Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to enter the debate on Bill C-27.
I would like to start my remarks by reading section 4.(1) of the bill, which seeks to amend the National Parks Act. It states:
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.
I do not think there is a person in Canada who would argue with those sentiments regarding what we consider to be one of our national treasures, which is our national parks system.
In fact, throughout the notes and the newspaper clippings regarding Bill C-27 people use the term national treasure. The word treasure seems to come up very freely in people's minds when they think of Canada's parks. It is probably very Canadian that our greatest national treasure, our parks system, has no monetary value. It is a very Canadian thing. Perhaps it is ironic that we cannot put a price on our national parks. Nor should they ever be commercialized in any way.
This is the sentiment that most Canadians have brought forward to the committee that is dealing with Bill C-27. If we stopped most Canadians on the street, I think they would emphasize over and over again that the last thing they want to see is the over-commercialization of what we consider to be our heritage and our national treasure, which is our national parks system.
The original National Parks Act was passed in 1930. The most recent changes were as long ago as 1988. The National Parks Act sets out legislative mechanisms for preserving our national parks system. It exists solely to preserve our national parks, and we must keep that in mind.
Some of the comments made earlier today by members of other parties frankly worried me in that both the tone and the content of those remarks would lead people to believe that maybe there should be a movement afoot to expand the commercialization or even to expand access to the national parks, which would put into jeopardy their greatest quality, the wilderness aspect and the truly pristine nature of the parks, which is a tourist attraction not just to Canadians, but to people all around the world.
On his radio program not long ago Peter Gzowski said that every year he goes to our newest national park in the high Arctic, a remote, inaccessible, fly-in type of wilderness reserve. He has done this annually since the park was a created a number of years ago. He was saying that he has yet to run into another Canadian tourist there. The people who visit the park are the Japanese, the Germans, the Swiss, the British—people from densely populated areas of the world who value and cherish the pristine nature of the true wilderness of the Canadian north and the Canadian parks system. That sort of struck me. I think maybe we do not appreciate what we have here. I think we undervalue the true resources we have in ecotourism.
It would be like killing the goose that laid the golden egg to allow an advanced level of commercialism into a park. It would deter from the ecotourism opportunities that should exist for generations and generations. Those opportunities would become more valuable as the settings became more rare and more threatened by expansion.
There are parts of the world, and I have travelled to many of them, where human beings have soiled their nest to the point they can no longer lie in it. These people want the peace and serenity that comes with communing with nature to a degree that we can only do in our national parks system.
We are very pleased that Bill C-27 will amend the National Parks Act to streamline the process of establishing new parks. We feel this is very important. We feel that the current system of establishing new parks has been cumbersome and lengthy. We believe that the system could benefit greatly if the early stages of the research necessary to establish a new park could be done by order in council instead of parliament. Ultimately, the final choice has to be made by parliament, but the intermediate steps could be done by order in council. This would streamline the process for creating new national parks.
We in the NDP are very pleased that Bill C-27 will control the commercial development within park communities. There are seven communities within our national parks. All communities, by their very nature, wish to grow, prosper and develop. However, we have to treat these seven communities very differently. There has to be a different set of rules because of the very sensitive surroundings they find themselves in. They are unique in Canada. We have to allow these communities to prosper and flourish as a community without the normal type of expansion that we see.
Steps have been taken to limit the population in Banff National Park for that very reason. The town of Banff has to be curtailed because of its immense international popularity. People naturally crave and seek to live in those types of beautiful surroundings. This has to be dealt with by government. We are glad to see that Bill C-27 will expand and enhance the ability of the government to regulate that sort of thing.
The amendments in Bill C-27 will increase the protection of wildlife and other park resources. I know the hon. parliamentary secretary used some examples of the horrific impact of poaching, whether it is for trophies for hunters or whether it is for the trafficking of animal parts for medicinal purposes and so on.
The hon. member used the example of Dall sheep. I am well aware that the value of a Dall sheep trophy head is upwards of $150,000. There is an enormous temptation for those who are leaning that way to abuse the system and poach these animals. Sheep Mountain is within Kluane National Park, where I used to work, where Dall sheep are very famous. They are hunted legitimately by hunters with permits, but they are also poached. I am very glad to hear that Bill C-27 will take steps to further punish those who would threaten our wildlife resources through poaching.
We in the NDP believe that Bill C-27 is a Liberal reaction to what has been allowed to become an absolute mess. I spent the first few minutes of my speech pointing out the things that we appreciate about Bill C-27, but I would be remiss not to point out the fact that devastating Liberal budget cuts year after year have decimated the ranks of our Parks Canada staff.
The cuts have decimated the parks in the sense that staff no longer have the ability to control the traffic through our parks or the number of people using our parks. Our national parks in Canada are in desperate need of repair.
Before I blow its horn or sound its virtues too loudly, Bill C-27 is the bare minimum that the Liberal government could be doing to address what we consider to be an abrogation of responsibility. Some cuts just do not heal, and the cuts made to national parks personnel have really threatened and jeopardized the integrity of our national parks system.
The bill formally establishes seven national parks, most of them with names that I cannot say, as they are in a language I do not speak. Three of them are in Nunavut, I am pleased to say. One is in the Northwest Territories. One is in my home province of Manitoba, on the shores of Hudson's Bay, and is called Wapusk. Wapusk in the Cree language means white bear.
