Mr. Speaker, I have the privilege today to speak at third reading of the bill that amends the Canada National Parks Act to withdraw lands from Riding Mountain National Park of Canada and Pacific Rim National Park Reserve of Canada for the purpose of Indian reserves.
The changes relating to the withdrawal of lands are for the purpose of alleviating serious problems of housing shortage on the Esowista reserve of the Tla-o-qui-aht first nation. In the case of the Riding Mountain National Park, they will correct an error in the wording of the legal description of the ceded lands, in compliance with a specific land claim.
I want to reiterate that Bill C-28 will not create a precedent for other national parks. These are unique circumstances we must collectively consider.
When Pacific Rim National Park Reserve was created in 1970, it completely surrounded the seven-hectare parcel of land occupied by the Esowista reserve of the Tla-o-qui-aht first nation since 1889. At the time, Esowista was changing from a seasonal fishing camp to a permanent residential community.
The Government of Canada recognized that a larger site would eventually be required to meet the needs of the Esowista community, and it committed to finding a long-term solution.
The removal of the 86.4 hectares of land from Pacific Rim National Park Reserve will help address the acute overcrowding problem in the Esowista reserve, improve infrastructures to remedy sewage disposal and water quality concerns, and support the development of a model community that will exist in harmony with the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve.
This land represents less than 1% of the park’s total land base. Withdrawing this land from the territory now occupied by the park will only slightly impact the ecological integrity of the park and will allow us to meet the needs of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation.
In 1929, when Riding Mountain National Park was created, it took in most of Indian Reserve No. 61A. The Ojibway Keeseekoowenin First Nation was relocated to another site outside the national park. In 1994, an agreement for the settlement of the specific land claim was signed between the Ojibway Keeseekoowenin and Canada and Reserve No. 61A was restored. In 2000, most of the lands in question were removed from the Riding Mountain site when the Canada National Parks Act was enacted.
However, because of a mistake made during the preparation of the official instrument removing the lands in question, a five-hectare tract of land was omitted and remained within the park's boundaries. Therefore, the Canada National Parks Act will be amended to restore Reserve No. 61A of the Ojibway Keeseekoowenin First Nation in its entirety, and to correct the mistake made at the time.
What about environmental considerations? Removing 86.4 hectares from Pacific Rim National Park Reserve will not unduly detract from the objectives of ecological integrity for the park because the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation has promised to cooperate with Parks Canada to ensure long-term protection for the natural and cultural resources of the lands in the park surrounding the Esowista reserve.
The Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation and the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development have committed to use the land in a way that would respect the ecological integrity of the park. Also, several measures will be taken to help promote the sustainable development of the park.
The management of the lands to be withdrawn from the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve will be based on the guidelines for model communities developed by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.
Parks Canada will review the master plan for the site and then submit it for approval to the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. Also, each individual project will be subject to an assessment pursuant to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.
To ensure proper protection to the lands adjacent to the park, a $2.5 million mitigation fund will be provided to Parks Canada by the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development.
I should also point out that the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development will not require additional funding for the Esowista expansion. It is expected that 160 housing units will be needed, 35 of them in the short term.
Concerning the five hectares to be withdrawn from Riding Mountain Park, this is a requirement from the 1994 specific land claim agreement. I can reassure Canadians that this amendment to the Canada National Parks Act has no environmental impact.
Consultations on these initiatives indicate wide public support. Several stakeholders have expressed their support for the withdrawal of land from Pacific Rim Park. Among these are the first nations involved, first nations provincial groups, local, regional and provincial levels of government, as well as non-government environmental organizations, for example, Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, the Western Canada Wilderness Committee, the Friends of Clayoquot Sound and the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society.
All parties concerned view Esowista as a unique situation, and they support the need to make sure that members of the community stay together, and to provide lands for residential and similar purposes. I thank them for their support.
One of the priorities in Parks Canada's recent ministerial plans has been to strengthen relations with native communities. Our accomplishments in Pacific Rim Park clearly demonstrate our commitment to them.
Pacific Rim National Park Reserve has taken significant strides in recent years to promote aboriginal initiatives, forging relationships and making significant efforts toward the meaningful involvement of aboriginal people in the cooperative management of the national park reserve. The results have been remarkable.
By way of illustration I would like to highlight a few of these accomplishments.
Pacific Rim National Park Reserve worked with the Ucluelet First Nation to develop the Nuu-chah-nulth Trail inside the national park. Opened in 2003, this interpretive trail provides extensive on site interpretation of regional first nations' culture, history and language.
On June 23, 2004, the Ucluelet First Nation will again honour the opening of the trail by erecting the first totem pole to be carved and raised in traditional territory of this first nation in 104 years, a source of great pride for this first nation community.
This “welcoming” pole will greet Canadians and international visitors to the trail and to Ucluelet First Nation and Nuu-chah-nulth traditional territory. It will symbolize the long history and continuing presence of first nations peoples in the region and in the national park in particular.
On the West Coast Trail unit of Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, Parks Canada funds an initiative called Quu'as West Coast Trail Society. A not-for-profit group, this society is a training and mentoring program for three first nations along the famous West Coast Trail, one of the world's great recreational hiking routes.
By engaging in the cooperative management of the west coast trail with Parks Canada, young first nations members are exposed to the full gamut of park management issues and training related to public safety, resource conservation, monitoring and public interpretation.
As a result of this program, first nations graduates have gone on to secure full-time employment with Parks Canada, other agencies and industry.
Strong community relations are the basis for a wide range of formal and informal agreements that can advance our common interests.
I am pleased that this transfer of park lands for the purpose of an Indian reserve will help meet the needs of treaty negotiations and will create a better working climate with native communities.
I would like to warmly salute the Government of British Columbia for its support of this initiative regarding the expansion of Esowista. This collaboration is key to the withdrawal of lands from Pacific Rim and their transfer to the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development for the needs of Indian reserves.
I urge all members of the House to join me in supporting Bill C-28.