Mr. Speaker, I rise today at third reading of Bill C-38 introduced by the Minister of Canadian Heritage and entitled, after our motion at report stage, an act to amend the National Parks Act and establish Tuktut Nogait park.
The aim of this bill is to create a national park in the Northwest Territories, more specifically, in the Inuvialuit land claim settlement region.
To understand the situation fully, members have to know that, in 1984, the federal government signed an agreement with the native peoples traditionally occupying and using the region of the Beaufort Sea. This agreement was known as the Inuvialuit Final Agreement and accorded the Inuvialuit ownership of part of the lands they claimed.
In exchange for their transferring to the crown their interest in other lands they claimed, the Government of Canada undertook certain obligations with respect to the Inuvialuit living in the region. This agreement was implemented with the 1984 passage of the Western Arctic (Inuvialuit) Claims Settlement Act.
As part of the obligations the federal government undertook with respect to the Inuvialuit, the agreement provided, and I quote “The granting or setting aside for the Inuvialuit of certain lands in the designated region, their right to hunt, to trap and to conduct certain commercial ventures there”.
So, the government begun negotiations concerning the establishment of a national park in this region in 1989 partly to honour its obligations to the Inuvialuit.
The six parties involved in the negotiations were the federal government, the Government of the Northwest Territories, the Inuvialuit regional corporation, the Inuvialuit game management council, the Paulatuk community corporation, and the Paulatuk committee of hunters and trappers.
In 1996, after seven years of negotiations, the parties to this lengthy process signed the agreement to create a national park in the region covered by the Inuvialuit land claim, in the vicinity of Paulatuk, Northwest Territories. The short title for that agreement is the Tuktuk Nogait agreement.
In the Siglik dialect of Inuvialukton, Tuktut Nogait means “caribou calves”, which is not surprising since the park is at the heart of the Bluenose caribou herd's calving grounds.
As everyone knows, the reason for creating a park is that it protects a specific geographical aspect. The 16,340 square kilometers of Tuktuk Nogait Park will represent the natural region of tundra hills.
It is characterized by a rich biodiversity, for its hills and valleys offer lush vegetation and therefore an excellent habitat for the caribou and muskox. Its many cliffs and ramparts provide ideal nesting areas for birds of prey.
Within the park are archaeological sites which confirm that there was a human presence thousands of years ago. There have been settlements in a large part of the park at various times over the last millennium.
The region provides visitors with an opportunity to discover untouched Arctic landscapes, and to observe wildlife and plant life. Activities include hiking, camping, birdwatching, nature watching and photography.
According to the agreement, the objectives of the park's creation are as follows. First, to protect the Bluenose caribou herd and its calving and post-calving habitat.
Second, to protect in perpetuity a natural area in a region of tundra hills, and encourage the public to understand and appreciate the region in such a way as to leave it intact for coming generations.
Third, to promote co-operation among the Inuvialuit, the Government of Canada and the Government of the Northwest Territories in planning, operating and managing the park.
Fourth, to encourage and support the creation and maintenance of jobs and businesses in the region by permitting hunting within the park solely for subsistence purposes.
Fifth, to promote greater understanding and respect for the Inuvialuit cultural heritage and the natural surroundings of this nation.
Sixth, to create an environment suitable for long term research on the ecological and cultural history of the park.
And, seventh, to preserve the park's ecological integrity.
The park will be managed jointly with the Inuvialuit community. The park's board of management will comprise five members, two appointed by the Inuvialuit, two by the federal government—including one on the recommendation of the Northwest Territories government—and a chair appointed with the approval of all parties.
The park board of management will reconcile the various objectives of natural preservation, economic development and respect for native traditions.
The agreement provides for the formulation of a training and community assistance plan to help the residents of Paulatuk develop tourist and economic resources for the park, the priority hiring of qualified Inuvialuit employees and the priority awarding of contracts to Inuvialuit businesses that meet the terms of the contract on the provision of quality goods and services.
