Mr. Speaker, this afternoon I will share the reasons why I believe Gatineau Park needs better legal protection and why the Liberals will be supporting Bill C-565 at second reading. We will vote to have this bill studied in committee, where we will propose amendments to the sponsor, the hon. member for Hull—Aylmer.
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.
Because of inadequate legal protection, Gatineau Park has lost a significant amount of land. When the National Capital Commission redrew the boundaries in the 1990s, it severed 48 properties, a total of 1,508 acres. At the same time, 334 acres were allotted for the construction of roads—roads that 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.
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, which risk being turned into major subdivisions, impeding 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 national parks across Canada. Through amendments to the National Capital Act, the park must acquire the legal status, borders and effective 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 private properties, while respecting landowners' rights to continue to live in the park.
The Liberal Party of Canada has long been committed to the preservation of Gatineau Park and its environment, heritage and many social and recreational attractions.
In 2004, Liberals were first to put the issue of Gatineau Park legislation on the floor of the House for discussion, followed by the NDP with Bill C-444, Bill C-367, and Senator Mira Spivak with Bill S-210, Bill S-227 and Bill S-204. All bills died due to elections or prorogation.
On June 9, 2009, the Government of Canada tabled Bill C-37 with much criticism from the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society and the Gatineau Park Protection Committee, who argued that the bill fell well short of offering Gatineau Park a proper legislative framework, failed to meet basic park protection criteria, would allow boundary changes, perpetuated development and road building, and would thus impair the park's ecological integrity.
On November 8, 2012, our colleague for Hull—Aylmer introduced Bill C-465, which the Gatineau Park Protection Committee criticized for encouraging residential development inside the park, ignoring issues related to Quebec's territorial integrity, providing no mechanism for public consultations, and placing private property interests above the public interest.
Reintroduced with amendment as C-565, this bill establishes only a moral obligation to ecological integrity by dedicating the park to future generations. Necessary 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 legislative backing.
Additional amendments are clearly needed to better back NCC objectives of management and long-term conservation and restoration. As it stands, the bill lacks statutory protection and adequate parliamentary oversight, and thus fails to effectively support the establishment of measures that would better protect and preserve the ecological integrity of Gatineau Park.
Even more, the bill contradicts section 14 of the National Capital Act, which stipulates that the NCC can resort to expropriation of private lands whenever it becomes necessary for the purposes as its mandate.
As stated by Jean-Paul Murray, secretary of the Gatineau Park Protection Committee:
By stipulating that the NCC cannot infringe on private property rights, this bill is an open invitation to landowners to subdivide and develop their land as they see fit, since it will entrench their right to do so... [T]hat clause works against another section of her bill mandating the NCC to acquire private park land—acquiring private land and encouraging its development are contradictory objectives....
It is clear that additional amendments are needed to better back NCC objectives of long-term ecological integrity while still respecting the rights of land owners.
At this point, before further consultations and discussion, at least two amendments are needed.
First, there is a need for a right of first refusal. Clear regulations would obligate a property owner to give the NCC the first chance to purchase the property should the owner decide to sell, subsequent to which park land may be bought and sold on the open market. By no means does a right of first refusal limit property rights of land owners. Only owners themselves have the power to bring about the circumstances that vest any right in the NCC to buy their property. Rights of land owners must and should continue to be respected.
This amendment requires that landowners give the NCC a right of first refusal. It in no way limits property rights. It allows owners of real property located in Gatineau Park to continue living there and pass their property on to their children through inheritances or trusts.
Second, the bill should provide 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 given to national parks throughout our beautiful country.
It is likely that other amendments will also be required. Indeed, critics also argue that the bill provides no mechanism for public consultation, provincial or community; completely ignores the issues of Quebec's territorial integrity; and fails to make conservation the first priority of park management, which is a cornerstone of the National Parks Act and a requirement different citizen groups insist is necessary.
We have some work to do. We are looking forward to examining this issue thoroughly in committee with the member for Hull—Aylmer and all of our colleagues, as well as anyone who gives testimony before the committee, so that we may give this extraordinary park, Gatineau Park, the legal protection it deserves.
To conclude, I am very disappointed by the remarks from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs was previously the minister of the environment and has been the minister for this region for eight years now. In that eight-year time span, he has appointed two CEOs to the NCC and one chair of the board, but has taken no action whatsoever to strengthen the ecological integrity of this beautiful national park on our doorstep. Shame on that minister with all his powers and influence. To hear again the parliamentary secretary claim that some legislation is forthcoming is disappointing at best.