Evidence of meeting #68 for Environment and Sustainable Development in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was parks.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Carol Najm  Assistant Deputy Minister, Corporate Services and Finance Branch, Department of the Environment
Sylvain Michaud  Chief Financial Officer, Parks Canada Agency
Mitch Bloom  Vice-President, Strategic Policy and Investment, Parks Canada Agency
Rob Prosper  Vice-President, Protected Areas Establishment and Conservation, Parks Canada Agency
Nancy Hamzawi  Director General, Environmental Protection Branch, Department of the Environment
Matt Jones  Director General, Strategic Policy Branch, Department of the Environment
Sue Milburn-Hopwood  Assistant Deputy Minister, Canadian Wildlife Service, Department of the Environment

June 12th, 2017 / 3:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair (Mrs. Deborah Schulte (King—Vaughan, Lib.)) Liberal Deb Schulte

Welcome, everyone. It's been many months since we've been in open session. We're in a public session today, and it's really nice to be back in the public eye.

There are two things on the agenda today. One is the supplementary (A)s, and the other one, obviously, is our report. Hopefully, we're not going to have any more votes called right now, and given the host of guests we have in front of us, I thought we would show respect and do the supplementary (A)s first. Then we'll go back to the report, for which we will go into closed session.

I'd like to introduce our witnesses.

In front of us today from the Department of the Environment, we have Nancy Hamzawi, director general, environmental protection branch. Welcome.

We have Matt Jones, director general, strategic policy branch. Welcome, Matt.

We also have Sue Milburn-Hopwood, who has been in front of us before. Welcome back, Sue. You're the assistant deputy minister of the Canadian Wildlife Service.

We have with us Carol Najm, assistant deputy minister, corporate services and finance branch.

Next, from the Parks Canada Agency, we have Mitch Bloom, vice-president, strategic policy and investment. Mitch, you've been here before. It's nice to see you again.

We also have with us Sylvain Michaud, chief financial officer. Thank you for being here again.

Last, we have Rob Prosper, vice-president, protected areas establishment and conservation. Welcome.

Who would like to start?

3:55 p.m.

Carol Najm Assistant Deputy Minister, Corporate Services and Finance Branch, Department of the Environment

I'll start with opening remarks and then turn it over to my colleague Sylvain for his opening remarks.

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Deb Schulte

Thank you, Carol.

3:55 p.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Corporate Services and Finance Branch, Department of the Environment

Carol Najm

Good afternoon. I'm pleased to be here with you today to discuss the 2017-18 supplementary estimates (A) for Environment and Climate Change Canada. In terms of these estimates, they include a total of $24.1 million in new spending that requires parliamentary approval. This represents a 2.4% increase over the main estimates of $987.3 million that were tabled in February 2017.

Our estimates include two items: the oceans protection plan and the youth employment strategy.

The government launched a $1.5-billion national oceans protection plan in November 2016. The supplementary estimates (A) is seeking a total of $221.7 million in 2017-18 for this initiative.

Environment and Climate Change Canada is requesting $11.6 million for the oceans protection plan in these estimates and, through future estimates documents, will seek an additional $48.6 million in funding from 2018-19 to 2021-22, for a total of $60.2 million over five years and $8.3 million in ongoing funding as of 2022-23.

The oceans protection plan will help develop a world-leading marine safety system for our country's three coasts that protects marine ecosystems. The oceans protection plan is a horizontal initiative, delivered by four federal departments.

This program will provide a national comprehensive plan that includes a suite of initiatives to modernize the marine safety system; put in place a mechanism to negotiate co-management of marine safety, with roles and responsibilities for indigenous groups; invest in the preservation and restoration of marine ecosystems; and, advance evidence-based decision-making in support of these objectives.

The funding requested by Environment and Climate Change Canada will better position Canada's marine safety system to prevent and respond to marine safety and pollution incidents by undertaking activities related to regional response planning, oversight of incident management, and the collection of baseline data from coastal areas of northern British Columbia. It will also implement a renewed 24-7 weather prediction capacity initiative in support of improved marine safety.

On the youth employment strategy, each year the government invests more than $330 million in the youth employment strategy to help young Canadians gain the skills, abilities, and experience they need to find and maintain good employment.