In short, the establishment of the Tuktut Nogait park should benefit the Inuvialuit community and all Canadians by protecting and developing this region for generations to come.
However, the park project recently was the focus of a dispute between the Inuvialuit and the government. On February 19, Inuvialuit Regional Corporation CEO Nellie Cournoyea wrote the Secretary of State responsible for parks, asking him to revise the park boundaries.
In light of recent information on the geological possibilities of one region, which occupies 2.5% of the park's area, the Inuvialuit were asking to have that area excluded from the park in order to allow future development.
On March 25, the Secretary of State responsible for Parks wrote back denying the request to review park boundaries.
Since then, things have speeded up. On March 30, the government introduced Bill C-38 at first reading. It was debated at second reading on April 3. On May 26, 28 and 29, the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage held hearings on the bill. On June 1, a clause-by-clause examination of Bill C-38 was begun, and yesterday, June 11, we passed it at the report stage, while today we have moved on to third reading.
The rapidity of this process, given that the agreement was signed two years ago and that nothing had been done since then, makes us uncomfortable.
We regret that some information was not available to us, particularly the text of the final Inuvialuit agreement and its implementing legislation. As well, we got the text of the Tuktut Nogait agreement only very belatedly.
The very brief hearings did not allow us to get a complete picture of the situation and to fully weigh the arguments of the parties involved.
Let us look now at the arguments from both sides.
For the Inuvialuit, the mining potential represents a much needed opportunity for economic development for their community. They were convinced they could obtain a revision of the park boundaries under section 22.1 of the agreement, which states that the agreement may be revisited with the consent of all parties.
There has been no environmental assessment proving that mining would compromise the park's integrity. The Inuvialuit were prepared to accept the findings of a study on this.
The agreement will give the Inuvialuit the means to preserve their cultural identity and values, while participating fully in society and in the economy.
In section 16 of the agreement, the federal government undertook to promote full Inuvialuit participation in the northern Canadian economy, and Inuvialuit integration into Canadian society through development of an adequate level of economic self-reliance and a solid economic base.
From their point of view, the refusal to amend the park's boundaries constitutes the loss of an opportunity to realize their economic development without having to rely on federal government subsidies.
For its part, the government is opposed to re-opening an agreement that took seven years to negotiate. It does not wish to amend the boundaries because this could set a precedent and lead to other requests for changes in unmanaged parks.
The government often holds out the park plan to protect caribou breeding grounds as an important and vital argument.
Canada is also trying to limit mining projects on the American side of the border.
The park's board of management has asked the government to go ahead and create the park. Both sides' arguments have merit and it is difficult to decide clearly which option would most benefit all three groups, the Inuvialuit, the federal government and the general public.
It is hard to decide whether the environmental or the economic arguments should take precedence, because a number of questions remain unanswered. Here are some of these questions.
Will changing the park's boundaries as requested by Inuvialuit officials compromise the main objective sought in creating the park, which is the protection of the Bluenose caribou herd and its calving and post-calving habitat?
Is the area affected by the change a sensitive area that is essential to the park?
What would have been the results of environmental impact studies on mining projects in that area?
Are the prospects of sustainable and long term development for the Inuvialuit community as a whole—through the creation of the park and their participation in its management—better than those provided by a mining project in a part of the territory that is supposed to become part of the park?
In spite of all these unanswered questions, the government decided to go ahead with the creation of the park, with the boundaries that were originally set. I deplore the fact that the government could not find a compromise that everyone could live with. There is no doubt that the creation of the park will have a positive environmental and economic impact on the region, but we will have to make sure the Inuvialuit are not penalized by the government's decision.
This is why I urge the secretary of state responsible for parks, and also his colleagues for Indian Affairs and Northern Development, Natural Resources and Human Resources Development, to make particular efforts to meet the federal government's commitments under the Inuvialuit final agreement, which are to promote the Inuvialuit's full participation in northern Canada's economy, and to help them reach an adequate level of economic self-sufficiency.