Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to Bill S-15. I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak in support of this bill.
Sable Island is one of Canada's great natural treasures, a windswept remote island renowned for its wild horses and its historical role as the site of the nation's first life-saving station.
It is a place of astounding beauty, with sand dunes, marram grass and freshwater ponds. Anyone fortunate enough to visit this unique environment is captivated by its diversity of plants, birds and animal life. The island is home to several endangered species.
This rare and remarkable place also has a rich cultural history. Sable Island holds a special place in the hearts and minds of Nova Scotians and Canadians. It has inspired artists and writers locally, across the country and internationally.
An island of such spectacular beauty, rare flora and fauna and cultural heritage is wholly deserving of our protection. That is why on October 17, 2011, the governments of Canada and Nova Scotia signed a memorandum of agreement to establish and manage Sable Island as a national park reserve of Canada.
Our objective is to protect Sable Island for all time for the benefit, education and enjoyment of the people of Canada. As the House is aware, the designation of Sable Island as a national park reserve of Canada takes into consideration the Mi'kmaq asserted rights and title in Nova Scotia. These are being addressed through the made-in-Nova Scotia process between the governments of Canada, Nova Scotia and the Mi'kmaq.
Moreover, the governments of Canada and Nova Scotia have agreed that Parliament will enact legislation amending the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Resources Accord Implementation Act to prohibit drilling for petroleum in Sable Island national park reserve of Canada and to limit the range of surface access rights in respect to the petroleum work or activity in the park reserve.
We have done the essential preparatory work, and I would like to highlight the many reasons why Parks Canada is uniquely situated to oversee the protection of Sable Island.
The Parks Canada network now includes 44 national parks, 167 national historic sites and 4 national marine conservation areas. Since 1911, this agency has worked hard to ensure that Canada's historic and natural heritage is protected and that Canadians and people around the world can engage in inspiring discoveries of our treasured and natural historic places.
Let me give an overview of how we have expanded Parks Canada's protected areas network in recent years. In 2006, that network was 277,400 square kilometres in size. Since then, the Government of Canada has taken actions that would protect an additional 149,639 square kilometres. This would bring Parks Canada's network to more than 427,000 square kilometres, or a 54% increase.
What these numbers demonstrate is how completely Parks Canada is committed to taking care of our natural treasures and to acting as their ever-vigilant stewards. The early visionaries of our parks system recognized that connecting with the natural world can be a deeply meaningful and moving experience, and a fundamental part of that mission was a way to foster these connections. This is a principle to which Parks Canada remains dedicated.
Allow me to give some highlights of Parks Canada's achievements over the past few years, all of which provide ample evidence of this agency's fitness for the stewardship role with regard to Sable Island. Let me start with some recent top achievements, several of them marking firsts, not just in Canada but in the world.
In 2007, the Prime Minister announced the creation of the largest freshwater marine protected area in the world, Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area. This addition to our system comprises more than 10,000 square kilometres, including the lake bed, islands and north shore lands.
In 2009, we expanded the boundary of the Nahanni National Park Reserve sixfold to over 30,000 square kilometres. There is absolutely no doubt that this landmark conservation achievement is quite significant. In fact it is the greatest accomplishment for Parks Canada in a generation. I am delighted to note that it was done in close collaboration with the Dehcho First Nations.
Another outstanding accomplishment in 2009 was the establishment of the Saoyú-§ehdacho National Historic Site in the Northwest Territories. This marks the first of three firsts in Canada. This national historic site was the first northern cultural landscape commemorated by the Government of Canada; the first northern national historic site co-operatively managed by Parks Canada and an aboriginal group; and also the first protected area established under the Northwest Territories protected areas strategy. This historic site comprises two peninsulas bordering the Great Bear Lake. It is an area of 5,565 square kilometres, which is approximately the size of Prince Edward Island. This site protects a cultural landscape of great importance to the Sahtu people of the Great Bear Lake. The elders' vision for the site is one of continued teaching and healing, a place that forever helps to sustain the culture and well-being of the people.
In 2010, the Government of Canada formally established the Gwaii Haanas National Marine Conservation Area Reserve and Haida Heritage Site, which some people call “the Canadian Galapagos”. This achievement was a result of historic and outstanding collaborative partnership between the Government of Canada and the Haida Nation. What is extraordinary about this unique protective measure is the combination of the existing park reserve with a new marine conservation area. In total, over 5,000 square kilometres are now protected: a spectacular wilderness that extends from alpine mountaintops to the deep sea beyond the continental shelf. The scope of this achievement is a first not only for Canada but also for North America and the world.
In 2011, Parks Canada oversaw the successful reintroduction of the plains bison and the black-footed ferret, an animal once thought to be extinct for most of the 20th century, in the Grasslands National Park. This measure was part of the $75-million investment to improve the ecological integrity of national parks and national park reserves across Canada.
It was also in 2011 that the Government of Canada announced it would create Canada's first national urban park in Toronto. The concept of a national urban park is an entirely new and unique one to Parks Canada and, indeed, to Canada. Once established, Rouge national urban park will provide an unparalleled opportunity to reach the 20% of Canadians who live within the vicinity of the park and in Canada's most culturally diverse city. Since the 2011 announcement of the Rouge national park, Parks Canada has made steady progress toward establishing this unique protected area in the heart of Canada's most populated area. The agency has worked with first nations and more than 100 communities and organizations including youth. I note that my riding in the city of Barrie is very close to this Rouge national park, and I know that across southern Ontario the commitment to it has been supported and appreciated.
