Thank you, Mr. Chair and honourable members. Thank you again for the opportunity to appear before this committee to speak to Bill S-5, the Nááts’ihch’oh national park reserve act.
This is important legislation to protect the lands and water of the nationally significant landscape in the Northwest Territories. Protecting the Nááts’ihch’oh national park reserve is a commitment that we had made in the 2013 Speech from the Throne, to protect the wilderness land of the Nááts’ihch’oh by 2015.
Creating this new national park reserve delivers on Canada's national conservation plan announced by the Prime Minister in May 2014. This park will help conserve our country's natural environment, restore ecosystems, and connect Canadians to nature.
We are creating this national park reserve in collaboration with aboriginal people in the Tulita district of the Sahtu settlement area. The park is subject to the provisions of the Sahtu Dene and Metis Comprehensive Land Claim Agreement. This agreement requires Parks Canada to enter into an impact and benefit agreement with the Sahtu Dene and Métis prior to establishing a national park reserve in their settlement area.
Signed in March 2012, the Nááts’ihch’oh impact and benefit plan covers cooperative management, the continuation of traditional harvesting rights, and economic opportunities.
Under the plan the community of Tulita will be the administrative centre for the Nááts’ihch’oh. This will involve the development of office space, a visitor centre, staff housing. Construction and maintenance of these facilities will employ local trades people in the community of Tulita.
Traditional use of land within the national park reserve by the Sahtu Dene, and Métis will continue as a right under the land claim agreement. They will continue to harvest wildlife and plants on parklands, including gathering plant materials for food, medicine, cultural and other personal purposes.
Mr. Chair, I will now turn to the specifics of this bill itself.
The main purpose is to establish the park under the protection of the Canada National Parks Act.
Clause 6 of Bill S-5 amends the act by adding the boundary description of the national park reserve. The boundary achieves key conservation gains, including protection of the upper reaches of the South Nahanni River, as well as the habitat for woodland caribou and grizzly bears.
The boundary in Bill S-5 is slightly different from the one announced by the Prime Minister in 2012. An area of about 20 square kilometres extending to the south shore of O'Grady Lake was added at the request of the Sahtu Dene and Métis. This addition will serve as a gateway to the park to make it easier for visitors to access.
An ecological site on one square kilometre was removed at the request of the Northwest Territories government.
We are taking steps to ensure the new national park reserve will not only protect the environment, but make meaningful contributions to the social and economic well-being of the community.
The park provides for conservation values and visitor experience without blocking access to significant areas with high mineral potential. The bill before us will continue to allow the mining industry to use several specific mineral access roads in order to access their existing mineral claims.
Finally, Mr. Chair, I would like to summarize the steps our government is taking to establish, develop, and operate this national park reserve.
Our government has provided Parks Canada with an annual operating budget of $1.4 million for the Nááts’ihch’oh. This is in addition to the $3 million in capital investment in the community of Tulita. We have established a management committee that will provide advice on the development of the park management plan, employment, training, and economic opportunities for Sahtu members.
Parks Canada has opened a temporary office in Tulita until a new one is constructed. Parks Canada has started discussions with first nations on the supply office, a visitor centre, a warehouse, and housing units.
Parks Canada has also initiated the staffing of positions in Tulita, including a site superintendent. Parks Canada is advertising positions locally in the community and is consulting with the Sahtu on how best to attract Sahtu beneficiaries.
We are committed to fulfilling the terms of our agreement with the Sahtu Dene and Metis Comprehensive Land Claim Agreement and have moved to immediately implement it.
The Nááts'ihch'oh national park reserve has received overwhelming support from stakeholder groups, leadership and community members, and local regional governments in the area. All first nations and Métis as well as stakeholder groups were invited to consultations. Meetings with the leadership and community members from several communities in the Northwest Territories and Yukon were also conducted. Of the over 1,600 individuals who participated in the consultation process, more than 96% support the creation of this park.
The Government of the Northwest Territories applauds this bill. Mr. Peter Vician, the GNWT deputy minister of the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment, told a Senate committee on June 4, 2014, “The Government of the Northwest Territories supports the establishment of the proposed park as set out in this legislation.”
This legislation is being passed less than a year after Canada and the Northwest Territories reached a historic devolution agreement on the transfer of the administration and control of land and resources to the territorial government. Once it is established, I am confident that both governments will continue to collaborate to ensure that any development on the land outside the park will not have an impact on the national park values that we are seeking to protect through Bill S-5.
The bill delivers on our government's northern strategy. It promotes responsible approaches to northern development that balance environmental protection with socio-economic development while empowering northerners and exercising Canada's sovereignty in the north. Northerners have shaped the federal boundary and negotiated terms of the establishment of the park.
In closing, Mr. Chairman, I urge this committee to not just think of Bill S-5 as establishing Canada's 44th national park but rather to consider the larger achievement here. Globally this is among the most significant national park expansions ever. With Bill S-5, our government has expanded by sevenfold the nearly 5,000 square kilometres of the Nahanni National Park Reserve to the point where the Nahanni/Nááts'ihch'oh national parks complex is the third largest in Canada at 35,000 square kilometres. Together Nahanni and Nááts'ihch'oh parks protect 86% of the entire South Nahanni River watershed. The two parks jointly provide habitat for up to 600 grizzly bears, nine times the number of grizzly bears within Banff National Park, Canada's first national park.
Mr. Chair, Bill S-5 is part of this Parliament's legacy to future generations.
I wish you well in your deliberations.
I would be happy to take questions.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.