An Act to amend the National Capital Act (Gatineau Park) and to make a related amendment to the Department of Canadian Heritage Act

This bill was last introduced in the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in August 2015.

Sponsor

Nycole Turmel  NDP

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

Defeated, as of April 30, 2014
(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 establish the boundaries of Gatineau Park, to clarify the National Capital Commission’s responsibilities with respect to Gatineau Park and to remove the Commission’s authority to modify the boundaries of Gatineau Park or sell public lands situated within the Park.

The enactment also amends the Department of Canadian Heritage Act to specify that Gatineau Park is included in the organization, sponsorship and promotion of public activities and events, in the National Capital Region, that will enrich the cultural and social fabric of Canada.

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.

Votes

April 30, 2014 Failed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development.

National Capital ActPrivate Members' Business

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

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

April 28th, 2014 / 11:15 a.m.
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NDP

Anne-Marie Day NDP Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be speaking to Bill C-565, concerning Gatineau Park. In my opinion, this park is a real jewel in the Outaouais and surrounding regions.

This natural gem is a mere 15 minutes from Parliament. It is incredible how much there is to do in the park, at any time of year: hiking, swimming, cycling, skiing, camping, picnics, canoeing and so on. There is something for everyone, regardless of age or personal preference. People who live in the Ottawa-Gatineau area love planning their activities there because there is so much to do.

In its 2007 report on the Act to amend the National Capital Act (establishment and protection of Gatineau Park), the Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources proposed amendments.

At the beginning, the report states:

Gatineau Park is hereby dedicated to the people of Canada for their benefit, education and enjoyment, subject to this Act and the regulations, and it shall be maintained and made use of so as to leave it unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.

It also states:

Maintenance or restoration of ecological integrity, through the protection of natural resources and natural processes, shall be the first priority of the Commission when considering all aspects of the management of Gatineau Park.

Those are both important points, and they are in line with Bill C-565's objectives, which are to keep the park from being sold off in small parcels by real estate developers, ensure that future generations can benefit from using the park just the way it is, and preserve all of the biodiversity contained in the park. In particular, I am talking about the large number of threatened plant and animal species that are found in the park. In fact, Gatineau Park is home to the largest concentration of threatened species.

The number of visitors to Gatineau Park has grown steadily over the years, as can be seen from the numbers. According to statistics, it is one of the most visited parks in Canada. In 2011, the park received more than 2.7 million visits and generated more than $25 million in annual economic spinoffs.

However, although this is great news for the region, there are some valid concerns, since all of these visitors could put an already fragile treasure at risk. I will explain, and I want to draw a parallel to another park in the region I am from, just a few kilometres from the riding of Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, which I represent.

I want to share a little of the history of Parc national de la Jacques-Cartier, which is located just a few minutes from my riding of Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles. This park, which is 670 km2 in area, is located 30 minutes outside Quebec City, in the Jacques-Cartier River valley, in Quebec. It has over 100 km of walking trails and is frequently visited by people in my riding and the entire region.

In 1895, the Province of Quebec created Parc national de la Jacques-Cartier to be an area protected from colonization and a place for fishing and hunting. In 1972, more than 20,000 residents of Quebec City signed a petition within a few days to oppose the creation of a hydroelectric dam on the Jacques-Cartier River. The park has been legally protected only since 1981.

If the public had not opposed the dam and the park had not received legal protection in 1981, the entire valley would have been flooded and urban development, which already exists in Stoneham-et-Tewkesbury, would have taken over by now.

Obviously, these days, the people who benefit most from the park are the people who live in the region, including those who live in my riding, as well as all of the new generations who are happy to have access to a wonderful historic park.

I want to point out that the NDP has been fighting for Gatineau Park for almost nine years. This issue is very important to us and to the public, and we will not give up.

I want to thank my colleague, the member for Hull—Aylmer, for the excellent work she has done on her Bill C-565 and for picking up where my colleagues from Ottawa—Centre left off. They tried to get a bill passed to have Parliament protect Gatineau Park in 2005, 2006 and 2009.

When we have something precious, our first instinct is to protect it. I do not think Gatineau Park is any different. It is something precious not only for visitors, but also for nature itself and for future generations, as I explained.

Therefore, the NDP is asking that Gatineau Park's boundaries be enshrined in law and given parliamentary protection.

