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House of Commons Hansard #78 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was park.

Topics

Action Plan for the National Capital CommissionGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Lawrence Cannon Conservative Pontiac, QC

moved that Bill C-37, An Act to amend the National Capital Act and other Acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, since its creation in 1959 the National Capital Commission has ensured that the national capital region would remain a place of which all Canadians can be proud. Our government believes that this region is a second home for every Canadian.

In fact, the national capital region has a special place in our history and heritage. It is for that reason among others that we must take action to promote and protect it.

That is officially the mission of the National Capital Commission.

The decisions made by the commission are consistent with the role of the region, not only for those who have the privilege of living here, but also for all those who have the good fortune to call Canada their home.

The mandate of the commission is to plan and build a national capital that is beautiful and that reflects the unique character and significance of the seat of the Government of Canada.

Not only does the NCC develop, conserve and improve the national capital region, but it also organizes and sponsors a great number of events that enrich the cultural and social fabric of the region and of the country as a whole.

Before I outline our government's action plan for the National Capital Commission, I would like to take this opportunity to remind the House of the important role this city and surrounding area have played in Canada's development.

From the time when the Ottawa River was jam-packed with fallen white pines on their way to Quebec City and onward, to the vibrant G8 centre of today, Canada's capital has evolved with the nation.

From its humble beginnings as a rough-and-tumble shantytown far from major centres of Toronto and Montreal, today the capital region is a thriving metropolis straddling the border of Canada's two most populous provinces, Ontario and Quebec.

The desire to protect and maintain the beauty of this region is almost as old as Canada itself. In 1899 the Government of Canada established the Ottawa Improvement Commission in order to beautify the city, including its parks and lands along the Ottawa River.

A series of unfortunate incidents occurred in the early 20th century that had a noticeable impact on the region. Among the most damaging, the great fire of 1900 and another fire in 1916 which destroyed the Centre Block of the Parliament Buildings.

If not for the dedicated efforts of many people, the Centre Block may have never been rebuilt and our two cities would have evolved very differently. Instead, successive governments realized how important it was to build a strong capital region in the image of the country and for all Canadians.

By the start of the second world war, attractive parks and driveways and public buildings were seen around the capital. Initiatives were well underway to protect the forests in the Gatineau Park.

Ten years later, the government asked French architect Jacques Gréber to develop a strategic plan for the national capital region.

His vision, explained in a document known as the Gréber report or the Gréber plan, was presented to the House of Commons in 1951, before it would significantly shape changes in the capital region, during the second half of the last century.

Indeed, the National Capital Act came into effect in 1958. The national capital region was then officially defined as an area of approximately 4,700 square kilometres that included 27 municipalities, in two different provinces. The act also established the National Capital Commission as the federal body responsible for the capital region.

The commission is now responsible for a large number of properties and popular events in the region, to which both locals and visitors are deeply attached.

Indeed, many Canadians have had the opportunity to enjoy these activities, whether it is skating on the Rideau Canal during Winterlude, or admiring the fireworks from Parliament Hill. Thanks to the NCC, the national capital has all kinds of exciting attractions for Canadians.

However, the National Capital Commission is responsible for more than just annual celebrations. It also oversees the Greenbelt, the parkways, bike paths and the Gatineau Park.

This government recognizes the importance of the National Capital Commission in the region and the rest of the country. This is why we have sought to keep it relevant to the times.

In 2006 the Prime Minister named me minister responsible for the National Capital Commission. Shortly after I launched a review of the commission to assess the continuing relevance of its mandate, mission and activities.

An independent panel, chaired by Gilles Paquet, recognized that capital cities were distinct and most capitals had an agency responsible for their oversight. These agencies are charged with planning work, reviewing architecture and design, handling heritage buildings and managing public programming events.

During its review, the independent panel held meetings with numerous experts, received written briefs and heard oral presentations at public meetings in Ottawa and Gatineau from more than 100 people. The panel considered the opinions raised by all stakeholders, including concerns regarding the expansion of the National Capital Commission's mandate, governance mechanisms and lack of clarity in legislation.

