Mr. Speaker, I rise with a great desire to speak to the bill, not only because of my involvement in the previous Parliament but because our party has concerns with regard to where we go as a country with our natural areas, particularly those areas that are encompassed by the Parks Canada legislation.
Bill C-7, now at third reading, is being treated as a housekeeping bill in the sense that all we are doing is transferring responsibility for our parks, both on land and in water, to the Department of the Environment, from heritage. Our party has pressed for that transfer for a long time. I believe it is necessary for Canada to do this.
Having said that, we need to place in context where we are with our parks, again both on land and in water. One of the things that I want to address is a concern with the attitude of the government toward our parks.
As we have heard from the previous speaker in some detail, we have a proud history of developing and taking care of our parks. However, that is dated history. As we heard from the previous prime minister, the plan is to expand our parks, and we need to do that. There is an international standard that we need to meet.
As I travel both within the country and, more important, outside the country, it is interesting to see the attention paid to Canada in this area. Canada has large undeveloped areas. They are still in their natural state. There is an expectation across the globe that we will foster protection for those areas. The concern that I and my party have is we are not doing a good enough job.
The standard internationally is that 12% of all our land, and that includes both in the water and on land, is to be set aside and preserved in its natural state. If we do a superficial analysis, we are fairly close to that, especially when we take into account the lands that we expect will be moved over into our national parks. We have moved reasonably well at a theoretical level. However, the reality on the ground and in the water is different.
In the last Parliament, we moved to expand our facilities in the water, in the form of marine conservation areas. I would point out one of the other countries that has taken more of a leading role. Australia, is way ahead of us in this regard. It had marine conservation areas of a similar nature almost two decades ago. We only got to it about two years ago.
The concerns we have, with the role the federal government has played or this Liberal administration has since being elected in 1993, is that the parks have deteriorated. Any number of reports, which have come out in the last four to five years, show that not enough money has been spent to maintain the existing parks. Not only are the buildings within the parks themselves deteriorating quite noticeably, so are the natural areas. We need to address those reports and meet the requirements set out in the recommendations, and we are not.
For instance, it was quite interesting to see what happened when the previous prime minister announced that we would have these 10 new parks. That was about two years ago. The funding to go with that was woefully inadequate. It simply would not do it. This is perhaps the height of hypocrisy. Those parks took in areas that had substantial first nations land claims against them. I would suggest, without prejudging the outcome, that it will be established that the first nations claims are valid.
The prime minister of the day was in fact proposing to convey land into the public sphere that ultimately is not public land, it is first nations land. That is a real problem.
Similarly, in the last Parliament, as I said earlier, we passed the legislation dealing with marine conservation areas. However, there is no way near enough money to protect them. In fact, the legislation has some major flaws in the provisions about what would be permitted in those marine conservation areas, including dragging off the east coast that would destroy the coral that is there. This is one of the major reasons that we should be protecting that area.
On both the east and west coasts, it would allow for exploration for minerals, and oil and gas deposits which in most cases require the use of explosives. This would damage the biological integrity of those areas.
We have a situation where at the pronouncement level it looks good. However, when we get down to the reality of what is happening in our parks, whether on land or in the seas, we are not carrying through to meet that international standard that we are being expected to by the world.
I want to go back for a minute to the role that first nations have played in this area. The reason we are close to having the 12%, the international standard, is because the first nations claims, particularly in the northern territories, have provided us with a good deal of that percentage. It is one that I think we have to recognize as a society and as a government. We have to acknowledge that what they have done as a people is to protect the biological integrity of the areas that they control.
I want to deal a bit more with the threats that we are faced with in the parks and that we would like to have seen addressed in this bill. As opposed to this simply being a housekeeping bill to transfer responsibility, we would prefer to see more in the way of regulation and legislation that would protect our natural areas in our parks and marine conservation areas.
I want to talk about the attitude that we saw expressed by the government. We moved as a party, on behalf of our member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley, that the responsibility be directly attributed to the Minister of the Environment. The bill, as it originally came before the House before it was successfully amended, provided that any minister or other individuals within the Privy Council Office could be designated as responsible.