To further expand employment opportunities for young Canadians, budget 2017 proposed to provide an additional $395.5 million over three years, starting in 2017-18. In supplementary estimates (A), we are seeking in 2017-18 $146.8 million of the funding that was announced in budget 2017. Funding for the fiscal years 2018-19 and 2019-20 will be sought through future estimates.

Each year, Environment and Climate Change Canada invests approximately $3.2 million in the youth employment strategy. Environment and Climate Change Canada is requesting an additional $11.3 million in supplementary estimates (A), for a total planned spending of $14.5 million in 2017-18. Through the 2018-19 main estimates, Environment and Climate Canada will seek an additional $11.3 million in funding, for a total planned spending of, again, $14.5 million.

Since 1997, Environment and Climate Change Canada has participated in the youth employment strategy led by Employment and Social Development Canada by delivering the science horizons youth internship program. This program provides eligible employers with a wage subsidy of up to $15,000 per intern to hire recent college and university graduates in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines in environmental fields.

The ongoing funding in the main estimates creates 179 internships. The funding sought through these supplementary estimates is aimed at delivering an additional 785 new internship opportunities for youth in the green economy, for a total of 964 internships in 2017-18.

It helps young people aged 15 to 30 gain the skills, job experience, and abilities to make a successful transition to the workplace.

The youth employment strategy is a horizontal initiative, delivered by 11 federal departments and agencies.

I hope this summary of our initiatives included in the 2017-18 supplementary estimates (A) for Environment and Climate Change Canada provides the committee with the insight members had been seeking on the 2017-18 supplementary estimates (A) for Environment and Climate Change Canada.

Thank you.

4 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Deb Schulte

Thank you very much, Carol.

Who's next? Go ahead, please.

4 p.m.

Sylvain Michaud Chief Financial Officer, Parks Canada Agency

Madam Chair, thank you for this opportunity to meet with the committee to discuss the 2017-18 supplementary estimates (A) for Parks Canada.

These are Parks Canada's first supplementary estimates to update the 2017-18 main estimates. The agency's submission amounts to increased and voted appropriations of $38.4 million, bringing the agency's total voted budget to close to $1.3 billion. These funds will be spent on the following three items.

The first is $20 million relating to a negotiated settlement with the Regional Municipality of Halifax associated with a long-standing dispute over the amount of payment in lieu of taxes paid by the federal crown for the Halifax Citadel national historic site.

Second, $11 million has been allocated to hire 1,140 additional secondary and post-secondary students to work in Canada's national parks, national marine conservation areas, and national historic sites.

The third is $7.4 million to continue the work on developing and expanding Canada's national park and national marine conservation area systems and to contribute to the conservation targets Canada adopted under the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity.

I would like to thank you, Madam Chair, and the committee, for your time today. We're happy to respond to any questions.

4 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Deb Schulte

Thank you very much. We appreciate it.

You guys have a lot more time. There are three more minutes if you have anything else to share, but we can get right into the questioning.

Who's up first? Do you want to go first, Mark? We're just getting the order sorted out.

4 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Sure.

4 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Deb Schulte

We're out of practice. We haven't done this for a little while.

4 p.m.

Voices

Oh, oh!

4 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Deb Schulte

You'll each have six minutes.

4 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Thank you, Madam Chair.

Thank you to everybody for attending today. It certainly is nice to have live faces that we get to interact with as opposed to each other, which we've been doing for the last number of months over a particular report.

My questions are for Parks Canada. I want to ask about the visitation levels in the parks and how important you think visitation is for the establishment and maintenance of the parks.

4 p.m.

Mitch Bloom Vice-President, Strategic Policy and Investment, Parks Canada Agency

Perhaps I'll start, and then my colleagues can join in.

Visitation is a key part of the mandate of parks. Managing that in the broader context of our other priorities, both heritage and the natural environment, is really what we do on a day-to-day basis, so it's fundamental. When you come into a year like this, where right now we're dealing with unprecedented numbers in visitation, because, of course, of free entry to the Canada parks system, that's a really big deal.

At the same time, picking up on the element of your question, we are always working to try to manage that visitation against the capacity we have in the parks, whether it's as simple as the visitor centres or washrooms, or things like our enforcement capacity to deal with human-animal encounters. It has a corollary effect across all aspects of what it is that we do and—

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Can you tell me about some of the things you do to strike that balance?

4:05 p.m.