The NDP continues to insist on this because Gatineau Park is not currently protected by parliamentary law and can be sold one small parcel at a time to private interests without parliamentarians being able to do anything about it.

Furthermore, we are unsure of the limits and boundaries of the park. That is one more reason why we should clarify the status of the area that we want to keep out of the hands of private interests for the benefit of the general public and all those who want to visit the park and enjoy the activities available.

We, the NDP members, want the park to have the same legal protections as our national parks. However, we want to be very clear that we are not asking for Gatineau Park to be designated a national park.

I would like to return to the background of this park and the problems it faces. Gatineau Park is operated by the National Capital Commission and for 75 years has not had any special status. Thus, unlike national parks, it has no legal protections or official status. At present, 2% of the land located within Gatineau Park belongs to private interests. What could happen is that development arising from the growing demand for housing could encroach on Gatineau Park.

All available data indicates that the region's population will grow significantly in the years to come. This leads us to believe that real estate developers will look to Gatineau Park for housing sites. That is one of the threats to Gatineau Park that we want to stave off by providing this parliamentary protection and nothing less.

There are many advantages to passing Bill C-565 that will benefit the inhabitants, the environment, biodiversity, future generations and the first nations.

By passing this bill, we can prevent the sale of public land in the park and also give the National Capital Commission the mandate to purchase the 2% of private property within the park.

By passing this bill, we are also ensuring that we can maintain the biodiversity of any endangered animal and plant species in Gatineau Park, which, as I said earlier, is home to the largest concentration of species at risk.

By passing this bill, we can leave this heritage for future generations and protect the environment.

By passing this bill, we are reminding Canadians of the importance of the historical ties linking Gatineau Park and the Algonquin people, who roamed the Gatineau hills long before the arrival of Europeans.

It is not just the NDP that wants this special protection: many stakeholders support our position. I am talking about Nature Québec, the Conseil régional de l'environnement et du développement durable de l'Outaouais, and the Ottawa Valley chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, to name a few.

There is also the petition circulated by my colleague, who sponsored Bill C-565. That petition has gathered nearly 5,000 signatures. That many signatures clearly proves that the people overwhelmingly support our initiative.

Furthermore, according to a survey conducted by Le Droit in 2009, 86% of respondents wanted the government to bring in legislation to protect Gatineau Park. The government has even shown some signs of openness on this issue. Now we want it to translate words into actions by supporting Bill C-565. After all, the government has recognized that “Gatineau Park is a precious natural resource”.

Accordingly, all that remains to be done is to vote in favour of Bill C-565, which is a good bill, because as I said earlier, the NDP has been fighting to get it passed for over eight years now.

National Capital ActPrivate Members' Business

April 28th, 2014 / 11:25 a.m.
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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 / 11:45 a.m.
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Conservative

Ted Opitz Conservative Etobicoke Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to share my thoughts with this House on Bill C-565. It is flawed, it is inefficient, and it would cost taxpayers an estimate of up to $100 million, if not more, which is unacceptable. It also would create administrative confusion between provincial and federal jurisdictions, and of course, the National Capital Commission.

The National Capital Act was passed over 50 years ago, in 1959. It continues, without major updates, to successfully govern one of the most important crown corporations in the capital region, the National Capital Commission. The NCC is mandated by the government to prepare plans to assist in the development, conservation, and improvement of the national capital region so that the nature and character of the seat of the Government of Canada reflect its national significance. The commission is the steward of all federal lands in the national capital region, including Gatineau Park. In collaboration with the NCC, the Government of Canada is committed to ensuring that the NCC can continue to effectively fulfill all of its functions, including the protection of Gatineau Park.

That being said, Bill C-565 does not offer any proposals to assist the NCC in accomplishing its mandate in the capital region as a whole. In more specific terms, Bill C-565 lacks any effective or appropriate mechanisms for future generations.

