Madam Speaker, I would like to recognize the Minister of Environment for introducing this step in formalizing the establishment of the Rouge National Urban Park. I also recognize the work of our former Conservative government colleagues in navigating a path toward making this national park a reality.
In my background in conservation organizations, I have seen first hand the value of recognizing the value of conserving green spaces and the natural environment, and the value of the opportunity for all to experience them.
I used one word very selectively in the previous sentence, and that is the word “conserving”. I did not use the word “preserving”, which has a very different meaning. The two words sound similar but have a very different application when it comes to parks and green spaces. Conserving refers to allowing some use while retaining part of the resource in a sustainable manner, so that the resource can be there for the future. In creating conservation areas and parks, we often arrive at this type of conflict: how much we can preserve versus how much we have to conserve and how much we can use. This is often a real dilemma for policy-makers.
The challenge embodied in the wording of this bill is the inclusion of protecting ecological integrity, and the challenge it will create for policy-makers and park managers years down the road.
In my home province of British Columbia, we heard earlier today from a colleague about the impact on a massive scale of the over-application of ecological integrity in parks. When the pine beetle started to infest an area within Tweedsmuir Provincial Park, the park system was not allowed to use logging to remove the infected timber to reduce or contain the spread of the devastating beetle.
Looking back now, many see that this was an error. We have seen the loss of jobs. We have seen the loss of timber, and we are now struggling with how we keep sawmills and employment going in the province. It spread not just in the province of B.C., but now it is through Alberta and into Saskatchewan, all because we could not react within the park program.
Programs and policies without flexibility for accommodation of unforeseen scenarios prevented common sense from being applied. Now, decades later, we are still feeling the effects of those decisions. Diverse wildlife habitat has been lost to monoculture regrowth. In the end, large swaths of provinces have ended up being logged and the means of fighting the pine beetle has left huge areas of barren forest. This has resulted in no cover for ungulates and challenges to wildlife management that will span decades.
As we examine the Rouge National Urban Park and its location, on land subject to farming for over 200 years, industrial activity, and urban use, is it reasonable to expect ecological integrity to be achieved, whether it is included in the wording or not?
We have heard today of many issues that could make it impossible to achieve the full ecological integrity. If this is the case, one has to wonder what values might be traded off in attempts to achieve it. Would it be the existing agriculture? Would it be access in the dry summer months? Would it be disease spreading out of the park? What types of tradeoffs are we going to have to look at?
While fellow Canadians in the past have recognized the uniqueness of certain areas of this country, we are here today to continue to build on that legacy. Those early parks pioneers envisioned protecting areas for the benefit of future generations. I believe we are all here today working to continue that vision.
However, those early pioneers had no way of seeing how complicated parks management would become, no more than we can expect to see how complicated it will be in another 100 years.
In creating new parks, I believe we need to allow some flexibility to our future parks managers so that, as the demands on the parks change as years go by, those managers have the flexibility to adapt their management styles to meet the needs of the ecosystems and the park visitors. This brings me back to the words “conservation” and “preservation”, and I am hoping my colleagues and those listening today are getting a better understanding of the differences between these two words.
The inclusion of ecological integrity as the first priority would tie the hands of those future parks managers to focus on preservation, leaving them without the flexibility that they will need to evolve their management to create one of the goals of creating a park; that is, the conservation of existing systems and values for future generations. It is those future generations for whom I am concerned. As I noted earlier, my background is with conservation organizations, where I have seen the value of getting youth into an outdoor environment. I say “an outdoor environment” instead of “a natural environment” for a reason. The reason is that our cultures have changed because many people have never experienced the true outdoors. To place them in a natural environment does not always render the best experience, much as our limited control measures in B.C. have not led to the best experience with the pine beetles.
By adapting the natural environment for a better interactive experience, the memories and values taken home and into the future increase in value. Over time, our society has become increasingly urbanized, especially in the area near Rouge National Urban Park. Providing for full ecological integrity in this park may not be in the best interests of the park, local residents, or visitors.
While I am fully in support of the formalization of Rouge National Urban Park, I am not supportive of including, in this case, the priority of ecological integrity. In defending this position, I would like to have had the opportunity to ask my friend and colleague from Red Deer—Lacombe to point out how many species he was authorized to manage within the scope of ecological integrity in the natural parks in which he worked. I am sure his answer would have been one, humans.
Humans are the only species that parks managers can manipulate within a natural park. We as humans have made such a change to our surroundings, especially near this proposed park, that we cannot expect to tie parks managers' hands to only managing humans and not other species within the parks. They are going to need the flexibility and the opportunity to use other systems to manage without being stuck to that ecological integrity phrase. I urge the members across the House to understand this as we move forward in this debate, and I hope that will be addressed in the committee stage of this bill. Again, in my experience, we have seen bad examples of tying the hands of parks managers.
A further example would be the Gros Morne National Park in Newfoundland, where the moose were simply eating the park habitat beyond recognition. Parks managers in Gros Morne National Park resisted for years allowing hunters into the park to manage the moose populations within the park. For years, hunters and people in the park saw what was happening, but because of park policy the managers would not allow the hunting to take place. Finally, within the past decade, they have seen the error of restricting that opportunity to manage. They have allowed hunting within that national park and the park is benefiting from it.
I hope that these examples can be taken forward and understood. As we move forward on this bill, I hope to see amendments to it.