An Act Creating One of the World's Largest National Park Reserves

An Act to amend the Canada National Parks Act to enlarge Nahanni National Park Reserve of Canada

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

Sponsor

Jim Prentice  Conservative

Status

This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.

Summary

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

This enactment amends the Canada National Parks Act to enlarge Nahanni National Park Reserve of Canada while accommodating certain third party interests in the expansion area.

Elsewhere

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

An Act Creating One of the World's Largest National Park ReservesGovernment Orders

June 17th, 2009 / 4:30 p.m.
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Calgary Centre-North Alberta

Conservative

Jim Prentice ConservativeMinister of the Environment

moved that Bill C-38, An Act to amend the Canada National Parks Act to enlarge Nahanni National Park Reserve of Canada, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am proud to rise in my place today to speak to Bill C-38, An Act to amend the Canada National Parks Act to enlarge Nahanni National Park Reserve of Canada, an act effectively creating one of the world's largest national park reserves.

As I being, I would like to express my gratitude to my colleague, the Hon. Chuck Strahl, Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, , without whom today would not be possible. I also acknowledge the contributions of the Hon. John Baird, who was my predecessor as minister of the environment, as well as the Hon. Gary Lunn and the Hon. Lisa Raitt, the current and previous—

An Act Creating One of the World's Largest National Park ReservesGovernment Orders

June 17th, 2009 / 4:30 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Jim Prentice Conservative Calgary Centre-North, AB

Mr. Speaker, let me thank the other parties in the House as well for their co-operation and agreement to expedite the bill so we can move it ahead quickly today.

The bill represents a landmark conservation achievement for Canada, the greatest achievement in a generation. The magnificent Nahanni, its tributaries, canyons, waterfalls and mountains comprise the very essence of Canada and, in fact, the very essence of what it is to be a Canadian. We are people of the great outdoors, proud of our stewardship over the most beautiful and expansive land mass in the world. We protect and nurture our country and it, in return, nurtures and protects each of us.

As a young man, I read R.M. Patterson's book, Dangerous River, which remains a Canadian classic of the Nahanni. I resolved many years ago to visit the Nahanni, to canoe this mighty river and hike its majestic mountains. For me, as the minister responsible for Parks Canada, today has a special meaning.

This summer, as a guest of the Deh Cho, I will fulfill my personal dream to see the Nahanni, but today in the House we have the opportunity to fulfill the dreams of all Canadians relative to this park.

The legendary South Nahanni River is the heart of Nahanni National Park Reserve of Canada. It was first created in 1976. In 1978 the park reserve was designated by UNESCO as a world heritage site.

This is the home of the Deh Cho First Nations, as well as a sacred site on which Dene legend and spirituality are based.

With the passage of the bill, the park reserve will be expanded from approximately 4,800 square kilometres to more than 30,000 square kilometres. Nahanni will become the third largest national park in Canada, covering an area that is a little less than the size of Vancouver Island.

Nahanni National Park Reserve will now protect the highest mountains and the largest glaciers in the Northwest Territories. The Nahanni region is also home to a remarkable variety of wildlife. There are twice as many grizzly bears in the Nahanni as can be found in all of Canada's mountain parks combined.

It provides range for two large woodland caribou herds as well as habitat for Dall sheep and mountain goats. It is also the trumpeter swan’s breeding grounds

It will protect much of the South Nahanni River watershed and the globally significant karst landscape. It will protect a vast area of boreal forest and will enhance Nahanni's designation as a UNESCO world heritage site.

I would, however, like to remind hon. members that cooperation and collaboration played an important role in this undertaking, right from the very start.

I especially want to note that the bill would not be before us today were it not for the co-operation and leadership of the Deh Cho First Nations. Like all Dene people, the Deh Cho First Nations are inseparable from the land.

I was deeply moved by this quote in particular from the Deh Cho, “The land is a living being given to us by the Creator. We live as part of it. The land takes care of us, and we take care of the land”.

The Deh Cho First Nations have been totally and unfailingly in support of the expansion of the park reserve. For them, the region to be incorporated into the expanded national park reserve is a place of mystery, spirituality and healing.

In the future, the Deh Cho people will participate in the management of the national park. The treaty rights of all aboriginal groups will be fully protected within the boundaries of the expanded park reserve. The traditional hunting, fishing, trapping, gathering and spiritual activities of the Dene people will continue.

At the same time, the bill also represents a conservation achievement that also takes into account sustained economic development in the north.