First, the bill would result in the misspending of millions of dollars of taxpayer money. The bill would amend the mandate of the NCC to require it to purchase all available properties in the park. There are currently 377 privately owned properties in the park. In a normal market, and extrapolating from the prices of acquisitions in the past, the cost to purchase all of these 377 properties would be over $100 million. If that figure were not big enough, multiply that $100 million many times over, based on the strong possibility that this legal obligation of the NCC to purchase properties would lead to exponential inflation of private property prices in the park. The result of this scenario would be the NCC being legally obligated to buy hundreds of properties at prices far above their normal market value. Meanwhile, this money could be better spent on the park's protection and maintenance while acquisitions continue to be prioritized based on how they contribute to the long-term sustainability and well-being of the park.

Second, the bill goes into great detail concerning the NCC's obligation to protect biodiversity and to promote education and leisure activities in the park. These ideas are far from revolutionary, as the previous government bills introduced in 2009 and 2010 proposed similar obligations. However, these previous government bills took a more appropriate approach by utilizing the concepts of ecological integrity and environmental stewardship, which are foundations of existing federal parks legislation, including the Canada National Parks Act. The forthcoming government bill would continue to make use of these concepts.

Third, although I appreciate that the bill sets out the same boundaries for the delineation of Gatineau Park used in our previous bills, that is where the similarities end and the problems with the member's bill begin. The bill would absolutely prohibit a sale or transfer of any public lands within these boundaries. This inclusion shows a lack of understanding of how a park with the size and unique character of Gatineau Park needs to be managed. Sometimes it is necessary, in the public interest or in the interest of the park itself, to perform minor alterations to the boundaries. The NCC requires a mechanism that allows government oversight of the transfer or disposition of a piece of property, as long as the overall area of the park remains the same. Our government bill would ensure that the integrity of the park was protected while the NCC was provided with this necessary flexibility.

In the meantime, the NCC already has in place a designation called a national interest land mass, or NILM. A property designated NILM cannot be sold or transferred without government oversight and approval. Gatineau Park is designated an NILM. This designation has been successfully used for many years in the capital region to protect and manage property the government wishes to maintain for future generations, which includes, of course, Gatineau Park.

Fourth, the bill would create preferential treatment in Gatineau Park for aboriginal peoples and local communities regarding rights of subsistence. It is my opinion that this refers to hunting and fishing rights in the park.

At this time, no hunting is allowed in the park, while a few provincial lakes allow licensed fishing.

Hunting is inappropriate and unsafe in a park that hosts more than 2.7 million visitors per year from around the world. Clearly, there is a safety hazard there.

Furthermore, the bill would put the NCC in the precarious position of deciding who is allowed to do what in the park and who would require regulation and enforcement, at a very high cost to taxpayers. This provision would effectively pit the local community against visitors in a park that is meant to be enjoyed equally by everyone as part of a capital region shared by all Canadians.

Fifth, the bill could potentially infringe on provincial jurisdiction as well as federal relations.

The bill states that the NCC may not, in pursuing its objectives, infringe on real property rights. I would like to remind members that real property rights in Gatineau Park are already protected by the Code civil du Québec. This inclusion in the bill is therefore redundant and unnecessary. I do not know why the chief opposition whip thinks it is necessary for the federal government, through its legislation, to pronounce and interfere on issues of provincial jurisdiction.

The final issue with the bill is its unnecessary amendment of the Department of Canadian Heritage Act. The rationale for this inclusion comes from the transfer of the activity and events mandate in the national capital region from the NCC to the Department of Canadian Heritage, pursuant to economic action plan 2013. However, the member should know that subsequent to this transfer, the NCC and the Department of Canadian Heritage entered into a memorandum of understanding under which the NCC would continue to handle these responsibilities for, among other places, Gatineau Park and the Mackenzie King Estate, while the Department of Canadian Heritage would be responsible for these activities in urban areas of the capital region. This is another example of the lack of understanding and nuance that permeates the opposition whip's bill.

In conclusion, the bill is irreparably flawed. It must be opposed, as it would be extremely costly to taxpayers. It is unnecessarily rigid, blunt, and at times, quite redundant. It could potentially present issues relating to provincial jurisdiction and federal-provincial relations and could create favouritism and controversy regarding hunting and fishing rights in the park. It is unnecessarily narrow in addressing only Gatineau Park within a much larger national capital region.

Shortly the Government of Canada will introduce an act to amend the National Capital Act and other acts that will be similar to the previous government bills. The intention of this forthcoming legislation is to provide the National Capital Commission with all the tools it needs to continue to successfully fulfill its mandate.

