I look forward to hearing the discussion on it by the member for Medicine Hat.
These land removals can only be done by amending the National Parks Act, which is what we are discussing today.
There has been broad public support, including support from affected first nations, provincial first nation groups, provincial, regional and district governments, including environmental NGOs.
The environmental assessment suggests impacts can be mitigated and the removal of lands will not unduly compromise the ecological integrity of Pacific Rim. There will be no impact on Riding Mountain.
No additional funding is required by Parks Canada or DIAND, and a $2.5 million mitigation fund will be provided to Parks Canada by DIAND.
The outcome of these minor amendments will be that the removal of lands from Pacific Rim will resolve the critical housing problems in Esowista and improve the quality of life of its residents. The removal of lands from Riding Mountain Park will fulfil Canada's obligation to re-establish an Indian reserve. Of course, it will strengthen our relationships with those aboriginal communities.
As I said at the beginning, there will be a minimum impact on the ecological integrity of Pacific Rim Park. That is the one aspect I want to talk about today.
The excising of land from Pacific Rim National Park Reserve to provide for the expansion of the Esowista Indian Reserve has raised a question of whether this has implications for the ecological integrity of Pacific Rim. I am pleased to address this question directly.
Pacific Rim National Park Reserve is located on the beautiful western coast of Vancouver Island. It is a narrow strip of lush rain forest buffeted by Pacific winds and waves. It is a landscape intertwined with first nations' history and culture. This reality is embedded in the art of the west coast first nations. The representation of ecological elements of the forests as well as the adjoining waters is a characteristic of this art. One has only to recall the marvellous works at the hands of the late Bill Reid.
This is the culture that will dominate the management of the future Indian reserve lands currently within the park. It is a culture that matches with the primary purpose of all national parks, the maintenance or restoration of ecological integrity of national parks.
As was intended, the report was very frank in pointing out the challenges that face our national parks. It confirms that most of Canada's national parks have been progressively losing precisely those important natural components which they are dedicated to protect. Accordingly, the panel has called for a fundamental reaffirmation of the legislative framework that protects the parks, together with policies to conserve these places and the appropriation of funds necessary to support these efforts.
Parks Canada committed itself to implementing the report and the recommendations fully insofar as it was legislatively and fiscally possible. It is now being done with full dialogue with all affected parties and is helped tremendously by the funding announced in the budget of 2003.
Parks Canada's first priority is to maintain or restore the ecological integrity of our national parks. This was prescribed by the governing legislation, the Canada National Parks Act, proclaimed in February 2001. Clause 8 states:
--the maintenance or restoration of ecological integrity through the protection of natural resources and processes, shall be the first priority when considering all aspects of the management of parks.
Why is ecological integrity so important? It is important because the loss of natural features and processes deprives Canadians of the opportunity to use and enjoy these places for the purposes for which they were intended. Loss of ecological integrity contradicts the very purposes for which our parks were set aside and constitutes an irreversible loss of heritage to both current and future generations.
Thus, by making ecological integrity our priority, we are also making people our priority by protecting our precious heritage places, now and forever.
Achieving the maintenance or restoration of ecological integrity also means putting science first. Parks Canada is committed to become a science-based organization. This includes traditional ecological knowledge.
Our parks and our national historic sites are very important symbols of Canada. Canadians, through personal visits and other learning mechanisms, can use these places to enhance their pride and knowledge of Canada and Canadians.
Parks Canada is committed to an expanded outreach program to convey accurate, interesting and up to date information to Canadians. I am sure many people have seen the tremendous visitor sites at Canada's national parks and the various interpretative programs for those visiting the parks. The provision of information by the Internet is a priority for Parks Canada. This approach is paying off, as millions are visiting the Parks Canada website on a monthly basis from not only Canada but also from countries such as Australia, Japan, Italy and Germany.
This type of proactive outreach continues to intensify and is aimed at our urban areas. The objective is, in effect, to bring our national parks and their values to people who may not otherwise have the opportunity to visit them or may visit them only infrequently.