Hon. members will note that the park reserve will exclude many areas of high potential for minerals and oil and gas extraction.

The prosperity of the Northwest Territories, with its vast resource potential, is important. We must adopt an approach that strikes a balance between conservation and development in order to ensure sustainability.

The bill is also the result of the vision of the Prime Minister. He has been unerring in his focus on the north, on its needs and its future. The bill before us is part of a larger pattern of a northern vision he has outlined. The expansion of the Nahanni is a key component of this government's northern strategy and it is part of Canada's vision for a new north.

Our northern strategy rests on four key pillars: protecting our fragile northern environment; providing northerners with more control over their own destiny; promoting northern economic development; and asserting Canada's sovereignty in the Arctic.

The boundaries of this magnificent park reserve have been extended to encompass 30,000 square kilometres of some of the most extraordinary and unique landscapes on this earth. This region will be preserved for future generations.

Expansion of Nahanni National Park Reserve has been a government priority for many years.

Protecting this vast and magnificent region through legislation will be proof to the Canadians of the future that we were forward looking and courageous enough to take steps to protect one of the wonders of the world.

I referred to R.M. Patterson earlier in my comments and I would quote to give some context to the Nahanni, from page 127 of his book, Dangerous River, where he says:

I climbed quickly up the creek bed in sunshine, mist and rain, and at 3000 feet above the Nahanni I came to the last of the trees—a little wood of stunted firs. The creek valley ran on up into the bald hills and the blue sky, walled in by grey screes and grassy, rock-strewn hillsides running up to the naked rimrock....

So I perched on a block of stone that crowned a little round grass hill, 4,500 feet above the river, and watched the movements of the sheep and tried to set in my memory the whole amazing view from Nahanni Butte to Deadmen's Valley so that I might have something of it to look back on in the years to come. Time slipped easily by on that flower-starred plateau: the sun slid down the tremendous sky, the shadows lengthened and the wind grew cold— and I went down again into the valley of the great stones and back to camp on the Nahanni in the gentle twilight of a perfect summer's day.

This park space is central to our identity as a people, is central to our identity as a country. This is a significant achievement and a contribution to Canadian and to world conservation. It is, in effect, the Deh Cho and Canada's gift to humanity.

I am pleased to be here on behalf of the government.

An Act Creating One of the World's Largest National Park ReservesGovernment Orders

June 17th, 2009 / 4:40 p.m.
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Liberal

David McGuinty Liberal Ottawa South, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is more than an honour to rise this afternoon to speak to a bill which is the culmination of decades of work by thousands and thousands of Canadians, previous governments, previous cabinets, previous caucuses, previous prime ministers and existing prime ministers. It really is an act which transcends decades of goodwill and good faith from Canadians from across the country and of course the great people of the Deh Cho First Nations.

This is indeed a spectacular moment for Canada. It is spectacular because we are one step closer to maintaining precious and increasingly rare natural capital. This is a legacy for all, as the minister has pointed out, a legacy not just for Canadians but for the world and we need more of it. We need more of it in this country, we need more of it on this continent, and we need more of it on this planet.

For Canadians watching or reading, the bill is really an effort to overcome some challenges in a major expansion of territory from some 5,000 square kilometres to over 30,000 square kilometres of what is spectacular mountain terrain, unique geological land forms and crucial wildlife habitat.

In so doing, what we are really allowing for here as parliamentarians is to accommodate certain third party interests in this expansion area. As the official opposition we are satisfied. We have been assured by Parks Canada, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, the leadership and the people of the Deh Cho First Nations, and the minister and his officials themselves that these changes to the Canada National Parks Act are indispensable to bringing about the legislative and regulatory changes that are required in order to enlarge the Nahanni National Park Reserve of Canada.

We are satisfied that these new powers, these new regulatory changes, are a reasonable balance, but we do have residual and continuing concerns about, for example, whether we are setting the right precedent. This is not only important for the expansion of Nahanni but also possibly for the expansion of other parks and reserves across this magnificent country.

We want to be careful not to create weaknesses in the park system, not to create unnecessary precedents for economic activity for example.

Therefore, as parliamentarians I am sure we will all be monitoring closely the exercise of these new or amended powers as set out in the bill which allows for careful crafting, a collage, the bringing together of an expanded territory to, as I said, expand our natural capital.

It is important to reflect back on the fact that this has been in motion since 1972. If there is any originating group or effort led by a particular political personality it would have to go to former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau who set aside as a national park reserve in 1972 the Nahanni, gazetted in 1976 under the National Parks Act.

