Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to contribute to this debate and speak this afternoon on Bill C-7, an act to amend the Department of Canadian Heritage Act and the Parks Canada Agency Act.
On December 12, 2003, as we remember, control and supervision of Parks Canada Agency were transferred from the Minister of Canadian Heritage to the Minister of the Environment. This was done by order in council.
On July 20, 2004, another order in council regarding responsibility for built heritage came into effect. This was necessary in order to clarify the preceding orders. On the one hand, the control and supervision of the policy group on historic places were transferred; I will say something about that in a few moments. The powers and responsibilities and the functions of designing and implementing programs with built heritage as its primary focus, were transferred from the Minister of Canadian Heritage to the Minister of the Environment. Bill C-7 will amend the legislation to reflect these two changes.
I have the honour of representing the riding of Glengarry—Prescott—Russell. I often talk about it in this House. It has a very significant place in the history of Canada. Indeed, it is in the Glengarry area that Sir John Johnson and his disciples, if I can use that term, arrived in 1784. These people were refugees from the war between the United States and England, the war of American independence. At least, this is what the Americans are saying, because the British called that same war by another name. In any case, in the aftermath of that conflict, around 1784, there was this exodus of people living in the 13 colonies, but particularly the state of New York, in the Mohawk Valley. These people crossed the border to get to the area of Lancaster and, later, Williamstown. Incidentally, that town is named after Sir William Johnson, the father of Sir John Johnson, who was the founder of that region.
Mr. Speaker, if I am not mistaken, you are yourself a descendant of these people, some of whom came to my riding of Glengarry—Prescott—Russell.
Sir John Johnson's manor is still in Williamstown, in the Glengarry area. Unfortunately, it is no longer part of my riding. Following the redrawing of the electoral map, it is now located in the riding of Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry. Most of the other sites are located in the riding that I represent.
Talking about interesting historic sites, I do not need to remind hon. members of the flour mill of father Alexander Macdonell, after whom is named the town of Alexandria, in my riding. I should also mention the Macdonell-Williamson house, which proudly bears a plaque attesting to its status of provincial historic site. It is located east of Chute-à-Blondeau, actually in Pointe-Fortune, where part of the town is in Quebec and part of it is in Ontario. The Macdonell-Williamson house is right on the border. These are some examples of historic places in the riding that I represent and in the Glengarry area in general.
It is also interesting to note that the Longueuil seigneury, the one in Ontario, is located in the electoral riding that I represent. Jean Lemoyne, the seigneur of Longueuil, owned that seigneury, which later became the township of Longueuil. Indeed, after 1791, it became the township of Longueuil. We are talking about the region located in my riding. In fact, this means that a part of New France is now in Ontario, because this was a seigneury, the seigneury of Longueuil. I can see that some members opposite are surprised and even pleased by this.
I would also like to talk about some other aspects of the bill, which is, after all, about parks. I am among the lucky people who, because of my duties as a member of Parliament, have had the opportunity to visit a number of national parks, each one more beautiful than the last. I am thinking, for example, of some parks I visited in western Canada this summer, particularly in British Columbia and Alberta.
But I am also thinking about Gross-Île, that extraordinary place in Quebec. That, of course, is the island that saw the arrival of many Canadians of Irish origin, including my wife's ancestors. The hon. members who have met my wife will have noticed her Irish heritage, which is particularly visible in the colour of her hair. My grandchildren resemble her, with those special features. I had the pleasure of visiting Grosse-Île and I recommend such a visit to all my colleagues. It is a truly fascinating experience.
I have been describing some national parks as they exist today. I know there is talk of establishing new parks in a number of regions. For example, in the North there are interesting sites but there are other ecologically interesting areas that I think deserve to be national parks.
For example, here in the national capital region, there is a bog called the Mer Bleue. It is part of the National Capital Commission's lands. It is an NCC park. It is well protected. The NCC is doing a fantastic job and is well managed by its president, Marcel Beaudry, whom I salute and to whom I send my best wishes. The NCC's parks and areas are well protected.
There is another, still larger area of my riding, the Alfred bog. This is a highly sensitive ecological zone. RIght now, it comprises perhaps between 15,000 and 20,000 acres of land. In recent years, unfortunately—but not this past year or the one before, for reasons I shall explain in a couple of minutes—an ecological disaster was shaping up in that region. A group of entrepreneurs had the idea of digging up peat and bagging it for sale to be used as gardening peat moss for vegetable and flower gardens, lawns and the like. This had a very devastating effect on the bog, and on the flora and fauna of the region. Suddenly the people in the villages started to find deer and other smaller wild animals on their lawns. These animals were not able to negotiate the huge ditches dug to drain the peat bog and then excavate the peat. This was a very sad state of affairs. I appealed to the Minister of the Environment, the hon. member for Victoria, who is no longer a minister but one of the benched former ministers, like myself. I got a great deal of help from him in this matter, and take this opportunity to thank him.
Thanks to him, a group known as Nature Conservancy of Canada, or Conservation de la nature in French, bought outright some 3,000 acres of this bog, thereby protecting this huge area.
Just a few months ago, thanks to the United Counties of Prescott and Russell which spearheaded this effort, another large stretch of what was left of the bog that was not already in the hands of the public or para-public sector was purchased. As a result, virtually all that is left of the Alfred bog, in eastern Ontario, is part of this property, either public or para-public, if we include Nature Conservancy of Canada. We have at least protected this very sensitive area.
I am one of those who think the time has come to go further on this issue. The time has come to join our forces to convince the Government of Canada to turn this ecological area, now partly owned by the public, through the United Counties of Prescott and Russell, the South Nation River Conservation Authority, Nature Conservancy of Canada and others, into a park.
With this plea, today, I am taking a first step in advocating in the House of Commons the creation of this park.
Many members go through my riding to get theirs. Many parliamentarians go to Montreal or elsewhere. When they leave Ottawa, they go through the beautiful riding of Glengarry—Prescott—Russell. I hope that members making this trip will stop frequently and spend a lot of money to contribute to the local economy of my riding.
These members who travel in the region and go to the outskirts of Casselman or Saint-Isidore, before stopping to spend lots of money—I sincerely hope they will—will see this area. There is the Larose forest, the site of the Écho d'un peuple production, which talks about our Franco-Ontarian ancestors, and not far from there is the ecological area known as the Alfred bog.
The United Counties of Prescott and Russell and the others made these acquisitions with the support of yours truly and, of course, the then Minister of the Environment. I would like to reiterate my appreciation for everything the hon. member for Victoria did. Now that this has been done, I think it is time to move ahead to the second stage. In other words, the Alfred bog should become a national park.
Today is the first time you have heard this plea in the House of the Commons. It will probably not be the last because this is a very worthwhile project, in my opinion. Some might wonder why I did not raise this issue sooner. After all, I was a minister for a long time. As I just described in detail, the bog was not publicly owned at the time. It was private property.
Now that almost the entire bog has been acquired by government or quasi-government bodies, the project is possible. That is why we should now consider moving ahead with such a project.
Some might say it is not directly related to the bill before us today, but I say it is. We are creating, through legislation, the structure I described at the beginning of my speech and there is no better time to tell officials, ministers and anyone else interested, about the merits of the project I am undertaking for the Alfred bog.
I have thanked the minister and I thank colleagues for supporting the bill. I not only look forward to its speedy adoption by the House of Commons but I also look forward to the day when I can invite all members of the House to the official opening of the Alfred Bog national park.