I also remind members of the House about four successful multi-partnership expeditions that Parks Canada has led in Canada's Arctic, in search of the lost vessels of Sir John Franklin. This work has helped narrow our search, with the great added advantages of further asserting Canadian sovereignty and deepening our scientific knowledge in the Arctic. The work to protect our natural heritage is ceaseless, and it takes in all parts of our vast nation.
In May 2012, for example, the governments of Canada and Quebec announcement the creation of an advisory committee for the feasibility assessment of a marine protected area in Îles-de-la-Madeleine.
In August 2012, the Prime Minister announced the establishment and boundaries of Canada's 44th national park, the Nááts'ihch'oh National Park Reserve in the Northwest Territories. This new national park reserve will serve as a launching area for visitors to its northern wilderness, with its breathtaking landscapes of the upper reaches of the world-famous South Nahanni River. Together, the Nahanni and the Nááts'ihch'oh national park reserves protect habitat for mountain woodland caribou, grizzly bears, Dall sheep, mountain goats and trumpeter swans, while at the same time supporting the economic aspirations of first nations and the tourism industries of the region.
I need hardly tell members that the Parks Canada role in the protection of our diverse precious natural areas and species is one of which all Canadians can justly be proud. In its dedicated work as a steward, Parks Canada is an example to the world. In fact, its reach and influence extend globally, and it has received international recognition for its achievements.
For example, in May 2011, the World Wildlife Fund International recognized Parks Canada with its prestigious Gift to the Earth award. The award noted Parks Canada's outstanding conservation achievements, including the recent dramatic growth of Canada's system of national parks and national marine conservation areas.
In September 2012, Parks Canada led the development of the publication titled “North American Protected Areas as Natural Solutions to Climate Change”, released at the International Union for the Conservation of Nature World Conservation Congress in South Korea. This publication is a collaborative effort of the North American Intergovernmental Committee on Wilderness and Protected Area Conservation with the government representation from Canada, the United States and Mexico.
I would like to turn now to some of Parks Canada's achievements in the realm of historic and cultural commemoration. As I noted earlier, these are important aspects in the protection of Sable Island.
In fact, in 2012, Parks Canada received such a historic designation itself. That year, the Government of Canada honoured the agency as the world's first national parks service by commemorating the Creation of the Dominion Parks Branch and the birth of Parks Canada as an event of national historic significance.
Parks Canada's other commemorative highlights last year included the opening of the new visitor centre at Fort Wellington National Historic Site as part of the special War of 1812 commemoration. The Calgary Stampede, billed as the greatest outdoor show on Earth, was also recognized as an event of national historic significance as was the Grey Cup.
In August last year, our environment minister designated Canada's heritage lighthouses under the Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act, which included the St. Paul Island Southwest Lighthouse in Dingwall, Nova Scotia and McNab Point and the Saugeen River Front and Rear Range lights in Southampton, Ontario.
On the 100th anniversary of the sinking of RMS Titanic, the government honoured the historic efforts of Canadians in the recovery of victims of the disaster.
Earlier, I mentioned Parks Canada's involvement in searching for the ships of the Franklin expedition. In July 2010, the agency embarked upon its 10 day archeological survey of Aulavik National Park to locate HMS Investigator wreck and document and map the land sites associated with Captain Robert McClure's expedition to find the Northwest Passage. This initiative produced a number of findings, including the shipwreck of HMS Investigator, three gravesites and new information on the equipment and provision cache site.
I said that Parks Canada's commitment to protecting our natural and cultural heritage is unceasing. So, too, are the agency's efforts to help connect Canadians with nature.
The early visionaries of our parks system recognized that when people connected with the natural world they could have an experience that was deeply meaningful and moving. A fundamental part of Parks Canada's mission is therefore to foster these connections.
Today, that mission is more urgent than ever before. As many members of the House know, North Americans are becoming more and more disconnected with nature. Tackling the disconnection and fostering Canadians' close relation with the natural world is therefore a task for Parks Canada, and it takes it very seriously.
It is typical of the agency's dedication to this vision that it used its own anniversary to further this crucial work. In its anniversary year of 2011, Parks Canada introduced a series of ongoing programs to reach Canadians and youth in particular.
Among these were the innovative and highly popular learn to camp initiative, overnight camping events aimed at introducing city dwellers, many of them young families or recent immigrants, to camping and other fun outdoor activities.
Through its my parks pass program, the agency provided every grade 8 student across the country with passes to enter all of Parks Canada's sites free of charge for 12 months.
Parks Canada also introduced a promotion called “Canada's coolest school trip” in which a grade 8 class could win a school trip to visit a national park or historic site.
Using multimedia, the agency's national parks project brought together 52 of Canada's best musicians and filmmakers to create music and film inspired by Canada's most breathtaking national parks. These films are available online. The soundtrack album is in stores and on iTunes and a documentary TV series is running on Discovery World.
Also on television, Parks Canada premiered Operation Unplugged, a reality show in which eight urban young people traded their techno-dependent lifestyles for a summer unplugged in the national parks.
In all these ways, Parks Canada's centennial celebrations help the agency meet its target for public engagement so Canadians' awareness of Parks Canada and support for its work are growing across the country. Parks Canada reports the visitation to national parks is now slowly increasing, helping to reverse a downward trend seen over many years.
In my overview, I have touched on many areas of Parks Canada's achievements, all of which demonstrate the agency's long history, experience and passion for protecting our natural and cultural heritage. I noted its international recognition and that it was the first national parks agency in the world. I am fully confident that this superbly well-qualified federal agency will make an ideal steward for the wondrous beauty and unique character of Sable Island. I am therefore urging all members in the House to support the bill, which would make this exquisite island one of the jewels in our national parks system with Parks Canada as its able steward.