For these reasons, I would like to inform the chief opposition whip and members of this House that I oppose Bill C-565.

National Capital ActPrivate Members' Business

April 28th, 2014 / 11:55 a.m.
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NDP

Pierre-Luc Dusseault NDP Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to be speaking to Bill C-565, a very important bill introduced by my colleague from Hull—Aylmer, who is also the chief opposition whip. This bill must certainly have meaning for most members of the House because it aims to protect one of the national capital's treasures. I was somewhat familiar with this region before, but I have learned more about it in recent years, now that I come here quite regularly as part of my duties as the MP for Sherbrooke.

Tourists certainly know about the park—it attracts 2.7 million visitors a year. That is quite impressive. One of the reasons why I am pleased to be speaking to this bill is that I love the national capital region, the Outaouais. Of course, I prefer the Eastern Townships, but that is a debate for another day.

There has been some debate about protecting parks in the Eastern Townships. For example, Mont-Orford provincial park created a lot of buzz in the Eastern Townships. The leader of the official opposition knows that topic well, as he was the Quebec minister of the environment at the time. That is why I think it is important to support the bill introduced by my colleague from Hull—Aylmer, which is designed to protect Gatineau Park.

I imagine that the majority of my colleagues' ridings include a number of parks or protected areas. For example, Sherbrooke has Bois-Beckett park, a wonderful spot that is protected by a municipal bylaw. There are provincial parks such as Mont-Orford. I am sure that there are parks in every riding. I believe that Drummondville has Voltigeurs park and, of course, the Boisé Marconi wooded area. Those are areas where biodiversity is protected by municipal, provincial or federal regulations. Today in Parliament, we are talking about a park under federal protection.

We need to protect the biodiversity of all these protected areas, giving animals a place to take shelter when there is a lot of construction and more and more people living on their land. It is important to preserve places where biodiversity can continue to grow. Gatineau Park is one of those important places in the region.

This immense park, which covers 7.8% of the greater national capital region, allows species threatened by the growth of areas inhabited by humans to go to places that are safer for them. That is why I support Bill C-565.

Here are some key facts to further the public's knowledge of this park. The park recently celebrated its 75th anniversary and is currently managed by the National Capital Commission. Unfortunately, Gatineau Park is currently not protected.

That is why the bill was introduced. The park currently has no protection. It can be sold to real estate developers. Houses can be built there. The law does not set any limits. The bill would ensure that real estate developers could not start a project in Gatineau Park without approval by Parliament, as is the case for all of Canada's national parks.

Giving an extremely important park like Gatineau Park similar protection—even if it is not exactly the same—is the least we can do. That is what the bill proposes. The bill would not make Gatineau Park a national park like all the others, but it would give it similar protections in order to protect the biodiversity so that the park's 2.7 million annual visitors can continue to enjoy it for years to come and our children and grandchildren can enjoy it as well. This is how we can ensure the sustainability of this massive green space that is part of the region.

It is also important to note that two official residences are located in Gatineau Park, including the residence of the Speaker of the House. Unfortunately, Mr. Speaker, you do not live there, but as the current occupant of the chair, you are entitled to live in the residence, which is located in the park. The Prime Minister's country retreat is also located in Gatineau Park.

The bill proposes a number of things. I cannot list them all, but the bill's main purpose is to establish the park's boundaries and to prevent the sale of public land within Gatineau Park. This bill was drafted following a number of consultations held by my colleague, the member for Hull—Aylmer, who circulated petitions on this matter. It was one of my colleague's campaign promises. This bill is the result of extensive consultations and did not just appear out of thin air.

Other members have introduced bills in this regard. In the past, the government itself introduced bills concerning the park. Unfortunately, although the park has existed for 75 years, nothing has been done to this point.

When we vote on the bill in a few days, I hope that all my colleagues will follow my example and vote for this bill at second reading. We have heard that some Conservative members want to vote against it. However, I hope that they will change their minds so that we can at least send the bill to committee. I have heard some criticism from the Conservatives, but if the bill does not go to committee, it will be impossible to improve it. I urge those members to vote for the bill at second reading. If they have suggestions on how to improve the bill, they can bring them forward in committee. I urge all my colleagues to vote for Bill C-565, as I will be doing.

