Thank you. It will be faster.
Clause 8 amends the federal accord act to restrict the number of current activities the board can authorize on Sable Island to four categories: access to existing wellheads on Sable Island for the purpose of safety and environmental protection; low-impact petroleum activities, including seismic, geological, and geophysical programs on the surface of Sable Island; emergency evacuation capacity for offshore workers; and maintenance of emergency facilities on Sable Island in case the island needs to be used to provide safe harbour to offshore workers in times of emergency.
Mr. Chair, a review of the debate in the House made clear that the key concern is focused on the ability of the Offshore Petroleum Board to authorize low-impact seismic activity. Allow me to offer several comments on this issue.
First, the Offshore Petroleum Board currently has the authority to authorize seismic activity on Sable Island. The purpose of Bill S-15 is to limit the board's current authority to consideration of low-impact seismic.
Second, as the board has indicated to Parks Canada in discussions, if a company wanted to collect new data from Sable Island, the board would ask the company to justify why the current seismic information is not sufficient and to demonstrate that such data could not be gathered beyond the national park reserve. If not, then the board would want assurances from the company that other less intrusive techniques could not be used to augment the existing seismic information. If the only remaining option required a seismic program placing equipment on Sable Island, an environmental assessment would be conducted by the Offshore Petroleum Board. Such an assessment would have to meet the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act's standard of determining the likelihood of an activity that causes significant adverse environmental effects. Given that clause 7 of Bill S-15 requires that the board seek the advice and recommendation of Parks Canada on such a proposed authorization, Parks Canada would have an opportunity to influence the nature of any proposed seismic program.
As members heard during the House debate, the last time a seismic program was undertaken on Sable Island was in 1999. A code of practice formed part of Mobil's environmental assessment and protection plan and was the principal instrument in guiding mitigation measures related to the seismic program. Negotiated by Zoe Lucas, an expert on Sable Island, the code compelled the company to make a number of changes to the nature and timing of its seismic program, a program, it was concluded, that did not have an impact on Sable Island. A similar code of practice would be required should any future seismic program be recommended.
I realize the central concern is that Bill S-15 does not define “low impact”, but, Mr. Chair, any amendments to Bill S-15 with respect to the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Resources Accord Implementation Act would require the Province of Nova Scotia to agree with these amendments and then go through the process of also amending their legislation.
For that reason, Parks Canada and the board have discussed alternative means to address concerns over defining low-impact seismic activity. Both the board and Parks Canada are committed to: 1) developing together a draft definition or protocol to address the concerns raised regarding low-impact seismic activity; 2) undertaking consultation with the province, industry, stakeholders, and the public on its proposed definition; and 3) identifying an appropriate mechanism under the accord act, be it regulation, directive, guidance, memorandum of understanding, or some other appropriate mechanism to give effect to the final product.
We would certainly welcome any ideas the committee has to assist us.
I want to confirm that, in my view, we are not undermining the integrity of our national parks system. To reiterate, we are not amending the Canada National Parks Act to permit low-impact seismic activity in national parks. We are amending the accord to restrict it to low-impact on Sable Island, and in negotiating new national parks, I can assure this committee that we are not entertaining a similar agreement.
Finally, as I noted earlier, we are also amending the Canada Shipping Act, as Sable Island is currently administered under the act by the Canadian Coast Guard. Bill S-15 will repeal all sections that pertain to Sable Island. Once it becomes law, then the administration of Sable Island will be transferred from the coast guard to Parks Canada.
In concluding my remarks on the first part of the bill, allow me to paraphrase our minister in summarizing the gains that Bill S-15 represents for Sable Island.
First, we are protecting Sable Island under the National Parks Act, the strongest federal conservation legislation, as Canada's 43rd national park.
We are putting in place, for the first time, a legislative ban on exploratory and extractive drilling for petroleum resources from the surface of Sable Island.
We are creating a legislative buffer around the national park reserve that prohibits drilling from its boundary out to one nautical mile.
We are legally limiting the number of current petroleum-related activities that can be permitted on Sable Island and directing that if seismic is permitted it be low-impact.
We are putting in place a legislative requirement for the Offshore Petroleum Board to consult Parks Canada should it want to issue a permit for activity on Sable Island.
We are protecting the asserted aboriginal rights and title by the Mi'kmaq of Nova Scotia by designating it a national park reserve.
Finally, we will provide opportunities for Canadians to experience Sable Island, either on site or by various other means.
Let me now address part 2 of Bill S-15, which deals with amendments to section 4 and schedules 4 and 5 of the Canada National Parks Act.
Clause 13 of the bill amends section 4 of the Canada National Parks Act to address concerns of the Standing Joint Committee for the Scrutiny of Regulations regarding that section. The bill makes two amendments of a technical nature to section 4. It fixes the discrepancy between the English and French versions and adds a new subsection 4(1.1) to clarify the authority of the Minister of the Environment to use sections 23 or 24 of the Parks Canada Agency Act to set fees in national parks. The wording of this clause in the bill was improved through an amendment made by the Senate to avoid any misinterpretation of the intent of the proposed changes.