Our marketing programs emphasize the primary conservation purposes of our national parks. Accordingly, visitors are encouraged to understand and respect these purposes and to plan their activities and visits to align with them.
Parks Canada is committed to improving ecological integrity in a number of ways: first, through communication, specifically, enhanced interpretation and educational activities; second, in reducing facility impacts; and third, by implementing up to date environmental management practices and technologies.
Within our tourism and marketing planning, it is important that we are fully aware of the huge economic value and significant social contribution of our parks, both on the local and the national levels.
I would stress that one cannot sustain economic benefits without enhancing both the natural environment of the parks and the visitors' enjoyment of them. It is only common sense that we must maintain or restore the ecological integrity of our parks. People will simply refuse to visit parks that are unacceptably degraded.
I would equally stress that any changes must and will be implemented in full consultation with partners, including provinces and territories, national and regional tourism, non-governmental bodies and of course first nations.
A priority area of the panel's report concerns the impact developments that have their origin in places external to park boundaries. To deal with such factors, the panel has called for renewed and extended partnerships. The proposed transfer of lands is one such partnership.
In this respect the panel was coming from a place of which we are all familiar, the notion that what I do in my own backyard can have significant effects in my neighbour's backyard. It is difficult to overestimate the importance of these issues. As we know, our national parks have many concerns which are shared in common by partners such as territories, provinces, aboriginal peoples, private landowners and various other interests.
In particular, I have never known nature to recognize or respect a human boundary. One day a grizzly bear may be in a national park and the next day in another jurisdiction. Rivers likewise flow through various jurisdictions. Acid rain from many kilometres away becomes a park problem when it impacts national park resources, and the list goes on.
Fundamentally, renewed and extended cooperation among neighbours who share common concerns is the only option toward maintaining ecological integrity. It is in this spirit that first nations and Parks Canada intend to work together to ensure that the ecological integrity of Pacific Rim is indeed a priority.
The bottom line is that we must improve the ways we work together if we are to safeguard the future of national parks. The nature of programs we devise will be so established in cooperation and consultation with interested partners. It is very important to keep good relations with those people on all sides of the park. They indeed are very important in helping to build the success of the park and to maintain its ecological integrity because of the effects they have on the park even though they are outside the borders.
Throughout this process the prerogatives of constitutionally defined jurisdictions, as well as the rights of private property owners, will be respected.
I will sketch a very broad overview of where Parks Canada is coming from and where it hopes to go. I am well aware of these types of considerations. In my own riding of Yukon we have some beautiful national parks, the last bastions of certain ecological protection of species. Therefore, it is very important that our partnerships with the adjacent people are good so we can protect that ecological integrity and some species that may not otherwise exist, right from the Arctic coast to Kluane National Park in the south.
In summary, first, the panel report on ecological integrity was an important milestone for the future of national parks in Canada. Parks Canada is taking it seriously and is moving forward implementing the directions it recommended. Its implementation in a purposeful yet sensitive way is bringing benefits to us all. Its neglect would have meant untold costs to all Canadians forever.
The provinces, territories and aboriginal peoples are and will be significant partners in achieving the protection of our national parks. Of course, because of the various interests and demands on those interests, this has to be done diplomatically and cooperatively with all stakeholders.
Viewed narrowly in terms of jurisdiction alone, Canada's national parks and other federally protected places, fall under the stewardship of the federal government, but they really belong to all of us. They are a legacy of each and every Canadian.
Let us enable future historians to say that on our watch we protected this precious legacy and even left it in better condition than we found it.
Let me assure members of the House that Bill C-28 would strengthen the relationship between Parks Canada and the first nations. In doing so, it would lead to the development of a model housing community living in harmony within the Pacific Rim National Park reserve.
I therefore urge all members to support passage of this bill. It would not only protect the ecological integrity of the parks involved but perform very important functions for adjoining first nations that need this very small amount of land so that they can be successful.