Mr. Speaker, when we get into discussions about various legislation, we always find the opportunity to have dialogue on a number of issues that are concurrent to particular legislation. One of the wonderful things about Parliament is that we get the opportunity to not only bring forward ideas and issues that are consistent for our own ridings, but things in which we have a common interest.
Tonight, certainly, that has been apparent through the discussions. We have been able to convey issues that are important not only to our children and grandchildren but also to us.
Bill C-7, which is before us for consideration at third reading, can be perceived as an administrative shift; in other words, the appropriate realignment of the duties and responsibilities of these areas, whether it relates to historic sites or the designation of our parks. It is very appropriate that they be so delineated so they can get the resources they deserve.
The parliamentary secretary addressed the legislative components and, from an administrative standpoint, where it was best suited. I want to now delve into an issue that has been alluded to by a number of others, which is the ecological integrity and the realignment of our national parks as it relates to the realignment under Parks Canada.
It gives me great pleasure to address the third reading of 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. 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 the Environment.
The bill would update existing legislation to reflect two orders in council that came into effect in December 2003 and also in July 2004, which transferred the control and supervision of the Parks Canada Agency from the Minister of Canadian Heritage to the Minister of the Environment. The bill also clarifies that Parks Canada is responsible for historic places in Canada and for the design and implementation of programs that relate to built heritage.
As we are aware, the battlefields, as they are known here in Canada, continue to be under Heritage Canada because of the commission that was established back in 1908 for that purpose.
Permit me to take members back a few years to introduce them to what I mean by ecological integrity in our national parks. In March 2000 the independent panel on 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 in pointing out not only the deficiencies but the challenges that face our national parks.
One of the previous members referred to the fact that when we talk about identification, whether it is the Canadian flag, the maple leaf or the beaver, the recognition of our national parks ranks with those as being something that is truly Canadian.
The panel's report confirmed that most of Canada's national parks had been progressively losing precisely those important natural components that we as a government and all of us as members of Parliament were dedicated to protect.
Accordingly, the 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 funds necessary to support these efforts.
Parks Canada committed itself to implementing the report and its 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 budget 2003. I would anticipate further funding will be committed in budget 2005.
Parks Canada's first priority for national parks is to maintain or restore ecological integrity. This is prescribed by the government legislation, that is the Canada National Parks Act, proclaimed in 2001. Subsection 8(2) reads:
Maintenance or restoration of ecological integrity, through the protection of natural resources and natural processes, shall be the first priority of the Minister when considering all aspects of the management of parks.
Why is ecological integrity so important? It is important because the loss of natural features, natural features that are so identified within our national parks and processes, deprive 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 constitute an irreversible loss of heritage to both current and future generations.
Achieving the maintenance or restoration of ecological integrity also means putting science first. 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 of Canadians.
Parks Canada is committed to an expanded public education and outreach program to convey accurate, interesting and up to date information to Canadians and those who are not Canadians, and perhaps those who would like to be Canadians.
The provision of information via the Internet is a priority for Parks Canada. This type of interactive outreach continues to intensify and is aimed at our urban areas. The objective is, in effect, to bring our national parks and their values to people who may not otherwise have the opportunity to visit them or may visit them only infrequently.
Our 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, rightfully so, is committed to improving ecological integrity in a number of ways: first, improving our science, particularly research and monitoring the health of our parks; second, through communication, specifically enhanced interpretation and education activities; third, reducing impacts on facilities; and fourth, implementing up to date environmental management practices and technologies.
I would stress that one cannot sustain economic benefits without enhancing both the natural environment of the parks and visitors' enjoyment of them. I would equally stress that any changes must and will be implemented in full consultation with partners, including the provinces and territories, national and regional tourism, non-governmental bodies and, of course, aboriginal people. If indeed town sites and municipal authorities are so involved, they also will be involved in our dialogue.
A priority area of the panel's report concerned the impact of stressors that have their origin in places external to the park's boundaries. To deal with such factors, the panel called for renewed an expanded partnerships. The proposed transfer of lands is one such partnership. In this respect the panel was coming up from a place with which we are all familiar: the notion that what we do in our own backyard can have significant effects in our neighbour's backyard.
I will digress for a moment and talk about my experiences and understandings. I had the pleasure of serving as an elected individual in a municipal setting for close to 22 years. In that capacity I served as chairman of one of the 38 conservation authorities in the province of Ontario. These were set up in the late 1950s to recognize the major impact of hurricane Hazel which came through and devastated many town sites and certainly our water course system. The legislation that was brought in at the time identified the need for the creation of watersheds. It identified that there were no political or municipal boundaries because a water course begins at its source and ultimately finds itself to its mouth. As a result, it impacts everyone in its course.
We found that dealing with our deliberations in a watershed manner gave us the opportunity to consider all the impacts that would have on our neighbours either internally or externally. This is an approach that we will take with the intervention and involvement of Parks Canada in the program where not only what is within our parks is considered, but also the impacts that are felt from the outside.
It is difficult to overestimate the importance of these issues because our national parks have many concerns that are shared in common by partners, such as the provinces, the territories, aboriginal peoples, private landowners and various other interests. There are so many it is hard to name them.
In particular, I have never known nature to recognize or respect a human boundary. One day a grizzly bear may be in a national park and the next day it is in another jurisdiction. Those who are residents in Jasper or in Banff know of the migration or the impact of the flora and fauna on their lives and as a result adjust accordingly. Rivers, likewise, flow through jurisdictions. Acid rain from many kilometres away becomes a park problem when it impacts national park resources. The list goes on and on.
Fundamentally, renewed and extended cooperation among neighbours who share common concerns is the only option toward maintaining ecological integrity. It is in this spirit that the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation and Parks Canada intend to work together to ensure that the ecological integrity of the Pacific Rim continues to be the first priority.
The bottom line 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 will be established in cooperation and consultation with interested partners. Throughout this process the prerogatives of constitutionally defined jurisdictions, as well as the rights of private property owners, will be respected.
I have just sketched for the House a very broad overview of where Parks Canada is coming from and where it hopes to go. In summary, first, 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 in implementing the directions it recommended. Its implementation in a purposeful yet sensitive way is bringing benefits to us all. Its neglect would have meant untold costs to all Canadians forever.
The provinces, territories and aboriginal peoples are and will continue to be significant partners in achieving protection of our national parks. Viewed narrowly, in terms of jurisdiction alone, Canada's national parks and other federally protected areas fall under the stewardship of the federal government, but they really belong to all of us. They are the legacy of each and every Canadian. Let us enable future historians to say that on our watch we protected this precious legacy and even left it in better condition than we found it.
I urge all members to support the passage of Bill C-17.