Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
I'd like to first of all thank the members of the committee for their swift consideration of this bill. We just voted on this bill a week ago Wednesday. Sorry, that was two weeks ago today. It's Wednesday already.
I'm happy to be here in front of the committee to talk about Bill C-370 and to answer any questions you may have about the bill. It is a short bill, but it will make a huge difference in my riding.
I want to thank you on behalf of everyone who wishes to see this happen and to see it happen as quickly as possible; I should note that this includes all of the municipalities along the length of the park. They have all passed resolutions supporting this bill. The native community, residents, and businesses in the region are also very supportive.
There's a number of key points to my belief that the name of this park should be changed. I'd like to go over these as quickly as I can so that you can have an understanding of why this bill is so important to economic development in my riding of Leeds—Grenville.
St. Lawrence Islands National Park, which was established in 1904 as the first Canadian national park east of the Rocky Mountains, celebrated its centennial in 2004. The park is located in what is popularly known and identified worldwide as the Thousand Islands.
St. Lawrence Islands National Park is located in an area of rich biodiversity. It is at a naturally occurring confluence of important geological formations, and it is also at a naturally occurring confluence of the cultural history of our nation.
Formed as a result of the last ice age, the Thousand Islands region provides a land bridge across the St. Lawrence River for plants and animals. It joins the Canadian Shield in the north and the Adirondack Mountains in the south. The Great Lakes—particularly Lake Ontario—which lie to its west, provide a heat sink, which helps moderate both winter and summer temperatures in the region, and which in turn attracts flora and fauna that might not otherwise be found in the area.
As a result of all of this, the area in which the park is located has been recognized by UNESCO as a biosphere reserve.
The park itself consists of several ecologically important mainland properties and several islands that lie between Kingston and Brockville. The visitor centre at Mallorytown Landing provides an introduction to the park, with a hiking trail, interpretive programs, exhibits, and family activities. The park is a partner in encouraging sustainable lifestyles and in protecting the ecosystems of the Frontenac Arch Biosphere Reserve.
When Europeans first discovered this region, the French named it les Mille-Îles, and the English named the islands in 1816 with important names from the British navy. Traders and settlers heading into the Canadian interior passed by. Throughout its known history, it has continued to be identified as the Thousand Islands. Today, many people in the area already refer to the park as “Thousand Islands National Park”, because this is how the region is known.
Visitor services are a growing and important part of the economic development of the region that encompasses this park. Visitor services are increasingly important, as the economic mix of the region has changed from manufacturing over the past 15 years, and visitors from around the globe flock to the area to see the Thousand Islands.
Brockville Mayor Dave Henderson was planning to be here with us today at committee, but he is unable to appear. We wish him a speedy recovery, given his recent health issues.
His personal business is printing. Had he been able to be here with us today, he would have told you that he has seen a major change in his business. Ten years ago, most of the printing came from the industrial sector on both sides of the St. Lawrence River. Today most of his business comes from tourist operators on both sides of the border.
The latest statistics that are available from Statistics Canada indicate that in my riding there are 438 enterprises that consider themselves visitor-based. These employ almost 6,000 people. Scattered throughout the riding but concentrated in the area closest to the Thousand Islands, visitor services are a very large employer in my riding, by any account.
Our government has been very supportive of this economic change by helping to fund the Maritime Discovery Centre in Brockville, which is now known as the Aquatarium and is going to open next year, in June of 2013. This attraction at the eastern end of the park will concentrate its exhibits on the Thousand Islands.
In 1911, Canada led the world by establishing a national service dedicated to parks, and today Canada has one of the greatest national parks systems in the world.
Parks Canada manages 42 national parks, 167 national historic sites, three national marine conservation areas, and 10 of Canada's 15 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. In the past six years our government has taken steps to add 90,000 square kilometres to the lands and waters of our national park system.
When Parks Canada celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2011 and the parks were advertised across the country to promote this anniversary, there were once again questions raised about the name of this park.
From coast to coast to coast the national parks are generally named after the most significant feature of the area. When you hear the name St. Lawrence Islands National Park, you do not grasp where the park is located. The St. Lawrence River is long and the park could be anywhere on its length from Kingston to the Gaspé.
Probably one of the most important aspects of this bill to change the name of the park has to do with branding. Marketing associations describe a brand as a name, term, sign, symbol, design, or a combination of them, intended to identify the goods and services of one seller or group of sellers and to differentiate them from those of other sellers.
Among other things, branding is about getting your target market to choose one product or destination over the competition and, hopefully, to see your product or destination as the best choice. One of the objectives that a good brand will achieve is delivering the message clearly.
The Thousand Islands is the drawing card and the clear message for the region. It is the brand upon which the region hangs its future and reviews its past.
My home town of Gananoque bills itself as “The Canadian Gateway to the Thousand Islands”. Brockville calls itself “The City of the 1000 Islands”. From Parks Canada's description of the park, we read that “St. Lawrence Islands National Park is located in the heart of the 1000 Islands area”.
The federal tourism strategy released last year has a section that specifically deals with national parks. It notes that our country has one of the greatest national park systems in the world. They attract visitors, generate economic activity, and bring our natural heritage closer to Canadians and visitors from other countries. They help protect and manage ecosystems so that we can all understand, enjoy, and appreciate them, while preserving them for future generations.
There is no doubt that Canada's national parks are important to this government and important to Canadians, and they will continue to be a valued asset in this country.
The tourism strategy has a specific goal for national parks. It states that over the next five years visitation to national parks will increase by 10%, in part by increasing their attractiveness as destinations and improving the quality of visitor experiences.
One of the ways we can achieve that goal is by providing the branding necessary for identification and research by the travelling public.
While Parks Canada is working to certify park and site interpreters to offer a more complete experience for the visitor, it is important that the visitors can properly locate the parks.
The tourism strategy also encourages Canadian tourism enterprises and attractions to develop what they call signature attractions. Already in the Thousand Islands, tourism operators are taking advantage of this. The brand that local tourism operators use to describe their area is simply Thousand Islands.
It is important to understand that this is not a new brand for this area. It is one of historical and cultural significance. Thousand Islands is the name that is used by everyone in the region to differentiate themselves from any other region.
In naming national parks, national marine conservation areas, national historic sites, or geographical features in a park or site, Parks Canada follows the general principles of the Geographical Names Board of Canada. There is no historical record about how and why St. Lawrence Islands National Park acquired its name. The general procedure to propose a new name or change a name states that a federal authority would generally investigate a name by consulting the residents of the area, historical documents, files, and other sources, and Parks Canada has completed this.
When I began working on this issue, I consulted with business owners and members of municipal councils throughout the region. Some were actually surprised that the park wasn't already named Thousand Islands National Park, as they had been referring to it by that name for many years.
If you conduct an Internet search for St. Lawrence Islands, you find very little information. If you conduct a search for Thousand Islands, you will find a great deal of information all tied to the region where the park is located. This is an indication that the Thousand Islands name is the one that is popularly used to describe the region and the place where the park is located.
To sum up, future economic development for the region demands that the park be easily identified in its location on the lengthy St. Lawrence River, and that location is the Thousand Islands.
Thousand Islands National Park is the natural name for this park.
Thank you very much.