outaouais region.

I know that the hon. member for Gatineau delivered a speech in this House on Bill C-37, which was the first version of Bill C-20 now before us.

Even if the Bloc Québécois is in favour of referring this legislation to the committee for review, it is out of the question for us, as my colleague pointed out earlier, to give a blank cheque to the government.

As I said, Bill C-20 seeks to amend the National Capital Act and other acts. It is similar to former Bill C-37, which was introduced on June 9, 2009, but died on the order paper following the latest prorogation by this Conservative government. The bill was reintroduced exactly like it was at first reading, in June 2009. In other words, no change was made. We had raised some issues regarding Bill C-37, but the government did not respond to our concerns in Bill C-20. So this is truly a cut and paste job.

What we have before us is exactly the same bill, and this is why we are again pointing out the issues that had been raised, not only by the Bloc Québécois members who represent the ridings close to the national capital, but also on several occasions by the Quebec government.

Already back in 2007, representations had been made by the Quebec government to its federal counterpart, about the federal government's intentions with regard to the changes to the national capital region.

Gatineau Park is definitely a gem in that region. I had the pleasure of discovering it when I first came here on Parliament Hill. In fact, I even vacationed shortly before the 2000 election, because I thought I was probably going to settle here during the week, when the House is sitting. I then had the opportunity to visit the magnificent Gatineau Park which, as I said, is a gem. However, as with any gem and any self-respecting national park—even though it does not officially have that status—we must be very careful regarding its development and the use that we want to make of it.

I first established myself in the region as a parliamentary assistant and not as a member. That took a bit longer than expected, but in 2000 I had the opportunity, when I was here on the Hill as a parliamentary assistant, to enjoy the beauty and attractions of Gatineau Park. I would even say that I had more time to enjoy it when I was an assistant because now, as soon as the work here ends, I go back to my riding. So I get to enjoy the beauty and attractions of my riding, Richmond—Arthabaska.

We in the Bloc Québécois feel that we must pay close attention to this bill. We obviously recognize the importance of improving the protection and conservation of natural settings. We believe that it is necessary to protect Gatineau Park from property development and to clearly define its function in order to ensure that it is there for the long term, for future generations.

We feel that any National Capital Commission activities involving Quebec should be undertaken with the Quebec government's approval. I believe that my colleagues were able, with their questions and comments, to question my colleague from Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel about this. It is obvious to us that the Government of Quebec not only has something to say in this, but that it has the last word and the most important word when it comes to its own territory.

Even though an agreement was signed in 1973 with the federal government so that the National Capital Commission would take charge of Gatineau Park—I would say that it was a cross-border agreement between Ontario and Quebec, but let us say it was from the two sides of the river—it must be understood that Quebec never wanted to give up any territory or land in Gatineau Park to the federal government.

As I said, we raised some concerns, particularly with respect to the touchy issue of respect for Quebec’s territorial integrity and protection for its powers. That is often the case with various pieces of legislation, as the hon. members can understand. Be it in committee, in motions that are put forward or in bills, we are always very concerned about the respect shown for Quebec's fields of jurisdiction. Often, when discussing with other colleagues, I realize that it sparks something in them about the situation in their own provinces. They want to defend their provinces' interests and ensure that their fields of jurisdiction are also protected.

No one is as sensitive as we from the Bloc Québécois are with regard to Quebec, because of our sovereignist stance.

The Bloc is in favour of this bill being referred to committee. We will not be giving a blank cheque, as I said. We will discuss several issues, starting with environmental protection, once the bill is in committee.

Gatineau Park occupies 350 square kilometres. It is federal land managed by the National Capital Commission. Unlike other national and provincial parks in Canada and Quebec, Gatineau Park is not protected by legislation and has no official status. We did not say that this did not need to be examined more closely. For national parks at least, these are beneficial in terms of ensuring the protection of the environment and site, and preventing the overdevelopment of that land.

As such, the park is subject to the whims and decisions of the organization responsible for managing it, that is the National Capital Commission, which, according to its powers under the legislation, can sell land.

Several environmental and citizens' groups continue to call for better protection for Gatineau Park. They want the government to add a section to the act to give the park official legal status, clarify its purpose and guarantee its ecological integrity.

The Bloc Québécois recognizes the importance of protecting and preserving natural areas. As such, we believe that the government must protect Gatineau Park from real estate development, clarify the park's purpose, and protect it for future generations.

With respect to Quebec's jurisdiction and the integrity of its territory, Quebec governments have always considered territorial integrity to be inviolable. Regarding National Capital Commission encroachment on Quebec's territory, the Commission d'étude sur l'intégrité du territoire du Québec, the Dorion commission, submitted a very interesting report to the Government of Quebec covering the period from 1968 to 1972. Our position on the inviolability of Quebec's territorial integrity has not changed since.

Through the National Capital Commission, the federal government has chipped away at Quebec's territory to the point that the NCC is now the largest landholder in the Outaouais region. The NCC holds over 470 square kilometres of land, which is about 10% of all of the land in Gatineau and Ottawa combined. On the Quebec side, the National Capital Commission owns much of Gatineau Park.

Not long ago, on May 18, the local media reported that the City of Gatineau, which wanted to redevelop a section of road in the Hull sector to install a standard bike lane, would have to negotiate with the National Capital Commission for control of the land before proceeding.

We see that this situation is unique. A particular municipality has its territory, falls under Quebec jurisdiction, and must go to great lengths with another organization to be able to manage its territory to meet the needs of its people.