Vice-President, Strategic Policy and Investment, Parks Canada Agency

Mitch Bloom

Well, in the case of our physical assets, right now we're doing a lot to try to bring things back up to date to make sure we can maximize the use of the things we have, so that they're safe for Canadians to use. That has been a significant issue over the last decade. With recent investments, we're finally able to really carve into that and allow full use and access of what it is that we have, as opposed to things literally getting shut down and not being able to do that. Rob certainly can give us a lot more detail on that.

Rob, do you want to talk a little about what we do on the natural side to deal with those numbers as they come into the parks system?

4:05 p.m.

Rob Prosper Vice-President, Protected Areas Establishment and Conservation, Parks Canada Agency

Sure.

Probably the way I would start is to say there's often a conversation around the idea of a balance in conservation and visitation. We tend to look at it slightly differently. We look at it from the perspective of how our social science tells us that actual visitations create lifetime supporters of conservation and protected areas. Encouraging additional visitation is actually quite critical to maintaining a constituency for conservation.

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Okay.

Mr. Bloom, you mentioned the increase this year. Do you have data? I realize that this year visitation is going to spike because of the free access, but what have the trends in visitation been like to this point?

4:05 p.m.

Vice-President, Strategic Policy and Investment, Parks Canada Agency

Mitch Bloom

It's a great question.

Averaging it over the last decade, it's about a 5% increase year over year, so it's steadily going up. In the last year or so, it's moving up to about 7%. This year, the prediction is for anywhere from 5% to 10%. Again, the smallest things, such as weather, can really affect visitation at a particular point. Our top-out was probably around 24.5 million visitors to our parks system. This year, we're anticipating somewhere in the range of 27 million to 28 million visitors across the system.

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Wow. Do you have data on the demographics of the individuals who are coming, such as urban versus rural, young versus old, and that kind of stuff?

4:05 p.m.

Vice-President, Strategic Policy and Investment, Parks Canada Agency

Mitch Bloom

Absolutely, and it's really interesting this year because of the giving away of our discovery passes to Canadians, millions and millions of discovery passes. As people would go online and ask for their passes, they would provide information to us about where they're located in the country. A postal code gets you a lot of information.

We have a social research shop within Parks Canada that takes in a lot of that data and does a lot of work. This year, for example, there's a big emphasis on new Canadians, which of course will be picked up next year in free entry as well, and on youth programming in terms of trying to continue to grow the base, which, as I've said, seems to be growing quite naturally, by being able to make sure we can offer experiences to Canadians that might be different from those of others 20 to 30 years ago, who were looking for a different kind of park experience. A lot of time and research go into that.

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

I know that the discovery pass has been huge. My wife ordered ours before I even had an opportunity to tell her about it. I think your social media or your outreach has been very effective in getting in touch with people.

Tying together my two lines of questioning, do you anticipate or are you worried about the maintenance and preservation of the parks in this particular year, given that hopefully there will be a larger spike? If so, what are you doing to ensure the integrity of the parks is maintained?

4:05 p.m.

Vice-President, Strategic Policy and Investment, Parks Canada Agency

Mitch Bloom

It's interesting to talk about the spiking numbers. They tend to occur in very specific parts of the country and in particular park areas. Banff National Park is a perfect example. The Bruce Peninsula park is another perfect example. Both are very close to urban centres, and people from Calgary or Toronto get into their cars and go out and visit these parks.

In our top 20 parks where we saw this happening, and it happened in the past, each park had to go through an in-depth planning process to deal not just with the traditional 5% increase but with various scenarios. My colleague spoke about student hiring. We have significant student hiring, more than what we would have had previously. In ordering supplies, everything has been pre-ordered based on much larger numbers of visitors, but again, that tends to be concentrated in a somewhat smaller number of parks. It even includes our enforcement and other staff. From traffic management to everything else, we are ready to handle those crowds in those areas.

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

To go back to Mr. Prosper's point about the visitors—or maybe you made it, Mr. Bloom—contributing to the base to make the parks last longer or become more sustainable in the future, this year will only help that, because so many more people will be exposed to this. Is that fair?

4:05 p.m.

Vice-President, Strategic Policy and Investment, Parks Canada Agency

Mitch Bloom

Absolutely, and we're also super-excited because the demographics, as you pointed out, are changing, and more people will come who have perhaps not experienced parks before. Free admission does help.

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Thanks.