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.