Since then, in 1984, a previous government worked with Parks Canada to increase the size of the Nahanni, building considerably in due course on the very good work of all those hundreds of Canadians who participated on the panel on ecological integrity. That panel was struck by a previous government, a Liberal government at that time, and examined fundamental questions around the ecological integrity of our park system, not just the ecological integrity but the degree to which our park system was connected and whether it was working particularly for our large predatory species. It raised questions and concerns which linger not only for our parks right across the country but, yes, even in the context of this expansion.

It raises questions around the notion of buffering our national parks and ensuring that economic activities such as mining or petroleum exploitation which abut or come up to the edge of a national park is in fact properly buffered.

The very words in the ecological vision for the Naha Dehé are striking. This is an excerpt from the park management plan. It states:

Dene are inseparable from the land. Traditional subsistence harvest will continue to be an integral and sustainable part of the ecosystem and will occur in accordance with Dene laws and principles.

Naha Dehé will continue to be revered as a place of mystery, spirituality and healing. Naha Dehé will be a model of cooperative management with First Nations of the Dehcho where ecological and cultural integrity is protected, visitor access and enjoyment is encouraged within the limits of ecological integrity and wilderness experience, and messages of natural and cultural heritage are communicated with excellence.

The magnificence in the creation of the expansion and the expansion of this Nahanni National Park Reserve speaks to our future and whether or not we will be wise enough as a species to learn how to live within the caring capacity of the planet itself.

This territory, this expanded land mass, will serve as a reminder that we can do better and we must do better, that we have the know-how, we have the science. It is now the question of will and the question of managing our way forward so that we can increase understanding, so we can enhance ecological integrity, not just within a parks system or a specific park such as the Nahanni but right across this incredible country and continent.

We have satisfied ourselves that the work we launched in 2003, through the Deh Cho First Nations and Parks Canada memorandum of understanding, has been more than productive. That expansion working group in 2003, set by the Nahanni, looked at the grizzly bears, the woodland caribou, the Dall sheep and the bull trout, the vegetation, the forest fires, the glaciers, the landscapes, tourism and the socioeconomic implications, and the impact for the park.

It is true that extensive public consultations have been held and that will be important in the context of remaining engaged with our citizenry and our first nations people as we go forward to complete this job.

We know that 9% of the Deh Cho part of the greater Nahanni ecosystem has been excluded from the expanded national park reserve. We know this represents virtually all of the hydrocarbon potential, and about half of most of the important mineral potential identified in the area, as well as 100% of the existing mineral claims and mineral leases.

As parliamentarians, we will be watching closely. All of us have that obligation. We will work co-operatively to ensure that our parks system and our reserves systems are properly connected, that they are properly buffered, so that we can enhance our natural capital as opposed to draw it down.

In closing, I would like to congratulate all previous governments, all parties here today, all non-governmental organizations that have been involved in this process over decades, the Deh Cho First Nations, the people of Canada, and the wisdom of all who have seen fit to bring this to a successful conclusion for Canadians today, citizens around the world, and future generations.

An Act Creating One of the World's Largest National Park ReservesGovernment Orders

June 17th, 2009 / 4:50 p.m.
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Bloc

Bernard Bigras Bloc Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-38, An Act to amend the Canada National Parks Act to enlarge Nahanni National Park Reserve of Canada.

I think this bill shows that the federal government and the Nahanni first nations can cooperate and work together to better protect our ecosystems while safeguarding the values of the first nations and ensuring the economic development of a sector that permitted great progress in the past.

We must remember that the efforts to gain recognition of Nahanni National Park date from 1972. However, it was in 1976 that it was created—a park with over 4,700 square kilometres of steep mountains, wild rivers and hot springs along the banks of the South Nahanni River, at the southwesternmost end of the Northwest Territories.

Early on in the 20th century, prospectors arrived, believing the legends of lost gold mines and of hidden tropical valleys. They found neither gold or tropical valleys, but an area of incomparable beauty. The South Nahanni River snakes through the park over more than 320 kilometres. It hurtles through three huge canyons over 1,000 metres in depth, drops 90 metres in the Virginia Falls and rushes at full tilt into the hot springs, icy caves, dizzying mountains and whitewater rapids.

The vegetation is boreal and alpine. There have been frequent and serious fires in much of the forest. The park is home to 32 types of mammals including Dall sheep, moose, woodland caribou and grizzlies. Peregrine falcons, trumpeter swans and the golden eagle are some of the 120 species inventoried, not to mention species that are endangered or at risk.