This goes to the essential attitude that this government has had since 1993 of seeing parks sort of off on the side and not having a champion, not having an advocate. When Parks Canada was with heritage, the heritage minister obviously had conflicting responsibilities: to protect the arts and culture, broadcasting, et cetera, and Parks Canada was an additional responsibility.
As a result of that, we saw a dramatic deterioration in the parks. It is appropriate that we put it back into an environment where we have the minister who, one would expect, and I do not say we always get that from these ministers, would play that championing role, that advocacy role within the government and within cabinet to see to it that the parks do not further deteriorate and in fact the remedial work is done. They should be brought back to the standard one would expect and new parks would be properly protected. Boundaries would be built around them so that we would not see any deterioration in those parks, or usages within those parks that would be inappropriate and incompatible with maintaining them in their natural state.
We need that person in the cabinet. We moved that amendment and want to acknowledge the support that we received from the opposition parties on that amendment. We got it through successfully earlier this week.
What it says to us as a party is that the Liberal government is really not serious. We would like to see other issues addressed. We are obviously not going to get it. We will support this bill because it is important to have the transfer made from heritage to environment.
However, we would have appreciated and expected that the government would have taken a more proactive role in seeing that other protections were built into the legislation so that our parks would meet the standards that the international community is expecting of us and more importantly, that Canadians from coast to coast to coast are expecting of us.
We talk about the national identity of Canadians and the angst that we sometimes go through. We know that our health care system is one of the programs that we point to that separates us from other countries and that makes us proud to be Canadians.
The national parks fit into that category as well, whether it is in the Maritimes, again offshore or onshore, whether it is in central Canada, in the Prairies, in the Rockies, in B.C., or up north in the territories. In every area there are national parks or natural areas that we are proud as Canadians to say we are protecting and we will protect.
That is the essence I believe of being Canadian. If we travel, especially in the developed world, we are looked at as having the best of both worlds. We have an economy that is strong, but we also have been able within that to protect our parks. It is very important that Canadians do that and it is very important that we continue to do that.
This legislation does not advance us much in that regard. Other than making the transfer and hoping that we end up with an advocate within the government and within cabinet, it does not advance us much in that regard, in spite of the expectations of both Canadians and the world as a whole.
I want to spend a couple of minutes on other threats that are applicable to the parks. Threats that I would ask the government to consider subsequently in regulation, because some of this could be done by regulation. Some of it will have to be done by legislation and some of it has to be done by way of cooperation with the provinces and our neighbour to the south, the United States.
We need to build corridors in order to preserve any number of species. Some of those corridors go down into the United States. A good number of them go east and west across provincial boundaries and cross into areas where there are provincial parks. We need to develop a much more efficient system of working with the provinces and the United States to assure that those corridors will be established and will be maintained so that we stop losing the habitat for so many of our species.
We can point as one example to the grizzly population in Banff which is under very severe threat because the gene pool is so limited. There is not enough diversity in that gene pool and we badly need to develop a corridor for the grizzlies within that park so that they would be able to move in and out in a much more natural and effective way to maintain that gene pool.
Similarly, there are a number of areas that we need to work on with the provinces because we need to protect the area adjacent to our national parks. We have, in a number of places, quite significant suburban types of development, large developments going in immediately adjacent to parks and putting significant pressure on the national parks. We need to be working with the provinces around land use control in order to ensure that there are buffer areas that are natural or semi-natural, that will act as a buffer for our national parks.
We have to be very clear that we will not allow incompatible usages in our parks, whether it is mining or forestry, and we can go down the list. I mentioned earlier the use of explosives in the exploration for mineral resources in marine conservation areas. It is extremely detrimental to the natural species that inhabit those areas and we need to put an end to the ability of the private sector to do that.
In a number of cases, that is work that can be done within the national government, but there are other times when assistance is required in cooperation with the provinces. Therefore, we need to be developing more extensively our relationships in that regard.
In conclusion, we recognize that this is a housekeeping bill. It is one that we as a party are going to support because we badly need to have that champion, that advocate for the parks that has been so sorely missed in the last 11 to 12 years under this Liberal administration. We need that person and we need that person to do the job, which is to fight hard to ensure that protections are there and that the funds to develop and protect the parks are in place.
We will support the bill, but we are also asking the government to give serious consideration to additional regulations, legislation and the diplomacy that we need to build with other jurisdictions.