Madam Speaker, I am pleased, on behalf of the Bloc Quebecois, to address at second reading Bill C-27, the Canada National Parks Act. This bill is an overhaul of the existing act.
The main changes proposed in this bill are a new process for the establishment of future parks, a substantial increase in fines relating to poaching, and ways to restrict the development of communities located within park boundaries.
The Bloc Quebecois supports the principle of the bill. However, it will listen carefully to the comments and proposals by the various groups appearing before the heritage committee. The Bloc Quebecois also intends to raise certain major concerns, including some that have to do with the wording of a fundamental provision of the Canada National Parks Act, namely clause 4, which deals with public use of parks.
The Bloc Quebecois also notes that while the Minister of Canadian Heritage claims to want to put environmental protection at the core of this legislation, she does not provide adequate funding to Parks Canada.
Indeed, when it comes to funding, the minister is more inclined to implement procedures that do not concern her department, such as the increase in fines and in lease rates.
Worse still, while Parks Canada is faced with an urgent need to radically change its culture to protect the parks' environment, Parks Canada's net budget will be reduced from $313 million in 1998 to $283 million in 2001.
I would like review the main amendments to the National Parks Act and, in passing, indicate the Bloc Quebecois' position on each.
Let us begin with the changes to the procedure for establishing new parks. The current legislation calls for any new national park to be created by legislative means. Bill C-27, however, proposes a new procedure involving an order in council. This is to be tabled in each House of Parliament and then referred to the appropriate standing committees, but they will not have much time to address it. Parliament will then be able to refuse to endorse it, and thus it will be rejected. As well, the area of a national park may not be reduced except by legislative means.
We have two comments to make on this section of the bill. First of all, we appreciate the fact that the government makes a commitment in clause 5 not to create any new park without provincial consent. This is very important. Respect for the sovereignty of Quebec over its territory is essential to the Bloc Quebecois' support in principle of this bill. We do, however, feel that the time limit for examination of the order by taxpayers and parliamentarians is too short.
In fact, clause 7 of the bill stipulates that, from the time a proposal for a new park or expansion of a park is tabled in the House, the House and the committee will have just 20 days—that is right, 20 days—to reach a conclusion on the proposed modification set out in the order. We do not think that is enough to enable parliamentarians to do their work and taxpayers to organize.
The bill also proposes the establishment of seven new parks: three in Nunavut, one in the Northwest Territories, one in Newfoundland, one in Manitoba and one in Saskatchewan. It also proposes the establishment of a reserve, at Pacific Rim in British Columbia. Finally, it proposes the expansion of the Point Pelee to include Middle Island. This park is located in Ontario on Lake Erie.
One important thing, the bill proposes to increase fines and establish new offences. The existing legislation provides fines for poaching wildlife. These fines vary from $10,000 to $150,000 and may involve imprisonment.
With Bill C-27, the fines for poaching would increase from $50,000 and/or six months' imprisonment on summary conviction to $150,000 and/or up to five years' imprisonment on conviction on indictment as the result of a charge.
These fines for poaching are in keeping with those found in the Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act, the Canadian Wildlife Act and the Migratory Birds Convention Act.
The bill contains a new offence for trafficking. This offence will apply to fauna, flora and natural resources. Thus the possession of rare plants and fossils for trade or barter and the possession of objects with the intention of trafficking constitute an offence. The maximum fine will be $10,000, but it could go as high as $150,000 with imprisonment when endangered or protected species are involved.
Bill C-27 also proposes penalties for repeat offenders. Its provisions allow for the imposition of fines for each specimen of wildlife species taken, and for each day during which an offence is committed. Finally, the bill will allow authorities to recover the costs of cleaning up the damage caused by substances spilled in a park. The Bloc Quebecois cares about the parks' environmental integrity and supports all of these measures.
The bill also seeks to restrict the development of communities. Currently, the existing act does not include any mechanism to restrict the commercial development of communities located in parks. The proposed new legislation corrects this flaw by providing that parliament will approve community plans that will become schedules to the act. These plans will have to be consistent with the management plan for the park in which the community is located and with any guidelines established by the minister for appropriate activities within the park community, provide a strategy for the management of growth within the park community, and be consistent with principles of no net negative environmental impact and responsible environmental stewardship and heritage conservation.
The plan will include a description of the lands comprising the park community, a description of the lands comprising the commercial zones of the park community, and an indication of the maximum floor area permitted within the commercial zones of the park community. This means that commercial growth will be subject to ceilings, and any change will require passage of a new act, which means a national debate in parliament.
Thus all opinions on the matter could be expressed at that time. We note, however, that the bill has nothing to say on many points relating to these communities. There is no reference to who will draw up these community plans, nor to how the communities will finance standard utilities. There is no assurance of an elementary respect for municipal bylaws or provincial regulations. This is a point of considerable concern to the Bloc Quebecois.
Clause 16, moreover, gives the governor in council considerable powers over the communities. It is stated in 16(g) states that the governor in council may make regulations respecting:
(g)the issuance, amendment and termination of leases, licences of occupation and easements or servitudes, and the acceptance of the surrender or resiliation of leases and the relinquishment of licences of occupation and easements or servitudes, of or over public lands
(i) in towns and visitor centres, for the purposes of residence, schools, churches, hospitals, trade, tourism and places of recreation or entertainment,
(ii) in resort subdivisions, for the purpose of residence.
This clause disconcerts us because there is a total lack of recourse for those living within national parks against potential abuse of such regulatory power.
The Bloc Quebecois intends to listen to what community representatives have to say when the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage meets. In the opinion of the Bloc Quebecois, their point of view must be taken into consideration, and a proper balance struck between their interests and those of conserving the environment.
Above and beyond this bill, a change in corporate culture is required. Unfortunately, the bill shows no evidence of this. In fact, the focal point of the bill, clause 4, states as follows:
4.(1) The national parks of Canada are hereby dedicated to the people of Canada for their benefit, education and enjoyment, subject to this Act and the regulations, and the parks shall be maintained and made use of so as to leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.
The Bloc Quebecois considers that this bill puts the focus more on the benefit and enjoyment of the people of Canada than on the ecological protection of the national parks. The former appear first, while ecological integrity comes second. We should reverse the order of this provision and strengthen the wording to make clear the primary purpose of a park.
In fact, in a recent report, the auditor general pointed out that the national parks were used more for tourist purposes than to preserve their ecological integrity. He deplored the fact that the protection of the natural setting was at the mercy of visitor traffic.
Allow me to quote the auditor general:
Delays in preparing management plans and ecosystem conservation plans reduce Parks Canada's ability to preserve the ecological integrity of national parks.
Thirteen parks reported that they did not have a fully completed ecosystem conservation plan. The management plans of the six parks that we reviewed did not provide a clear link between ecological integrity objectives and initiatives. We are concerned that in some instances, management plans emphasize social and economic factors over ecological factors.
Last month, the Panel on the Ecological Integrity of Canada's National Parks released its report in which it said:
The majority of the parks report today a considerable and growing loss of ecological integrity, particularly in the smallest parks and those located more to the south—