Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to take part in the debate on Bill C-7 at second reading.
Before starting, I would like to go back to the question put to the member for Rosemont--La Petite-Patrie by two of my colleagues and myself.
The member tried to turn our question into a political issue, distorting its goal. Nobody in the Quebec Liberal caucus wants the Quebec government to transfer national parks under its own jurisdiction to the federal government . That is not the case. What the member tried to say is not fact. The fact is that in Quebec there are national parks under federal jurisdiction. As a matter of fact, there is one in my riding. It is a tiny one located in an urban setting. It comes under federal jurisdiction. It is federal land.
In the Province of Quebec there is land which is not provincial but federal. The question was whether the member, in view of his concern for the environment and the ecological integrity of national parks under federal jurisdiction, wanted the federal government to create and manage other national parks in Quebec.
I now return to my speech. I'm quite sure that the member for Rosemont--La Petite-Prairie will use the question and comment period to get back to the topic.
It gives me great pleasure today to speak at second reading of Bill C-7, an act to amend the Department of Canadian Heritage Act and the Parks Canada Agency Act and to make related amendments to other acts.
The bill would give legislative effect to the government reorganization that was announced on December 12, 2003, as it affects Parks Canada, the Minister of Canadian Heritage and the Minister of Environment.
The bill would update existing legislation to reflect two orders in council that came into effect in December 2003 and July 2004, which transferred control and supervision of the Parks Canada Agency from the Minister of Canadian Heritage to the Minister of the Environment.
The bill would clarify that Parks Canada is responsible for historic sites and places in Canada, and for the design and implementation of programs that relate to built heritage.
Permit me to take members back a few years to introduce members to what is meant by ecological integrity of our national parks. In March 2000 the independent panel on the ecological integrity of Canada's national parks tabled its report. The panel's report was quite comprehensive and contained more than 120 recommendations for action. As it was intended to be, the report was very frank.
The report was very frank in pointing out the challenges that face our national parks. In fact, it is perhaps a misnomer for me to say the challenges that face our national parks, but the deplorable conditions in which some of our national parks exist.
The report confirmed that most of Canada's national parks have been progressively losing precisely those natural components which they were dedicated to protect. Accordingly, the independent panel called for a fundamental reaffirmation of the legislative framework that protects the parks, together with policies to conserve these places and the appropriation of the funds necessary to support these efforts.
I was quite pleased, listening to my colleagues on both sides of the House, Conservative, Bloc, unfortunately the NDP has not spoken as yet at second reading but I am positive that someone from the NDP will speak at second reading on the bill, and the colleagues within my own caucus.
They have all made the point that this is a good piece of legislation that they support. They have also made the point that there needs to be, other than this legislation, the appropriation of proper levels of funding to ensure the ecological integrity of our national parks and monuments.
Parks Canada committed itself to implementing the report and its recommendations fully, that means all 120 recommendations, insofar as it was legislatively and fiscally possible. It is now being done in full dialogue with all affected parties and helped tremendously by the funding announced in the 2003 budget.
Parks Canada's first priority is to maintain or restore the ecological integrity of our national parks. This is prescribed by the governing legislation, the Canada National Parks Act, which was proclaimed in February 2001. For instance, clause 8 states:
Maintenance or restoration of ecological integrity through the protection of natural resources and processes, shall be the first priority when considering all aspects of the management of parks.
Why is ecological integrity so important, some Canadians may ask and some of my colleagues on both sides of the House may ask? I am sure I will never be able to answer it fully. There are others who have a lot more knowledge than I do in this area. I will make my poor attempt to answer it.
Ecological integrity is important because the loss of natural features and processes deprives Canadians of the opportunity to use and enjoy these places for the purposes for which they were intended. Loss of ecological integrity contradicts the very purposes for which our parks were set aside and constitutes an irreversible loss of heritage for both current and future generations.
By making ecological integrity a priority, we make human beings a priority through protecting our precious heritage sites today and forever.
Achieving the maintenance or restoration of ecological integrity also means putting science first. Parks Canada is committed to becoming a science based organization. This includes traditional ecological knowledge.
Our national parks and our national historic sites are very important symbols of Canada. Canadians, through personal visits and other learning mechanisms, can use these places to enhance their pride in and knowledge of Canada and Canadians.
Parks Canada is also committed to an expanded outreach program to convey accurate, interesting and up to date information to Canadians. The provision of information via the Internet is a priority for Parks Canada. This approach is paying off as millions are visiting the Parks Canada website on a monthly basis, not only from Canada but also from countries such as Australia, Japan, Italy and Germany. This type of proactive outreach continues to intensify and is aimed at our urban areas.
In effect, the objective is to bring our national parks and their values to people who may not otherwise have the opportunity to visit them or who may have an opportunity to visit them only infrequently. Let us just talk about local historical sites in one's town, community or city. When family comes to visit we tell them about those sites. In Montreal, we say they have to see the St. Joseph's Oratory, the Notre Dame Basilica in old Montreal or this place or that place, the various historical sites.