National Capital ActPrivate Members' Business

March 7th, 2014 / 1:15 p.m.
See context

NDP

Nycole Turmel NDP Hull—Aylmer, QC

moved that 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, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to go into more detail on my Bill C-565, which would provide protection for Gatineau Park.

First, I want to thank my colleague from Ottawa Centre for seconding my motion for second reading today. I must also thank all of my colleagues who helped get petitions signed in support of my bill.

Gatineau Park's size, beauty and significance make it a national treasure. I am fortunate enough to live just a few minutes from the park, so every single day I can see just how much the people in my region love our park. Anyone who has visited our side of the Ottawa River knows that this park plays a huge part in the lifestyle of families in Gatineau and the surrounding communities. The people of the national capital region care about protecting this park.

It is not just the people of the Outaouais who enjoy this green space. With 2.7 million visitors a year, Gatineau Park is one of the most visited parks in Canada. However, as incredible as this may seem, Gatineau Park does not benefit from any permanent protections to preserve its natural and historical heritage. In fact, it is currently the only major federal park from which sections can be severed without parliamentary review or approval, despite how precious and fragile Gatineau Park's natural environment is. It is high time for this to change.

The purpose of my bill is simple: to remedy this absurd situation by giving Gatineau Park the same sort of protections that our national parks enjoy. We cannot wait any longer. We must act now if we want to leave a healthy park to future generations.

Recent studies clearly demonstrate this. There is a real risk of losing natural habitats. We can no longer be satisfied with the status quo in this matter. Climate change and increased urban development on the periphery of the park are just two examples of the pressures currently facing the park.

Over the past 20 years, the population has grown significantly in the national capital region. There is every indication that this trend will continue, if not increase further. It is important to ensure that the housing development that goes along with such a population increase will not be done at the park's expense. Canadians want to know that the park will not be parcelled out and sold off to real estate developers.

I can think of a thousand reasons for us to join forces to protect Gatineau Park. Its natural heritage, its importance to the economic development of the Outaouais and the many opportunities for outdoor activities that it offers are just a few examples. From an ecological standpoint, Gatineau Park is a truly unique green space. It is home to a surprising variety of wildlife: 230 species of birds live alongside over 50 species of mammals and a dozen species of reptiles. Visitors will also find a few thousand species of plants and about 50 different kinds of trees.

That biodiversity is all the more impressive given that it includes a significant number of endangered species. In fact, Gatineau Park is home to more than 90 endangered plant and 50 endangered animal species. For example, the only known populations of spiny softshell turtles in Quebec are found in Gatineau Park. The park plays a key role in maintaining balanced ecosystems in the Outaouais region. Protecting Gatineau Park better will help preserve our region's rich natural heritage.

The park is a very important symbol of our heritage. It is home to many Algonquin first nations heritage remains. There are also two official residences in the park: the residence of the Speaker of the House of Commons and the Prime Minister's country residence. The Mackenzie King Estate alone attracts 60,000 visitors each year. They come to admire the beautiful gardens and historic buildings.

Gatineau Park is really part of the identity of the national capital region.

Protecting Gatineau Park better will also encourage economic growth in the national capital region. The most recent studies have shown that Gatineau Park generates nearly $25 million in annual economic spinoffs and is a source of more than 400 jobs. It goes without saying that the park is a major attraction in the area and plays a major role in recreational and tourism development in the Outaouais. In addition, the park hosts many large-scale events, such as the Keskinada Loppet cross-country skiing competition, which I had the pleasure of attending just a few weeks ago.

I could go on and on about why Gatineau Park is such an exceptional place and why it deserves to be protected.

I wanted to recognize that exceptional nature by taking action. On April 22, 2012, I launched my “Together, let's protect Gatineau Park” campaign. Over the past months, I have carried out broad consultations involving various stakeholders. I invited members of the public to a major public consultation on the future of the park on May 26, 2012. I also met with the mayors of the communities surrounding the park, the chief of the Kitigan Zibi Anishnabeg Algonquin community, NGOs, National Capital Commission executives and the member of the provincial assembly. From those many discussions, I concluded that we all share a desire to protect the unique character of Gatineau Park and that we want its beauty to be known across Canada for many years to come.