In 2007, there were over 950 visitors. They can relive the adventures of those who came in search of gold and follow in their path, canoeing, hiking or wilderness camping. This site, a UN world heritage site, recognized in 1978, is one of the jewels of Canada's national parks.

Bill C-38 proposes to expand it to six times its current area and will make it the third largest park in Canada. It will protect over 30,000 square kilometres, an area a little smaller than that of Vancouver Island. This represents nearly 91% of the ecosystem of the greater Nahanni area within the Deh Cho region.

This expansion will improve the quality of the UNESCO world heritage site as a protected area and will now include almost the entire South Nahanni River watershed.

This bill shows the ongoing commitment of the Deh Cho First Nations to expand the park. They have shown their commitment through the many resolutions adopted by the chiefs and their willingness to work with Parks Canada to bring the bill to fruition.

In 2003, the Deh Cho First Nations and Parks Canada signed a memorandum of understanding by which they agreed to work together to expand the national park reserve. Subsequently the Nahanni expansion working group was formed.

The working group carried out technical studies, held public consultations, and prepared options on the borders for the Deh Cho portion of the great Nahanni region.

The bill was supported not only by a resolution of the Deh Cho First Nations, but also by a number of groups, including the Canadian Boreal Initiative. In a press release on June 9, the Initiative's executive director commented:

Today’s announcement represents a balanced approach to protecting key lands while deciding how to responsibly develop others. This is particularly relevant, given the heightened interest in Canada’s North and increased awareness of the global importance of these unique ecosystems.

The Canadian Boreal Initiative thereby acknowledges the many years of effort put into the expansion project by the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society.

Basically, the bill confirms the importance of protecting the land, of entering into agreements with the first nations, in this case the Deh Cho, while at the same time acknowledging and ensuring that there is economic development on part of this land, mining at present, but with a potential for oil as well.

What is vital in this matter we have before us today is for us to move promptly, after discussions among the parties, to pass this bill. It will demonstrate the importance the parties attach to Canada's north. We wish to see this ecosystem with its remarkable resources and biodiversity protected, in the best interests of the first nations and of biodiversity, but with due consideration to enhancing economic development while ensuring that it is harmonious and respectful of the biodiversity of the flora, fauna and aquatic life.

This bill, which is small in size but reflects huge efforts over time, will provide visitors with greater access so that they may enjoy the beauty of this land with its rich biodiversity.

As I said, more than 950 people visit this area annually. I hope to have the opportunity to be one of them in the coming weeks or months, perhaps even this summer. I hope to be able to explore this wonderful river by canoe or kayak in order to get a true idea of the beauty of this northern area with its inestimable resources that must be protected.

We are only too pleased to support Bill C-38.

An Act Creating One of the World's Largest National Park ReservesGovernment Orders

June 17th, 2009 / 4:55 p.m.
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NDP

Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, I am proud to support Bill C-38, An Act to amend the Canada National Parks Act to enlarge Nahanni National Park Reserve of Canada, and I am glad that all members in this House will move this bill forward as quickly as possible. To the Dehcho First Nations, this legislation represents their gift to Canada.

The Nahanni is one Canada's most beautiful places. With its mountains and karst canyons, wonders like Rabbitkettle Hotsprings, Virginia Falls and unspoiled wilderness, home to a variety of species such as Dall sheep, mountain goats, woodland caribou, wolves, black bears, grizzlies and trumpeter swans, the Nahanni is truly a wilderness paradise.

As the Premier of the Northwest Territories said:

It is a region that holds great cultural and traditional value to the people of the NWT and represents our spirit, beauty and potential to travellers from around the world. The size and nature of this expansion highlights our shared commitment, as Northerners to protect and sustain the value and wonder of our region for the future.

For years, the first nations of the area, the Dehcho First Nations, have been unwaivering in their commitment to expand the park. This commitment has been shown through numerous leadership resolutions through their general assemblies held every year.

In 2003, the Dehcho First Nations and Parks Canada signed a memorandum of understanding, agreeing to work together to expand the national park reserve. As a result, the Nahanni expansion working group was formed, with Dehcho First Nations and Parks Canada members. It directed research studies, managed public consultations and developed boundary options for the Dehcho portion of the greater Nahanni ecosystem.

The Nahanni expansion working group studied grizzly bears, woodland caribou, Dall sheep, bull trout, vegetation, forest fires, glaciers, karst landscapes, tourism and the socio-economic impact of a park of this magnitude. These studies provided the working group with scientifically defensible conservation targets to assist in the development of boundary options.

