Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to address Bill C-28 which is an act to amend the National Parks Act.
Lest anyone misunderstands, the bill is about transferring land out of two national parks. They are small amounts of land and both involve aboriginal bands and communities.
The one that concerns me the most is Pacific Rim National Park. It is in my riding of Nanaimo—Alberni. The other one is a small piece of land attached to Riding Mountain National Park that I understand was simply an error in surveying. A small piece of land along Clear Lake will be added to the Clear Lake Band, correcting a historical and factual error in the actual boundaries of the reserve adjacent to the lake. We have no problem with correcting a historical error.
The issue that had potential for a lot consideration and dialogue is about transferring land from Pacific Rim National Park out of the park to meet the needs of the band.
As has been said by other members, the small piece of reserve land known as Esowista is about eight hectares. It is the main housing area for the Tla-o-qui-aht Band. Although the band has about 10 small reserve areas in the coastal area, the only other one that is really inhabited is Opitsat which is on Meares Island across from the main dock in Tofino. It is a small community but of course people have the hassle of going by water taxi to join up with Vancouver Island in order to relate to the broader community and to have the advantages of the amenities of roads, grocery stores and things that are necessary for successful living in today's society. At Opitsat they have to cross by water taxi in a very rapid moving channel in Clayoquot Sound and the Tofino Inlet.
The only real place to expand housing where people want to live is in the small piece of land known as Esowista which existed before the creation of the park in 1970.
I have been on the reserve lands and have walked around the community. It is crowded. There is no question that the community's housing needs need to be addressed. The existing reserve is hemmed in by the park. There literally is no room to store boats and trailers, or to expand the population. The existing housing is overcrowded. There is a definite need for the young people growing up there to have a place of their own and to live in a more reasonable environment.
There are a number of concerns related to this. It has been quite an exercise. Parks Canada and the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development have been working on this for some time with the band. The Government of British Columbia, as has been pointed out by the parliamentary secretary, is on side with the transfer of the land. A wide range of environmental groups, as was mentioned also by the parliamentary secretary, have agreed to the transfer, as have the local communities, the mayors with whom I have spoken in Tofino and Ucluelet, and the Alberni Clayoquot Regional Council.
Everyone is pretty well on board with the transfer of this small amount of land. It is about 82 hectares and it will provide for housing needs for about 200 people.
I need to speak about the park. Pacific Rim National Park is one of Canada's most famous national parks. It has a reputation worldwide. Many visitors come from around the world, particularly from Europe, to visit Pacific Rim National Park. It is such an area of natural beauty. It is a thin strip of land on the southwest coast of Vancouver Island. I will borrow some of the language from the Parks Canada website:
Its magnificent islands, beaches and dramatic seascapes divide into three geographically distinct park units: Long Beach (the most accessible), Broken Group Islands (about 100 islands in Barclay Sound), and the challenging 72 kilometre West Coast Trail.
Long Beach is where Esowista is located.
People come from across the world to hike along the West Coast Trail. We did it ourselves a number of years ago. A marathoner might do it in three days. We did it in eight days. It is a rugged area of coastline, up and down wadis and valleys, creek beds, cable cars riding over creek beds, and rope ladders up and down the cliffs. There is camping on the beach at night and people carry their own food.
This park attracts people from around the world that come to enjoy nature. Off the coast of Tofino and Clayoquot Sound there is a wide range of wildlife: California sea lions, seals, sea otters, all kinds of fish and whales, and grey whales that migrate up and down the coast, particularly in the spring. Right about now, the whale festival is going on in Tofino, with the grey whales migrating along the coast. Of course, there are also the orcas, transients that visit the area from time to time, or killer whales as they are known.
This park is a beautiful area. There are long stretches, kilometres, of beautiful beach. The park comprises a total area of about 500 square kilometres stretching across 125 kilometres from Tofino in the north to Port Renfrew in the south. The larger portion of that is in my riding and some of it is in the neighbouring riding of Nanaimo--Cowichan.
When it came to taking land out of the park, there were a lot of concerns about where this land would be? How were we going to expand the reserve, where would the land be located, and would it respect the environmental concerns in the neighbouring area?