Most of the time, at least 5 times out of 10, when we speak to residents of that city, we find there is a good chance they have never set foot in particular historical sites, for a variety of reasons. If that is true when the sites are immediately accessible through a bus ride, a walk, the metro or a bicycle ride from where someone lives, we can imagine how inaccessible some of our parks may be to ordinary Canadians who perhaps do not travel outside of their immediate environment. By having this Internet website and the outreach program available, we bring the knowledge, the pride and the information, those parks and those sites themselves, into the homes of ordinary Canadians.
The marketing programs emphasize the primary conservation purposes of our national parks. Accordingly, visitors are encouraged to understand and respect these purposes and to plan their activities and visits to align with them.
Parks Canada is committed to improving ecological integrity in a number of ways: first, through communication, specifically, enhanced interpretation and education activities; second, reducing facility impacts; third and finally, implementing up to date environmental management practices and technologies.
In its tourism and marketing planning, Parks Canada must take fully into account the huge economic value and significant social contribution of our parks both locally and nationally.
I would stress that one cannot sustain economic benefits without enhancing both the natural environment of parks and the visitors' enjoyment of them. It is only common sense that we must maintain or restore the ecological integrity of our parks. People will simply refuse to visit our parks that are unacceptably degraded; I believe that was one of the points made by the independent panel on the ecological integrity of our national parks in its March 2000 report.
Equally, I would stress that any changes must be and will be implemented in full consultation with partners, including provinces and territories, national and regional tourism, non-governmental bodies and of course our first nations.
A priority area of the panel's report concerned the impact of elements that had their origins in places external to park boundaries. To deal with such factors, the panel called for renewed and extended partnership. Proposed transfers of land is one such partnership. In this respect, the panel was coming from a place that we are all familiar with: the notion that what I do in my backyard can have significant effects in my neighbour's backyard.
It is difficult to overestimate the importance of these issues because, as we know, our national parks have many concerns shared in common by partners such as provinces, aboriginal people, private landowners and various other interests.
In particular, I have never known, and I do not believe there is an MP in the House who has ever known, nature to recognize or respect a human boundary. One day a grizzly bear may be in a national park and the next day in another jurisdiction. Likewise, rivers flow through jurisdictions. Acid rain from many kilometres away becomes a park problem when it impacts on our national park resources. The list goes on and on, so fundamentally, renewed and extended cooperation among neighbours who share common concerns is the only option toward maintaining ecological integrity.
The bottom line here is that we must improve the ways we work together if we are to safeguard the future of our national parks. The nature of the programs we devise to do so has to be established in cooperation and consultation with interested parties. Throughout the process, the prerogative of constitutionally defined jurisdictions--that is for my colleague from Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie--as well as the rights of private property owners will be and must be respected.
I have just sketched a very broad overview of where Parks Canada is coming from and where it hopes to go. In summary, the panel report on ecological integrity was an important milestone for the future of the national parks of Canada. Parks Canada has taken it seriously and is moving forward to implement the directions it recommended. That implementation in a purposeful yet sensitive way is bringing benefits to us all. Its neglect would have meant untold costs to Canadians forever. The provinces, the territories and aboriginal peoples are, will be and shall be significant partners in achieving the protection of our national parks.
Viewed narrowly, however, in terms of jurisdiction alone, Canada's national parks and other federal protected places fall under the stewardship of the federal government, but really they belong to all of us, to each and every Canadian. They are the legacy of each and every one of us today to future generations. Let us in a very small way, by voting in favour of this legislation, enable future historians to say that on our watch at least we did what we could to protect this precious legacy and hopefully we left it in better condition than we found it.
I will close by saying that in the House during the debate someone said that the unions for employees of Parks Canada were in favour of this legislation transferring the Parks Canada Agency from Heritage Canada to Environment Canada, but the speaker was not sure, given the labour disputes that were ongoing, whether or not they were still in favour. That party intended to meet with members of the union.
I would like to say that I have in fact met with members of the union. I met with them early in September. I met with some constituents who are members of Parks Canada and members of the union. One of the subjects of discussion, besides the issue of the contract negotiations and their requests for their collective agreements, was in fact the future of Parks Canada, the future of our national parks. They were very supportive of the idea that the Parks Canada Agency be transferred to Environment Canada. They were very supportive of the fact that in doing so we have a better chance of preserving and enhancing the ecological integrity of our national parks and monuments.
However, I also have to say that one of their concerns was lack of sufficient funding and the fact that too many of the employees were not full time, permanent employees, the result of which is at times disjointed implementation of policies. One of the things they asked me to do was bring that message to the Hill. I have done so. I have spoken with the ministers responsible, with the parliamentary secretary and with members of our caucus.
In conclusion, this is, as everyone has said, a technical change, but it is an important change because it shows the vision that this government has going forward with regard to our national parks and sites and monuments located within the parks. This is our vision for our national heritage. I encourage all members of the House to support this legislation. I look forward to the work that the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development will do with this piece of legislation.