Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to speak to Bill C-28. As the environment critic for my party, I have several concerns with the bill.
The first thing is to understand what national parks are really for and what they are all about. As far as I and I think most Canadians understand, national parks are there to preserve the natural environment, which can then be enjoyed by future generations, our children, our grandchildren and so on.
I have great difficulty when I read that we may be taking part of a national park and using it for some other purpose. It goes against the very grain of why national parks were set up. It is strange that a government would be promoting taking parks out of existence when it talks in public so much about creating new parks. As far as the discussion at places like the United Nations, we brag about the fact that we are going to increase our parks system. The former prime minister created new parks which was one of his legacies.
Most of the world thinks of Canada as a natural place, as a place that preserves its water, air and natural environment. Therefore, as the parks critic I find it difficult to stand and speak about taking a park out of existence for any purpose.
It is not the tribe's fault that this 84 hectares will become part of the native reserve. It is something that started in 1971 that has been a misunderstanding for a number of years. In talking to their chief, his great concern is for the people he represents, their lack of housing and the crowding on that Indian reserve. However we are talking about a national park, the Pacific Rim National Park, which many tourists visit and which I am sure will become a much more valuable part of our environment in the future. We also see that Parks Canada calls it one of the most beautiful spots on the planet. Obviously, if it is one of the most beautiful spots on the planet, it is rather difficult to understand why we would be taking it away from a national park.
We then have this philosophical argument about what parks are and how we should be preserving them. We can also talk about the slippery slope that we are creating by taking this park out of existence. I do not think, if I were to speak to people in Halifax or in most parts of Canada, that they would understand or support that sort of a concept.
The real fault for this whole issue rests with the government. I will go through a bit of the chronology. Obviously the negotiations have stalled and have not gone ahead, and promises were made and broken.
The first time we were contacted as the official opposition was one day before the bill was introduced into the House. First reading was on March 26. Our first briefing on this whole concept was on March 25. As everyone can see, we had one day's notice. It was introduced into the House with no time to read what it was about or to get any background. The formal technical briefing for the bill was held on Tuesday, April 20, one day after the government sought unanimous consent for second reading on April 19. It received second reading in the House the day before the briefing occurred. This is a blatant abuse of what this Parliament should be about and it is an abuse of doing due diligence on a bill of this nature.
Carrying on with this abuse, the bill was sent to committee. The committee defeated a motion to call any witnesses, to hear any expert opinions or to hear what the people of the area thought about this. The motion was defeated in committee on April 26. Report stage of the bill was held on April 30, four days later. Here we are today after report stage on Friday and we are being asked to debate third reading, which the government will ram through.
What is the problem with that? It is not a matter of opposing the bill or the people or anything like that. It is the process that the government is using to ram this sort of bill through.
Future generations will want to know if Parliament did due diligence. They will want to know if Parliament checked with the people of the region. They will want to know if Parliament talked to Canadians about this issue. The answers to the questions, of course, will be no.
I have gone through the chronology for the House. We can see how blatant the whole process has been as far as the government is concerned. We have had no public hearings and no complete environmental impact study but here we are today being asked to approve this, vote on it and it is a done deal.
All of us in the House should take serious consideration of what we are about to do. We argue about the importance of having public hearings. What else are we here for other than to listen to the public and then carry out their will? I do not feel that this has been done on this bill. This bill is a promise in the dying days of this Parliament and it will be delivered. I know the government supports the bill and, in its normal dictatorial fashion, will ram it through and there it will be.
As the senior environment critic for the official opposition I want to have a clear conscience. I want to know what the rush is. We should make sure we do due diligence, that we ask the right questions and bring in the right witnesses. We should find out what local people think. Only after we have done all that should we support and move ahead with this bill.
I find it difficult sometimes to stand here and say that I want public hearings. As most members know, a number of us have attended government hearings and they are anything but always public. I will go back to my most famous example, the 14 Kyoto public hearings which had an invited guest list. No opposition members nor the media were allowed to attend. The only speakers were those on one side.
When I talk about public hearings I mean that we get out where the people are. We should go to Tofino and to places where this affects people and then let us look at the broader issues that affect parks.
What is there now to stop any group from simply saying, “All right, this national park is in the way of our development and so I think we should just take out a few hundred acres of this park and turn it into something else. Let us turn it into a nice summer village“. The government could decide down to road that if it we were to sell Banff or Jasper it could make a good profit.
This bill would set a precedent of being able to remove a national park from the status of being a national park. We would limit access to it and it would no longer become part of the public legacy that national parks are set out to be.
It is not so much that we oppose the dire situation that this band is in. It is just that the whole process has been one of lack of due diligence and lack of concern. I cannot say that enough times.
There are questions there. What does it mean that this understanding does not create legal, binding obligations on the parties? That is what it says in the bill. It sounds like we are going to do this but it is not legally binding. Would that not end up going to the courts and becoming another one of those huge expensive boondoggles in which the government gets involved?
It goes on to say:
Nothing in this Understanding is intended to, nor is interpreted so as to create, recognize, affirm, limit, abrogate, derogate or deny aboriginal rights, including title or treaty rights.
I have had that interpreted for me because that is lawyer's talk. It means that no land claims would be affected by this and that other land claims of the same nature could simply be brought forward. Bill C-28 does not stop nor does it in any way change that.
This could in the future become a precedent to be used by others in taking national parks out of existence and using them for something else. No matter what that other use will be or how good it will be, I do not believe we can justify the removal of national parks from their prescribed use for future generations.
As the environment critic I have great difficulty understanding the issues and the dire crisis of the people to support something that would do something like this.