Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to take part in today's debate on the amendments by my colleague, a former fellow member of the Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development, in connection with Bill C-7.
I will start by saying that we will be voting in favour of the three amendments proposed by my colleague over the way.
Why? Because we need to make sure to avoid what has happened in the past with respect to the supervision, monitoring and administration of parks. Why do I say this? Because we need to keep clearly in mind that, before this bill was introduced, it was precisely the Department of Canadian Heritage that had responsibility for administering the parks and ensured a degree of supervision. It did so, of course, via an agency, Parks Canada, but the ministerial responsibility lay with Canadian Heritage, which also had responsibility for historical sites.
How can we agree, in any vision or policy on sustainable development and with the government's firm intention to protect the ecological integrity of an area, to any department but the Department of the Environment having control and supervision in this perspective. Well, in fact it was the Department of Canadian Heritage of former minister Sheila Copps, which was responsible for managing our parks.
I feel that the introduction of this bill, which makes official an order-in-council that dates back several months, was a step in the right direction. I do feel, however, that the motions presented by my colleague over the way have clarified the role Environment Canada will need to play if it is to respect the ecology and our ecosystems.
As far back as 1996, an Auditor General's report had some pretty sharp criticicisms of Canadian Heritage's behaviour as far as our parks are concerned.
I will quote just one excerpt from the Auditor General's report, page 7. This is recommendation 31.46:
Parks Canada should develop an effective system for monitoring the ecological conditions in all national parks
And so there were serious shortcomings. What we hope, here on this side of the House, is that the bill and the amendments proposed by my colleague will ensure that the law is perfectly clear with regard to ministerial responsibility.
In fact, as my hon. colleague said, the governor in council gave itself broad power to designate a minister responsible rather than the minister of the environment, at any time. So some limits have been set on this.
I must speak, furthermore, to the sorry state of Canada's parks. I say that because there are two conflicting visions of the way Canada's parks will be managed.
The first vision involves a desire to increase the number of areas under Parks Canada responsibility, so as to increase the number of crown lands, in Quebec among other places, of course. There is another vision under which, in view of the sorry state of our park infrastructure, existing parks would be consolidated.
I have met many Parks Canada employees. As recently as yesterday, they were in my office telling me many things about our Canadian parks system. One of their points was that our Parks Canada employees do not have the resources to do their jobs adequately.
They also reminded me about the sorry state of Parks Canada infrastructure.
Thus, we have important choices to make in coming years. Either we increase the designated areas, protected areas, and abandon the parks we already have, or else we decide to consolidate, restore our surveillance and control systems, and possibly reinvest in the parks we already have.
I hope that we can develop an integrated vision. Of course, we must protect the ecological integrity of our land, especially where there are particularly fragile ecosystems, endangered species, and habitats in need of protection, if we are really going to protect endangered species and those at risk.
Still, this all must happen in cooperation with the Government of Quebec, which has its own network of parks and wildlife reserves. Of course, they, too, need improvement, but we must do it in an integrated way and there is room enough for both systems.
It should be remembered that, whenever an area is designated under Parks Canada, it inevitably becomes federal land, that is land under federal jurisdiction governed by federal legislation.
I think that, in a broader vision, our sensitive areas, our ecosystems could be protected by relying on the sense of responsibility shown by the Government of Quebec in recent years and in recent months in particular. It has demonstrated its desire to increase the number of protected areas. Quebec is, admittedly, seriously lagging behind.
However, we must recognize at the same time that, in recent months and years, the Government of Quebec has come up with a vigorous policy to make up for lost time. I think we are on the right track. We must trust Quebec with protecting these areas.
With respect to existing parks, which come under federal jurisdiction, I am pleased to hear that the responsibility to be conferred upon the Department of the Environment will be further defined.
Also, there are parks not too far from here, like the Gatineau Park, which are under federal jurisdiction and are the responsibility of the National Capital Commission. Yet the NCC does not come under Parks Canada.
The fact is that there are currently areas such as the Gatineau Park, which, while a federal responsibility in principle, are awaiting some form of recognition from the federal government to be integrated into the Parks Canada system.
Even in existing federal structures under federal responsibility there is a serious cleanup to be made. As far as parks currently under federal jurisdiction are concerned, I think the time had come to hand the ministerial responsibility of Canadian Heritage, which has dabbled in propaganda now and then, over to a department whose role is clearly to protect the ecological integrity of our parks. That is the mission of Parks Canada.
It is therefore with great pleasure that I will support my hon. colleague's amendments to clarify the responsibility of the Department of the Environment.