Having looked into this, the officials from Parks Canada and the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs have done due diligence in working with this project. I want to commend the chief and the band members. They butted heads for some time over exactly where this land would be located. In talking to the chief, to the park officials, and to Alex Zellermeyer, the park superintendent, these discussions went on for some time over a period of approximately two years, assisted by David Nairne and Associates, a company that assisted in the development process of how this community would look.
The sensitive issues about removing the expansion from the waterfront have been addressed. The band made concessions. It did not get exactly what it wanted and everybody had to work together collaboratively to come up with an agreement that would work.
The actual area is adjacent to the small Esowista reserve as it exists now, about eight hectares, and is going to be separated from the addition by an area because adjacent to it is an access to a parking area. The park has built quite an elaborate access out to Schooner Cove. That is a popular area for people to hike out to, go up and down boardwalks, and visit the beautiful beaches.
In order to preserve the integrity of the park's infrastructure, the band agreed to take reserve land beyond the Schooner Beach Trail access and leave the access intact. That involves a connector road that is not on the main road.
Regarding the environmental aspects of looking at where they would choose the exact piece of land, if we look at the boundary that was chosen, it respects the geographical landmarks and the natural landforms that are there. It was developed and designed for the housing improvements with the environment in mind by preserving the local drainage and the local bog that slows the water from rushing immediately out to the ocean and onto the beaches. The bog filters the water and the local drainage.
It is actually a model community that has been designed here. The thing that caused us the most concern and caused me the most angst was when I heard that this was coming up, and it was to be debated and fast-tracked in the House. It was just before our last break a few weeks ago. The House was on recess and I heard that when we were to return, we were going to be moving very quickly to get this through.
We recognize that the needs in the community are great and we do not want to see this held up by a recess or by an election. It could be a year before this is advanced if it is not put through before an election, if indeed an election call comes in the next few weeks, or a few days.
When I look at the memorandum of understanding, when I first heard of this I happened to be on the west coast. I went immediately to the chief who was not present, so I did visit with one of the elders who walked me over to the reserve. I looked at the housing and the needs on the reserve. I met with Tom Curley who is a longtime resident of that area. It was obvious that the expansion needed to take place and that the housing needed to be addressed.
However, when I met with the chief later and looked at the memorandum of understanding, I recognized that the parks people had done due diligence. The department had done a very thorough job in addressing this issue. The attitude of the aboriginal people toward environment can be summarized by one word. They have an expression called “hishukishtsawak” which means everything is one. It is a traditional recognition that we are part of nature and nature is part of us, and we had better respect nature if we want to benefit from a longstanding and successful relationship.
They also use the term “isaak” which means respect. The aboriginal people understand that. The Tla-o-qui-aht band has lived on and around the land, and off the resources for as long as any history has been recording it.
When I read through the memorandum of understanding, I found very good clauses through it, all about where the land would be located, the village connector road, and the limitations of further transfers. There is another parcel in the memorandum of understanding. Frankly, I have not heard anybody address the memorandum of understanding and that is why I wanted to address it here today.
When we get to clause 9, suddenly we run into an obstacle. It states under “Legal Nature of this Understanding”:
This Understanding does not create legally binding obligations on the Parties.
Frankly, it seems that this is the kind of legal language that is sewn into all memoranda of understanding. It seems to me that lawyers sew in enough loopholes to these agreements to keep them busy for another 100 years. My concern is, if Bill C-28 were to pass, the land would come out of the park. That would be a certainty. How the land will be used needs to be addressed as well.
When I met with the chief, councillor Simon Tom, and officials from David Nairne and Associates, we had quite an extensive meeting relating to this with the superintendent for the parks, Alex Zellermeyer. We thrashed through our concerns about this issue. The chief agreed with me that the band wanted certainty in the language as well. The band was committed to using the land for residential purposes only. It was not about a commercial development.