This area on the shore of Hudson's Bay, in the federal riding of Churchill, is one of the very well known breeding grounds and calving grounds for the polar bear population. I am very pleased to see this area recognized and protected within the parameters of a national park.
There will be a new park called Grasslands in the province of Saskatchewan, which will preserve some of the native prairie of the great prairie region that I come from. There will also be a new park in Newfoundland called Gros Morne. I should point out as well that in British Columbia the Pacific Rim National Park will occupy the area currently occupied by the West Coast Trail, a very popular tourist destination. This area has such a degree of traffic and such an interest for international travellers that it is only fitting it should be preserved and enshrined as a heritage area and designated as one of our national parks.
There has been a great deal of interest in the bill. I have various newspaper clippings in which journalists have commented on the action that will be taken by Bill C-27. One interesting comment which was made in an Ontario newspaper pointed out that under the current legislation, unbelievably, there are no legislative controls on commercial development in park communities.
People took it for granted that our parks were being cared for better than that, that successive governments would have been seized of the issue adequately enough to make sure that there were some legislative controls on commercial development within our parks, but this article points out that all that exists is a provision whereby the boundaries of Banff and Jasper may be fixed by adding them to a schedule of the act. That is a pretty modest intervention; not really enough to be satisfied that our national parks are being cared for or that commercial expansion is not threatening the integrity of our parks.
We are pleased that within the proposed legislation community plans based on legislated principles will be proposed for each park community and that those community plans will be tabled in parliament.
The legislation would control commercial development in the park communities by providing the authority to entrench in a schedule of the National Parks Act the boundaries of each park community, the boundaries of the commercial zones and the maximum commercial floor space allowed. We are really getting quite specific. We are defining how big we will allow these communities to get within our national parks.
No one wants to see the beauty of our national parks trivialized by turning them into a Disneyland. We do not want Dolly Parton setting up some kind of a theme park within one of our national parks. In my opinion, that would cheapen those parks for all future use.
As I said earlier, there are seven communities within the national parks. Everyone is aware of the towns of Banff and Jasper, and the visitor centres of Lake Louise, Field and Waterman Lakes, but not many people know that Wasagaming and Waskiseu are also within national parks. All of these communities experience to varying degrees internal pressures to develop. As I said, it is only natural for a community and for the town councillors to want to promote and expand their community. We have to caution them that they have the great privilege of living within one of our national parks, among the scenery, the beauty and the serenity of our national parks, and that they have a unique obligation to maintain their community, perhaps even to a higher set of standards than we hold for people outside the national parks.
That will be in the legislation. It will no longer be an option. It will be deemed to be law.
The community plans will have to be tabled in the House of Commons. Most Canadians agree that a community plan for a community within a national park has to be consistent with the management plan for the park, first and foremost. A town or community will have its own objectives and goals. Those goals will have to be harmonized with the long term interests of the park.
In the aboriginal community there is a saying that no decisions should be made until we consider seven generations back and seven generations forward. I think that would be a good motto or theme for people who are considering the future of our national parks. We have to consider with any changes we make what they will do for at least seven generations forward. That would be our obligation. If every generation adopted that, we would move forward with some cohesive plan.
I have already talked about the poaching penalties. I am pleased to see in another newspaper article that the penalties range from a $10,000 fine on summary conviction to a $150,000 fine and/or imprisonment of up to six months on indictment. I approve of that wholeheartedly.
Having lived in the north and having seen poachers in action even within the boundaries of our national parks, our party supports thoroughly the idea that penalties should be increased to be commensurate with the crime. As our natural wildlife resources are depleted and get more and more scarce, that crime is becoming more and more severe than it ever was before. It should be viewed that way.
Bill C-27 could be considered to be the Liberal response to a series of damning reports on Canada's national parks. It is no secret to the general community what 10 years of negligence has done to the national parks. It has been well documented and well recorded in a variety of reports, not the least of which is the 1996 Banff-Bow Valley task force report and Parks Canada's own 1994 and 1997 state of the parks reports. Another very damning and condemning report was the landmark report of the Panel on the Ecological Integrity of Canada's National Parks.
The term ecological integrity comes up often. I noticed the minister borrowed this language when she first announced Bill C-27. In her statement of March 16, 1999 when she tabled this legislation and spoke to it on introduction, she said, and this is one comment with which I agree, “Our national parks are treasures that we must protect for all Canadians and for all future generations”. Nobody can argue with that kind of lofty principle.
She went on to say, “The tabling of the bill fulfils my June 26, 1998 commitment to take further steps to preserve the ecological integrity of the country's national parks”. That is where we have to blow the whistle. It is really stretching things to say that the tabling of Bill C-27 fulfils her June 26 commitment to take further steps to preserve ecological integrity. I cannot agree with that and I am surprised the minister had the nerve to say that Bill C-27 achieves that.
As I said, the term ecological integrity sums up the prevailing wisdom of environmentalists in regard to development within parks. It is common language usage and it has a very specific meaning to those who are experts in the field. It is not just two words thrown together. People recognize the term as meaning a certain thing. I do not believe the minister can convince anybody that Bill C-27 is going to have the effect of actually preserving the ecological integrity of our parks.
The person who currently chairs the environment committee, and I am unable to remember which riding he represents, but when he was a member of the opposition in 1988 he was also a member of the environment committee. He proposed an amendment to the Canada Parks Act.