Extensive public consultations were held concerning the park expansion. The first round was centred around the local communities, and the second round was national in scope. The consultations indicated, both in the region and in Canada, overwhelming support for the expansion of Nahanni National Park.

That co-operative effort has resulted in the bill before us today. Once enacted, this bill would protect large areas of vital habitat for several key species currently listed as species of special concern. Specifically, this would mean the protection of habitat and ranges for about 500 grizzly bears, two herds of the northern mountain population of woodland caribou, Dall sheep and mountain goats, trumpeter swan nesting areas, and entire bull trout systems.

Having lived next to Canada's largest national park, Wood Buffalo National Park, for many years—in fact, my lifetime—I recognize the importance of protecting complete ecosystems if we want to preserve for the future the kind of beauty and the kind of diversity that we have in Canada's wilderness areas.

As part of the development of this expansion, I am told Parks Canada worked with Indian and Northern Affairs, Natural Resources Canada and the Government of the Northwest Territories to undertake a mineral and energy resource assessment for the study area. This study ensured that the economic and strategic significance of mineral and energy resource potential was taken into consideration when the park was established. The result was a boundary that balances key conservation targets and potential future economic benefits.

Because of the potential of these mineral resources and hydrocarbon development, 9% of the Dehcho part was excluded. Also excluded were the existing mineral claims and mineral leases, such as the operating Cantung mine and the Prairie Creek mine currently under development. All the community lands around the community of Nahanni Butte remain outside the park.

I would like to take a moment to thank those in the Dehcho region who worked so hard to bring about this expansion. I would like to thank the members of the expansion working group: Jonas Antoine, Petr Cizek and Laura Pitkanen of the Dehcho First Nations; and Steve Catto and David Murray of Parks Canada.

I would like to recognize the superintendent of Nahanni National Park Reserve, Chuck Blyth, for his hard work as well.

I would like to recognize the three grand chiefs of the Dehcho First Nations whose unwaivering support to develop the park made it happen. They are Grand Chief Gerry Antoine, Grand Chief Mike Nadli, and Grand Chief Herb Norwegian.

At the same time I would like to recognize the important and significant contribution that the elders of the nine communities of the Dehcho made to this process. Without their support, without them standing and saying that this park was required, we would not have seen the politicians and the chiefs take such a strong position. So the elders of the region have played a significant role in making this happen.

To all the other community members, to the people of the region who provided advice and many hours of hard work, our thanks go out as well.

Three summers ago, my wife, Joan, and I accompanied the leader of our party, the member for Toronto—Danforth, and the member for Trinity—Spadina on a canoe trip down the Nahanni River. We all found this trip to be awe-inspiring, in a canyon that had never been glaciated, the walls of which are hundreds of millions of years old, truly spectacular, truly something that I would recommend to all members of the House as one of the things they may look at on their bucket list.

The Nahanni has a special place in the hearts of northerners. Virginia Falls is a place of pristine beauty. Now with the protection of the entire watershed, those waters will remain pristine for generations to come.

To the first nations people of the region, the Dehcho, the Nahanni is sacred. I only have to say, to take the trip on the river, to go into that region, is to understand their history and their reasons to hold it the way they do.

When this bill was introduced, I had hoped we would have time to go to committee and go through the process of Parliament, to give the minister the opportunity to explain how the expansion would be implemented. In the interests of moving forward, the minister has been very kind in providing written commitments on the implementation of the expansion and I want to thank him for those today.

In a letter, the minister advised that Canada will invest $1.4 million in ongoing annual operations and maintenance funding to the existing park. The letter also contained a commitment to capital funding to build facilities for the expansion. Officials at Parks Canada advised me that the amount of this capital expansion will be in excess of $5 million.

The minister also committed to the ongoing cooperation with the Dehcho First Nations in the management of the park and that the co-management regime will be part of a final agreement on land, resources and self-government with the Dehcho First Nations.

As I already told the minister, I will be keeping a close eye on how the implementation of this expansion is proceeding. If there are any delays, I will certainly be calling on the minister to explain why things are not proceeding, something that any member of the House would do.

I thank the members of this Parliament in showing unanimity today in moving the bill forward. I thank the minister for his hard work and for his direction to his government to move this forward. I trust that the Senate will provide us equal respect.

To the Dehcho First Nations, to the people of the Northwest Territories, Mahsi Cho, for a gift that will keep on giving to Canadians for all time.