Although the federal government and the National Capital Commission consider the Outaouais and the Ontario side as a single entity, we consider Gatineau and Ottawa to have their own identity. They are quite different. Both parties have their own interests. We believe that the NCC must recognize that the Government of Quebec and the City of Gatineau, on the Quebec side, are better positioned to meet the needs of their citizens.

The cycling path I mentioned earlier is a good example of this situation.

The Bloc Québécois believes that the federal government and its agent, the National Capital Commission, have the obligation to respect the integrity of Quebec's territory, both in terms of the land mass and the exercise of power.

The federal government's law and policies should be amended—that is what we will be asking for in committee when the bill gets there—to ensure that neither the government or its crown corporations, including the NCC, can dispossess Quebec of its land. Furthermore, all National Capital Commission activities, decisions and development projects on Quebec territory are to be approved by the Government of Quebec in advance.

I was saying earlier that the Quebec government had made representations and I have letters from two different ministers, at different times, to prove it. I will come back to this point later.

There is another important matter that will be discussed in committee: the amendments to Bill C-20 required to ensure respect for Quebec's territorial integrity and jurisdictions with respect to the “national interest land mass”.

The bill seeks to introduce into the law the concept of a “national interest land mass”, which would permit the NCC to designate any lands—for example, Gatineau Park and other land in the City of Gatineau or surrounding area—and to establish the process for their acquisition.

This concept raises many concerns, particularly among Quebec's elected officials. Already in 2007, following the release of an NCC report entitled “Charting a New Course”, Benoît Pelletier, the minister responsible for intergovernmental affairs and the Outaouais, who was a member from the Outaouais area at the time, had warned the federal government about the “national interest land mass”. He wrote to his federal counterpart responsible for the National Capital Region, the current Minister of Foreign Affairs who was transport minister at the time. Mr. Pelletier informed him of his apprehensions as far back as 2007. This is not a brand new concept.

I would like to quote Mr. Pelletier's letter, which states:

Moreover, despite noting that the Canadian Constitution gives the provinces jurisdiction for land-use planning, the report nevertheless promotes a new idea, that of the “national interest land mass”(NILM): land in the NCC portfolio that is deemed essential to the long-term viability of Canada's Capital Region. This is a remarkably nebulous concept. It could potentially entail a risk of encroachment on Quebec's territorial jurisdiction in the Outaouais, given that a number of important components of the NILM, including the Gatineau Park and other parcels of land in the greenbelt, are located in Quebec. Such an expansion of the NCC's prerogatives is an extremely disquieting prospect.

When the Government of Quebec expresses such concerns, naturally we in the Bloc Québécois share those concerns. The Government of Quebec has every prerogative and every right to protect its land.

Representations will have to be made to the commission. There is a serious imbalance within the members of the commission. The bill introduces some changes to how the NCC works, including some that the Bloc Québécois supports. For example, the bill requires the NCC to hold four open meetings per year. It is hard to be against such transparency. That was one of the demands in the Bloc Québécois' 2006 brief, and it will make the commission more transparent.

The current National Capital Act requires that commissioners be appointed according to predetermined criteria. That is where the problem lies. That is why I wanted to draw everyone's attention to this problem.

Three commission members have to come from municipalities in Ontario, only two from Quebec municipalities and eight from elsewhere in Canada.

This provision has already been clearly disputed by the Government of Quebec. In 2007, Minister Pelletier wrote:

Furthermore, the report suggests less representation for Quebec than for Ontario.... The Government of Quebec is against any such imbalance in Quebec's representation on what may become the NCC's executive body. Since we already know that significant issues of direct concern to Quebec in the areas of land-use planning and territorial integrity would be handled by the new body, Quebec demands equal representation on it.

This urgent request by the Government of Quebec to the federal government goes back to 2007, but it was not heard. Bill C-20 has exactly the same criteria and clauses that were in Bill C-37 and for which we had raised these problems.

In 2009, the Government of Quebec reiterated its request to the federal government:

...Quebec has fewer representatives on the NCC's Board of Directors than Ontario, and this situation is unacceptable given the impact that the board's decisions could have on the Outaouais.

That is crystal clear. The Bloc Québécois is therefore asking that the NCC have as many members representing Quebec as representing Ontario. That makes perfect sense.

Regarding federal government spending, we believe that the federal government and its agent, the NCC, must make a formal commitment to split their spending equitably between the cities of Gatineau and Ottawa, based on population. We have been calling for this sort of thing for a long time now, especially when it comes to various issues in the national capital region.

We have repeatedly called for an equitable approach to the location of federal buildings and public service jobs, and we are doing the same thing with regard to this bill and federal government spending.

NCC investments are not commensurate with Gatineau's demographic weight compared to Ottawa. The bill does not correct this, and the government does not intend to correct it. The Bloc Québécois will be sure to raise this issue in committee.

The area covered by the NCC currently has a population of 1,104,500, including 239,000—nearly 22%—in Gatineau and 865,000—just over 78%—in Ottawa. We had a table prepared showing NCC investments from 2001 to 2005 by region, in millions of dollars. Unfortunately, this is not the first time we have seen how disadvantaged Quebec is, nor is this the only issue where it is true. NCC spending is not commensurate with the population of Gatineau.

The following figures are dramatic. In total, between 2001 and 2005, more than 85% of spending went to Ottawa, even though it accounts for roughly 78% of the overall population. About 15% of spending went to Gatineau, even though it represents roughly 22% of the overall population. We are at a clear disadvantage when it comes to spending. This is something we will be sure to bring up in committee.

The government has to understand that by agreeing to send Bill C-20 to committee, we are not giving the government a blank cheque. There are many issues we will have to look at carefully before we support such a bill.