Mr. Speaker, I am happy to participate in this debate this morning on the motions to amend Bill C-7, which is the act to amend the Department of Canadian Heritage Act and the Parks Canada Agency Act and to make related amendments to other acts.
As a member of the New Democratic Party, I strongly support Bill C-7, because I think this is a long overdue change to put Parks Canada back with the Minister of the Environment. However, I have some concerns about making that a permanent decision and ensuring that responsibility stays with the Minister of the Environment. The motions now before us now address that. We want to ensure that the Minister of the Environment continues to have the responsibility for Parks Canada.
We want to ensure that person who has the expertise and who has concern for the biodiversity of Canada and for the ecological concerns in Canada maintains the responsibility for our parks, as they are a key aspect of the policies around the environment.
We are also concerned about the constant shifting of the responsibility for Parks Canada. Some years ago it was with Environment Canada. It shifted to Canadian Heritage. Now it is shifting back to the Minister of the Environment. Each time we do that, we spend valuable dollars that could be spent on building and maintaining our parks and infrastructure in our parks, which is always in jeopardy and has always been underfunded. We want to avoid those changes which constantly add to the problems of our park system. We think the Minister of the Environment is the key person to look after parks and that is where responsibility for that should lie.
We want to avoid those changes which constantly add to the problems of our park system. We think the Minister of the Environment is the key person to look after parks and that is where responsibility for that should lie.
Earlier it was suggested that this might be some attempt to limit the power of the Prime Minister to appoint the minister. We are saying nothing about the Prime Minister's ability to appoint the Minister of the Environment. All we are saying is that the Minister of the Environment should be the cabinet minister who has responsibility for parks. We want to ensure that responsibility remains with that minister.
Furthermore, we think that if there is to be some change in this, given the importance of it, the House should have some say in that decision. That is why we suggest that the ability of the cabinet, the governor in council, to shift the parks mandate from one ministry to another without seeking the consent of the House should be removed from the bill, and one of the motions addresses that issue.
Parks are a key issue for Canadians and a key part of our Canadian heritage and our sensibilities as Canadians. Our natural areas are important to us. They are a spiritual place for Canadians. They are a place where we go for recreation and where we celebrate the natural beauty of the country. We want to ensure that central place in the psyche of Canadians is recognized by the legislation before us. We think that ensuring the House has a say in where that responsibility lies and a continuing say in where it lies will address that.
We also want to ensure that people with expertise in ecological integrity and other ecological issues can have the responsibility for parks. That is why we think it is important that this function remain with the Minister of the Environment.
It is part of an overall strategy. Parks are not something that is isolated that can be shifted around willy-nilly from ministry to ministry. We have fought long and hard to ensure that the responsibility for our parks is seen as part of a broad environmental strategy for Canada, a broad strategy of biodiversity in Canada. We want to ensure that the parks remain with the appropriate minister for that. Clearly for us, that is the Minister of the Environment.
Bill C-7 addresses some important issues, important issues that the NDP has always supported. We have always believed that the environment department should have responsibility for national parks. Our critic, the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley, has spoken very strongly in the House and in committee on that issue.
We think this shift supports the biodiversity goals that we have. Centralizing responsibility for agencies concerned with biodiversity ensures for a more coherent strategy and communication. Park Canada Agency will join the Canadian Wildlife Service, the biodiversity convention office, in the environmental umbrella. We think that is a very appropriate place for it to be because it is linked intimately with those other agencies and offices.
In contrast, the Ministry of Canadian Heritage has no other responsibilities for biodiversity. We think this is a really crucial move, a key one which makes logical sense and gives the biodiversity issues their appropriate place.
This shift also resonates with our philosophy of national parks as wilderness areas. Parks Canada Agency's most sacred charge is to protect our national parks. We view many of these as wilderness areas, biologically diverse places where Canadians can connect and identify with nature.
Our parks are places where Canadians go for recreation. It is a spiritual trek for many Canadians. It is not just recreation in the sense of diversion, sports playing, hiking, or time away; it is recreation in that we get to recreate our sense of self and our sense of the world. Our parks have a particular place in that , a very central place in the spirituality of many Canadians.
Moving responsibility for Parks Canada to Canadian Heritage was widely seen to reflect a more mundane philosophy of national parks. It conflated them in with our built heritage, our human constructed heritage. Moving Parks Canada back to Environment Canada makes a positive statement about the value of our wilderness areas.
We have noted that organizations such as the Sierra Club of Canada in one of its report cards acknowledged that there was some progress on a green agenda in Canada, but concluded that the federal government's marks have been sliding in relation to protecting nature, parks, endangered species and the life of our oceans. We want to make sure that that trend is reversed. Putting the parks in with Environment Canada is a significant way of ensuring that we do better in the area of protecting our wilderness spaces and ensuring that the appropriate attention is paid to our national parks system.
Canadians do not want to see any slippage in our parks system. They do not want to see any further loss of our wilderness areas, any further decrease in the biodiversity of this country. We want to make sure that our parks, as a primary agent of ensuring those things, are resting with the appropriate people. We want to make sure that the appropriate people are doing that work and that the appropriate minister is overseeing that work.
That is why with the amendments we are proposing today we want to ensure that the Minister of the Environment is the key minister involved in overseeing and ensuring the health, well-being and the development of our parks. We want to ensure that they are protected wilderness areas, that they are places of retreat and recreation for Canadians, that they have the appropriate habitat for wildlife and flora and fauna.
We want to make sure that continues and cannot be changed willy-nilly and cavalierly. We want to make sure that the House has a say in any further changes or any further attempt to move that around. We want to make sure the House has a chance to examine exactly what the reasons for any proposed change in the future would be. We want to ensure that the ideals of Canadians are maintained with regard to the importance of parks within our country.