There is an agreement in the memorandum for another parcel to be located later outside of the park that would be used for commercial purposes. The band agreed that it would abide by the terms in the memorandum. Because of our concerns for this loose language that says it is not legally binding, the parties came to an agreement with a lot of effort. We were meeting on the west coast and they called back to Ottawa on a Friday afternoon. The justice officials and the department officials worked rather hard over the weekend to establish an amendment to the memorandum of understanding for greater clarity.
I would like to refer to that briefly because it was a lot of work and we appreciate them doing that. After the appropriate introductory remarks, it recognizes what we are addressing here. It states:
Now therefore the Parties agree to amend the MOU as follows:
For greater certainty, the Nation will adhere exclusively to the land uses as outlined in the MOU, namely, community development;
Any proposed changes in, or additions to, the uses of the land being at Esowista Indian Reserve No. 3 will require written agreement from the Parties.
I appreciate that. It makes it perfectly clear that the chief of the band was willing to put his hand to that agreement. Department officials were willing to do that and we want to see this go ahead. We do not want to see the community held up. We want to see that development begin as soon as possible so the housing needs of the young people and the community can be addressed.
I want to mention the concerns we had with regard to that and to the loose nature of these things. If it has no legal binding, what is to say that five years from now a new chief, a young chief that we do not know, and some slick developer who now recognizes this land is worth millions and millions of dollars in the middle of a national park, would not try to convince the new young band members to develop a resort condominium or put a casino right in the middle of the park.
That is the kind of thing that concerns people. I saw something recently, when I was on the west coast, I had never seen before. Just out of the park on another beach that is very much like Long Beach--and I was up early in the morning--I saw somebody on a personal watercraft, one of those high speed things, buzzing the beach. I had never seen that before.
It raises some concerns that we do not have some certainty in this agreement. What would happen if some enterprising or development minded person tried to talk the band into putting a marina down there with jet skis and watercraft for the people on the beach in the middle of the park, or a liquor store, a candy store, and stuff up and down the beach with candy wrappers? Frankly, that is not what people want to see.
When we expressed these concerns to the chief and his councillors, and the officials present, they agreed that nobody wanted to see that happen. I do not believe that is the chief's vision. They want to do the right thing. They have a model community planned and we certainly want to support it.
I appreciate the work that officials did at the last minute. My objection has to be, frankly, with the arrogance of the government in not including us to give us time to address this without creating angst among all parties.
The agreement was signed back in June. I know the chief and his councillors asked if they should be talking to anyone else, as did David Nairne and Associates, the people who worked so hard on coming to this agreement?
The volume of work that was done is very impressive. The work done on the land assessments, the land use, and the analysis of where the stream and water flows go, and the diligence that was done is very impressive. It was not a fly by night or an overnight suggestion. It was two years of very hard work.
We would have appreciated it on our side if someone had given us a little bit more time to look at it, so that the committee could go through a proper process. I know that the parliamentary secretary mentioned that the parks had consulted the environment groups and so on. Frankly, it is the duty of the opposition and the environment committee to ensure that we have indeed heard from all groups. I think the members heard some concerns being expressed by the member for Souris—Moose Mountain because we did not have time to be satisfied that those groups had been heard.
I am satisfied because, as the member for the riding, I made a point of calling the local mayors and the parks people in order to come up to speed, and to ensure that consultations had been done. We wish that we had a chance to be involved with that, so everyone's blood pressure would not have gone up about whether we would see this come through the House.
I am very hopeful we will see it come through the House. I want to see the community advance. It is obvious that the needs of the community are there. We want to see this go ahead. I am hopeful, frankly, that out of the process we worked through that we might see something happen with the Tla-o-qui-aht band. I am hopeful that we can come to final agreements and final treaties with a measure of certainty that will see everyone go ahead. Perhaps this could be a step toward a final treaty situation for this band, which is progressive. It wants to see its young people have an opportunity to be successful in the world.
There is a win for the community. The sewage treatment will involve development in the airport lands opposite the expansion. That will tie in with the Tofino water and sewage system. It will benefit the community as well.
I think there is win-win built into this arrangement. It is a very good deal for the community. We want to acknowledge that and we certainly want to see it go forward. I am hopeful that all members will have this pass in time for progress to go ahead as quickly as possible.