I would like to assure the members of this committee that the wording of subsection 4(1) of the act is not affected by these amendments. The wording of this subsection, which is known as the national parks dedication clause, continues to remain virtually unchanged for over eight decades. This clause provides that:
National parks are dedicated to the people of Canada for their benefit, education and enjoyment and that they are to be maintained and used so as to leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.
Clause 14 of the bill makes minor amendments to the description of the commercial zones for the community of Field, British Columbia, located within Yoho National Park of Canada. These minor zoning modifications are not controversial, they have community support, and they are well within the legislated commercial growth limit for Field. The changes will help support services, such as a gas station, required by park visitors and the town's businesses and residents.
Finally, section 15 of the bill amends the leasehold boundary set out in schedule 5 of the act for Marmot Basin Ski Area. This ski area is located within Jasper National Park of Canada.
Questions were raised during second reading of this bill regarding the type of analysis carried out for this proposal, as well as regarding the opportunities for public involvement. I wish to reassure the members of this committee that Parks Canada has in place a comprehensive and tightly controlled policy framework for the management of ski hill operations in national parks. This framework respects the Parks Canada mandate of maintaining or restoring ecological integrity while fostering a sense of connection through memorable visitor experiences and opportunities to learn about our natural and cultural heritage. It also provides ski area operators with greater certainty and predictability for business planning.
There are three main aspects to the Parks Canada policy framework for management of ski area operations in national parks. The first element of this framework is the Parks Canada Ski Area Management Guidelines, revised in 2006, which provide general direction to maintain ecological integrity and economically viable ski area operations within national parks. The second element comprises site-specific guidelines to control development and use at each ski area by setting out the scope, nature and location of potential development that may be considered for the ski area, and under what conditions.
In the case of Marmot Basin, the Marmot Basin Ski Area Site Guidelines for Development and Use were approved by Parks Canada in 2008. They included a comprehensive public participation program and completion of a Strategic Environmental Assessment. These site guidelines outline what development and use may be considered in the future, and establish growth limits, ecological management parameters and approaches to ski area operation.
The third element of the policy framework is a requirement for ski areas to develop long range plans and carry out detailed impact analysis for project proposals that the ski area wishes to advance in a five to fifteen-year time frame.
Marmot Basin is well advanced in the process of preparing its long-range plan, and in fact, its website gives a notice of intent to start public consultations on its long-range plan this fall. Marmot Basin's long-rang plan submissions will be accompanied by a detailed environmental impact analysis consistent with requirements for federal lands under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act of 2013. The purpose, nature, scope, and public participation elements of the process will be similar to previous project assessments conducted by Parks Canada.
The operator of Marmot Basin Ski Area wishes to improve the ski experience at Marmot Basin in order to maintain a competitive position with other new and expanded ski operations in the region. The operator has proposed to remove 118 hectares from its current leasehold in exchange for a smaller parcel of land contiguous to another part of the ski area. The proposed amendment to schedule 5 of the act is a major reduction of the leasehold boundary and a substantial environmental gain for Jasper National Park.
The 118 hectares to be removed from the leasehold is an important habitat for woodland caribou, which is listed under the Species at Risk Act. The area also contains natural mineral licks that attract mountain goats, and it is habitat for other species such as grizzly bear, wolverine and lynx. In fact, in a separate regulatory process, the area will be added to an existing declared wilderness area and will have a greater degree of protection than is currently the case. Uses will be carefully managed to protect the wilderness character of the area. In exchange, Marmot Basin would be granted access to a smaller 60 hectare parcel of less ecologically sensitive land for future development for skiing.
Any proposed development of the exchanged land remains subject to decision-making by Parks Canada under the detailed and public long-range planning process and environmental impact analysis that are part of the system of safeguards that Parks Canada has put in place.
Mr. Chair, the land to be exchanged was carefully selected to avoid caribou habitat and other important wildlife habitat including potential grizzly bear denning sites — none of which have been identified in the area. Before any development would be authorized, further environmental evaluation of the area will be conducted in the context of the long-range planning process that Marmot Basin has announced recently.
I would like to point out that this type of proposed land exchange is permitted under Parks Canada's policy regime for ski area management.
The 2006 guidelines specifically allow for the potential to make the modifications proposed where there is a substantial environmental gain.
This applies in situations where there is a leasehold reduction or reconfiguration that results in better protection of sensitive areas and exchange for development of less sensitive areas. This is exactly the situation we are dealing with for the Marmot Ski Basin area proposals. Consultations on these proposed changes where held during the preparation of the guidelines.
This bill brings lasting benefits to the people of Canada. It establishes Canada's 43rd national park by protecting a unique and storied island off the shore of Nova Scotia. It enables changes to enhance the economic viability of the community of Field and of the Marmot Basin.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.