Mr. Speaker, I am delighted this morning to rise on Bill C-7. The bill is in fact a reaffirmation of the government's absolute desire and commitment not only to review the responsibilities associated with our natural heritage with respect to our parks and historic designations within our parks and natural environment, but also to make sure of the continuity required with respect to our built history, to make sure that there is a very clear delineation of responsibility with respect to maintaining what Canadians have a right to. Their natural and their built heritage should be protected, administered and managed in manner that is in keeping with the high degree of responsibility we all feel for our heritage.
As members will know, then, the bill is an act to amend the Department of Canadian Heritage Act and the Parks Canada Agency Act and to make related amendments to other acts. As I said, it will delineate responsibilities.
The thrust of my comments today will be about the action plan on establishing new national parks and national marine conservation areas within the context of the bill, two subjects which members have said from time to time are issues they really want to get into.
I will give members a little history. On December 12, the control and supervision of the Parks Canada Agency was transferred from the Minister of Canadian Heritage to the Minister of the Environment. This transfer was given effect through an order in council.
On July 20, 2004, another order in council came into effect relating to responsibilities for our built heritage. It was required in order to clarify the earlier order in council. First, control and supervision of the historic places policy group, that group and its responsibilities, was transferred from the Department of Canadian Heritage to Parks Canada. Second, the powers, duties and functions related to the design and implementation of the program that had built heritage as their primary subject matter were transferred from the Minister of Canadian Heritage to the Minister of the Environment.
Bill C-7, as I have indicated, will update the legislation to reflect these directions and these responsibilities.
The bill deals with the machinery of government and does not contain any substantive policy provisions. It simply gives legislative effect to the direction that the government reorganization was taking, as announced on December 2003, in particular as it affects Parks Canada.
In addition to amending the Department of Canadian Heritage Act and the Parks Canada Agency Act, Bill C-7 also amends statutes through which Parks Canada delivers its mandate: the Canada National Parks Act; the Historic Sites and Monuments Act; the Heritage Railway Stations Protection Act; the Canada National Marine Conservation Areas Act; the Saguenay--St. Lawrence Marine Park Act; the Species at Risk Act; and the Canada Shipping Act. All of these are associated statutes that are implicated by this transfer. But there are no additional funding requirements related to Bill C-7, as the jurisdictional responsibilities with respect to funding, works and associated initiatives obviously are within the budgets of the relevant departments.
Parks Canada's organizational integrity has been maintained. The Parks Canada agency remains committed to working with Canadians to protect and present nationally significant examples of Canada's natural and cultural heritage for present and future generations.
I think it would be an understatement to say that the examples of that unique heritage, which in fact is a reflection of the various cycles of immigration and our first nations and aboriginal peoples and so on, are top of mind with respect to our heritage.
I would like to take a few moments to talk about the Parks Canada story. I think it is a global best practice. It is a story that is worth repeating often in order for us to have a sense of just how absolutely spectacular this country is in terms of its natural heritage.
I am sure that from the House's perspective Canada's national parks, national historic sites and national marine conservation areas are somewhat akin to the soul of our country. They are a central part of who we are and what we are and in fact what we want to be. It is what we signal to the world that is so important with respect to the preservation and the stewardship of the natural heritage we enjoy.
These places are obviously places of wonder and awe for those Canadians who have travelled from coast to coast to coast. I happen to be one of them. I am never above and beyond being totally impressed with what God has given us as a natural environment. It is just so absolutely awesome, even in the global context.
Each of those places also tells its own story because the people who live in those areas have a special kinship with respect to their natural heritage and their built heritage. In fact, it is a reflection of a very regional kinship that people have with their own immediate environment. It is one that they wish to share with all Canadians and in fact with the world. It is unique. That natural environment, our built environment, is also a reflection of the mosaic that we refer to as Canada.
What we cherish as part of our national identity, we also recognize as part of our national responsibility. If we feel so strongly on the one hand how special our heritage is, then equally we have to rise to the challenge in terms of our accountability to nurture and preserve it.
All Canadians share the responsibility to preserve and protect Canada's unique cultural and natural heritage. Together, we hold our national parks, our national historic sites and our national marine conservation areas in trust for the benefit of this and future generations.
Canada has the distinction of having established the first national park service in the world. Over the decades, our system of national parks has grown to 41 national parks and reserves, preserving for future generations almost 265,000 square kilometres of lands and waters. There are plans to add an additional 100,000 square kilometres through the creation of eight more national parks. This legacy is possible in large part because provincial and territorial governments, aboriginal and first nations people and local communities have worked with us to create many of these new national parks.
The creation and management of national parks is a delicate balance between protection of ecologically significant areas of importance to wildlife and meeting economic and social needs of communities.
