Mr. Speaker, I understand that Bill C-7 is a technical amendment, a minor technical bill to move Parks Canada Agency from the Department of Canadian Heritage to the Ministry of the Environment.
While my party sees no reason not to support this legislation, I believe it is appropriate to put on the record a number of concerns that the federal government should be aware of in transferring Parks Canada Agency to the Ministry of the Environment.
It has been noted previously in the House that many of the problems that have come to be associated with the poor administration in running our national parks had more to do with the personal failings of the previous minister of Canadian Heritage than in the original intent of Parks Canada Agency being under the purview of Canadian Heritage. I hope that in the haste to distance Parks Canada from the previous minister Parliament is not creating greater problems by putting the environment ministry in charge.
I appreciate that naming the Minister of the Environment as the minister responsible for the purposes of the Parks Canada Agency Act is a transitional provision. Normally, giving any additional power to cabinet and away from Parliament is bad for democracy. It contributes to the democratic deficit which has been accelerated by the Prime Minister. In this case it may prove to be quite necessary to have a sober second thought clause. That is a clause designating which minister and which ministry should be ultimately responsible for policy governing national parks in Canada.
I make this observation based on the example that the people in Ontario have had to face as a consequence of the decision to move some traditional activities as well as traditional responsibilities from their respective departments to the Ontario ministry of the environment. In each of the instances to which I intend to draw attention, the results for the public have been an unmitigated disaster. It would serve no useful purpose for the federal government to repeat the mistakes that are now occurring in the province of Ontario. It is unfortunate that the problems that have been created are all because the Ontario ministry of the environment is involved and because of the way it has interpreted its mandate.
The Ottawa Valley has a proud heritage when it comes to the lumber industry. The decision to move activities normally associated with the industry to the ministry of the environment has caused undue financial hardship as well as job loss to the small sawmill owners of eastern Ontario. I know our friends in northern Ontario are watching to see what is happening here because if we do not stop the attack on sawmills in eastern Ontario, they will be next and they know it.
The Ontario ministry of the environment has taken the position that sawdust is no longer an industrial product. In its mind it is now an industrial waste. The environment ministry has taken that position and now views sawmill owners as being guilty of producing this so-called industrial waste, without the benefit of due process. When asked in court to produce scientific evidence to support the ministry's position, the government lawyer has asked for adjournment after adjournment. This in turn has racked up thousands of dollars in legal bills with postponement after postponement.
Small business does not have the same deep pockets as government. Faced with work orders from the ministry of $40,000, $50,000 or $100,000, as well as mounting legal bills, many small business employers are shutting their doors. Some of these are third or fourth generation family businesses.
Never mind that their product, sawdust, can even be found here in the flower beds on Parliament Hill. Never mind the fact that sawdust is used in many products, such as particle board, which is used in construction, furniture, kitchen cabinets, and products like fuel pellets. It is even used as an ingredient in foodstuffs.
I have stood side by side in court with some of our small sawmill producers. Forcing everyday hardworking citizens into court is wrong.
The decision to remove the administration of the nutrient management act from the department of agriculture to the ministry of the environment has had an equally disastrous effect on farmers in Ontario. With the nutrient management act, water regulations and BSE, farmers are quickly becoming an endangered species. Perhaps farmers could qualify for assistance as endangered species because they sure are not seeing it from government programs.
I have drawn attention to these examples because this so-called housekeeping legislation is transferring our national parks to the ministry of the environment. The record speaks for itself when it comes to activities of ministry of the environment. There needs to be a balance between the desire to preserve the natural heritage in our national parks and the enjoyment of that legacy.
Another example of the chaos that is created when environmental zealots take control is the decision to transfer the responsibility for safe drinking water from the Ministry of Health in Ontario to that same ministry of the environment. Campgrounds, rural churches, community centres, restaurants, any small public facility all face either excessive charges or closure from costly, unworkable regulations. While the minister admits these new regulations are onerous, she still intends to ram them down the throats of rural residents. Delaying the implementation of the new regulations and hoping the anger dies down seems to be the plan with the latest announcement on this issue.
If anyone does not understand the rural revolution that is happening in Ontario and the need for rural people to fight back against government, one need only look no further that the actions of the ministry of the environment to know that rural Canada is at a breaking point when it comes to government intervention. Canadians have traditionally pursued heritage activities. Heritage activities like hunting, fishing, and logging are at odds with certain environmental fanatics who refuse to accept the fact that these traditional heritage activities are legitimate pursuits.
While the government has promised to strengthen the focus on the ecological integrity of Canada's national parks, what does the phrase ecological integrity actually mean? Does it mean that under a ministry of the environment mandate, people will be barred from our national parks?
When I was the official opposition critic for Canadian Heritage, I was approached by snowmobile clubs that had legitimate concerns that the creation of a new national marine park along the north shore of Lake Superior would shut down a major snowmobile trail that links northwestern Ontario with the rest of the province. Can the concerns of snowmobiles and their owners be accommodated by a department of the environment in the same way that Canadian Heritage would?
I urge the government to move slowly and cautiously when it comes to our national parks. For most Canadians, it is our outdoor legacy that really sets this nation apart from all other countries. I look forward to monitoring the way in which the ministry of the environment, or whatever ministry is finally named, handles its mandate when it comes to Canadian heritage, both natural and historic.