The petition in support of my bill has received over 5,000 signatures. It is clear that protecting Gatineau Park is a priority for the people of the Outaouais and the national capital.

My bill would implement simple and effective measures.

First, we want to enshrine the park's boundaries in law. Currently, the park's boundaries can be changed, and the public lands that make up the park can be sold by order in council. Parliamentarians would have no say in the matter. My goal is to provide the park with legal protection similar to that afforded our national parks. The government would then have to pass a law every time it wants to change those boundaries. If these boundaries are enshrined in law, Gatineau Park will make up 7.8% of the land in the national capital region. That is really something.

Second, my bill would give the park official status by legally creating Gatineau Park, a conservation park situated in the national capital region. I am sure that all of the members here would be very proud to recognize the park as such.

Third, my bill would give the NCC two new missions: protecting Gatineau Park's natural biodiversity, as well as its underlying ecological structure and environmental processes, and promoting education and leisure activities within the park; and acquiring the privately owned real property situated in Gatineau Park.

My bill would also make it a mandatory requirement to meet six management objectives for Gatineau Park, which correspond to the principles applied by the International Union for Conservation of Nature to national parks, which are category II protected areas.

The first objective is to manage the area in order to perpetuate, in as natural a state as possible, representative examples of physiographic regions, biotic communities, genetic resources and unimpaired natural processes.

The second objective is to maintain viable and ecologically functional populations and assemblages of native species at densities sufficient to conserve ecosystem integrity and resilience in the long term.

The third objective is to contribute in particular to conservation of wide-ranging species, regional ecological processes and migration routes

The fourth objective is to manage visitor use for inspirational, educational, cultural and recreational purposes at a level which will not cause significant biological or ecological degradation to the natural resources

The fifth objective is to take into account the needs of indigenous people and local communities, including subsistence resource use, in so far as these will not adversely affect the primary management objective.

The last objective is to contribute to local economies through tourism.

Going back to the measures in the bill, the fourth prohibits the sale of public lands situated in Gatineau Park. It indicates that the NCC will no longer require the approval of the governor in council to purchase real property in Gatineau Park. This will facilitate and expedite the NCC process for purchasing private properties located within the park when they come on the market.

Finally, my bill amends the Department of Canadian Heritage Act:

...to specify that Gatineau Park is included in the organization, sponsorship and promotion of public activities and events, in the National Capital Region, that will enrich the cultural and social fabric of Canada.

These measures will not only help protect the integrity of the park, but also ensure the quality of its recreational experience.

Today, I am very pleased to confirm that my initiative has the support of leading environmental protection agencies as well as the petitioners. I have support from Nature Québec, Conseil régional de l'environnement et du développement durable de l'Outaouais, and the Ottawa Valley chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society.

Gatineau Park was created 76 years ago and still does not have legal protection or official status. As elected members, we have a responsibility to correct the situation and provide the park with the necessary legal protections to preserve it for current and future generations.

Since 2005, a number of private members' bills seeking to better protect Gatineau Park have been introduced in the House. They all died on the order paper.

Today we must seize this opportunity to finally respond to the will of the people of Hull—Aylmer, the national capital region, and Canada as a whole to ensure that this national treasure is preserved.

The message I have for my colleagues today is simple: let us put partisan interests aside and protect Gatineau Park together.

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.

National Capital ActPrivate Members' Business

March 7th, 2014 / 1:45 p.m.
See context

Liberal

David McGuinty Liberal Ottawa South, ON

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.

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 ActRoutine Proceedings

December 10th, 2013 / 10:05 a.m.
See context

NDP

Nycole Turmel NDP Hull—Aylmer, QC

moved for leave to introduce 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.

Mr. Speaker, today I am pleased to introduce a new version of my bill concerning Gatineau Park, which I originally introduced in November 2012. I wish to thank the hon. member for Berthier—Maskinongé for seconding this new version.

The version I am presenting here today includes the changes to the National Capital Act that resulted from the passing of the government's Bill C-60 a little earlier this year.

Apart from that, this bill is identical to the one I introduced in 2012. It gives Gatineau Park special status in the National Capital Act by establishing the park's boundaries in the act, giving those boundaries parliamentary protection and prohibiting the sale of public lands located within the park.

Once again, I invite all of my colleagues from all parties in this House to support my bill at second reading.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)