The Government of Canada is committed to working with aboriginal people, local communities and other Canadians and stakeholders to protect our precious national heritage through the creation of new national parks and national marine conservation areas. When I say the Government of Canada, I include that this particular issue is a non-partisan issue in which all members of the House on both sides, in all parties, feel the same with respect to the protection of our natural and built heritage.
In October 2002 the government announced an initiative to substantially complete Canada's system of national parks by creating 10 new parks over the next five years. This will expand the system by almost 50%, with the total area spanning nearly the size of Newfoundland and Labrador. We have already created two of these 10 new national parks with work continuing on eight other proposals. Five new national marine conservation areas will also be created.
Canada is blessed with exceptional natural treasures. We owe it to Canadians and to the world to protect these lands and waters. The action plan calls on Parks Canada to work with all of its partners, the provinces and territories, aboriginal and rural communities, industry, environmental groups, labour and all others, to complete this effort.
In March 2003 the government allocated $144 million over five years and $29 million annually thereafter toward this effort.
The action plan has already produced two national parks. The new Gulf Islands National Park Reserve of Canada protects 33 square kilometres of ecologically rare land in the southern Gulf Islands of British Columbia.
At over 20,000 square kilometres the new Ukkusiksalik National Park of Canada protects virtually an entire watershed close to the Arctic Circle in Nunavut.
As we speak, the whole issue of ecological balance is being discussed. We have had the recent Arctic report out of Iceland and a conference is going on with respect to countries that have responsibility for the Arctic. Our mandate is to be accountable to preserving the Arctic. We all know there are huge challenges with respect to global warming and the Arctic.
Other parallel concerns are being expressed through reports that will be coming to the House. As a matter of fact, there will be a report today with respect to water quality in some of our natural areas, one of which is the Great Lakes Basin, that will be a parallel effort in an attempt to make sure that these natural areas are protected, the latter being water quality.
The Ukkusiksalik Park is a product of an agreement between the Government of Canada and the Inuit of Nunavut forged over several decades of hard work, all focused on protecting land, water, caribou and polar bears for present and future generations.
Specific sites for more national parks will be selected in other natural regions across Canada, the southern Okanagan; the lower Similkameen in interior British Columbia; Labrador's Torngat Mountains and Mealy Mountains; Manitoba's lowland boreal forests; Bathurst Island in Nunavut; and the east arm of Great Slave Lake in the Northwest Territories. Just to speak about those potential inclusions geographically gives one the sense of the vastness of Canada. Sites for the two remaining national parks are being identified by Parks Canada.
Negotiations to establish the Torngat Mountains National Park Reserve in northern Labrador are nearing completion. Members will be pleased to know that this longstanding proposal will protect some of the highest mountains in North America east of the Canadian Rockies.
In March 2004 the Premier of Manitoba and the former minister of the environment signed a memorandum of agreement identifying the boundaries for public consultation for a national park in the Manitoba lowlands. They also committed to negotiating a national park establishment agreement by May 2005. Both parks will make significant additions to our worldclass national parks system.
The government is also working with partners to establish five new national marine conservation areas, adding an estimated 15,000 square kilometres to the system. This will be a major step for global conservation of marine habitat. Canada has the world's longest coastline and 7% of its fresh water.
This commitment to creating a new marine conservation area is consistent with recent Speeches from the Throne in which our government made a commitment to create new marine protected areas as part of the ocean action plan. These national marine conservation areas will be located in ecologically unrepresented marine regions. Four sites have been identified, including the Gwaii Haanas off British Columbia's Queen Charlotte Islands, western Lake Superior, British Columbia's southern Strait of Georgia and the waters off the Îles de la Madeleine in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
While a site for the remaining national marine conservation area has yet to be finalized, Parks Canada has received a number of proposals from local communities, a testament to the growing interest in the conservation of our marine heritage.
In addition, the government will accelerate its actions over the next five years to improve the ecological integrity of Canada's 41 existing national parks. This will implement the action plan arising from the report of the panel on the ecological integrity of Canada's national parks, which was endorsed by the government in April 2000.
These two initiatives, the action plan to establish our system and to expand our system of national parks and national marine conservation areas and the action plan on ecological integrity, are the most ambitious initiatives to expand and protect national parks and national marine conservation areas in over 100 years, indeed, since Banff National Park of Canada, Canada's first, was established in 1885.
Parks Canada needs to get on with the job and Parliament has assigned the job to it. I urge all members, for the reasons I have attempted to articulate in my comments, to support the bill as a major step forward in outlining and saying to Canadians that the House, the government and all parties understand the responsibilities with respect to the stewardship of our natural and built environment, and that the bill is a step toward maintaining that accountability with all Canadians.