In December 2006, the independent panel released its report to the public. The panel's report was comprised of 31 recommendations, including renewed funding, new rules for openness for board meetings, separation of the roles of the chief executive officer and board chair, a more direct connection to Parliament and a new focus on the environment.

Our government has implemented a number of measures to follow up on the panel's recommendations. For example, in the 2007 budget, we increased NCC funding to $15 million. This additional money has allowed the National Capital Commission to continue its important work, without having to give up on some assets, such as the Greenbelt.

We have also established the distinct positions of chairperson and chief executive officer. Then, in September of last year, the government authorized the National Capital Commission to acquire private properties located in Gatineau Park, without having to seek approval for every single transaction.

We have achieved a lot in terms of implementing the independent panel's recommendations.

The amendments being proposed in the bill take into account the majority of the panel's remaining recommendations, the intentions of private members' bills presented in Parliament and public comments. If passed, the amendments proposed by the government will make the NCC operations more transparent and accountable and will allow the NCC to better fulfill its mandate.

Among the major changes brought forward, let me review a few.

The first requires the board directors to hold at least four meetings in public per year, while still maintaining the option to have closed-door meetings, if necessary. This was an extremely important issue when I sat as a town councillor in Gatineau city hall. This was an important area because town councils in both cities were open to public discussion. It was, needless to say, an extremely important element.

The second requires the board of directors to submit once every 10 years a 50-year master plan to the National Capital Region to be tabled in the House of Commons. This is similar to what we see in many municipalities across the country, where the schema is tabled so that everybody can have a better view of where their community is going over the course of the next several years.

Through these changes, we are formally recognizing the fact that the NCC is already responsible for six official residences, and we are also recognizing the role that it is already playing in transport planning in the capital region.

The NCC will no longer have to seek cabinet approval for individual real estate transactions such as acquisitions, disposals and leasing. From now on, the way the NCC manages this type of transactions will be subject to approval under the current annual corporate planning process.

This legislation establishes the boundaries of Gatineau Park, and it emphasizes sound environmental stewardship.

Moreover, the regulatory powers of the National Capital Commission would be strengthened to better protect its lands and natural habitats.

As the legislation currently exists, there is no legal requirement to hold any meetings in public at all. Therefore, in 2007, following the mandate review of 2006, the commission took the initiative to become a more open and transparent organization. It invited the public to come to its board meetings. The first of these meetings took place in November 2007, and this was a good step toward modernizing the crown corporation.

The amendments proposed by our government will require that the commission's board of directors meet in public meetings at least four times a year. This will help make the more organization more transparent and accountable.

Currently the National Capital Commission does not have any requirements to publish any planning reports. However, by requiring the organization to submit a 50-year master plan at least every 10 years to the Governor-in-Council and table it in the House, the public will have a better sense of the overall direction and plan for our national capital region.

For many residents, the national capital region's Gatineau Park is an important green space and one of the most popular regional amenities throughout the year. Over the past few years, this government has heard from stakeholders, including members of Parliament, that the park is not being adequately protected.

The changes that we are making to the National Capital Act would require the commission to manage its properties in accordance with the principles of responsible environmental stewardship, with particular attention being given to maintain its ecological integrity. These changes would ensure that the Gatineau Park's breathtaking beauty and rich history would remain preserved for generations to come.

One key element in the mandate of the National Capital Commission is the National Interest Land Mass. These lands are located in the national capital region and have been acquired by the federal government over the past century. This land is considered essential to the functioning and experience of the capital, including the greenbelt, the Gatineau Park, riverbanks, public places and commemorations.

The existing National Capital Act is silent on the National Interest Land Mass. This has caused confusion among stakeholders, specifically regarding the types of properties to be included as part of this collection of lands and the process used to designate these properties.

The bill before the House proposes that the commission may designate or remove designations of properties that are part of the National Interest Land Mass only if pertinent regulations have been approved by the Governor-in-Council. These regulations would set out the criteria that are used in deciding which properties should be included and the process followed by the commission in arriving at these designations.

The National Capital Commission has a number of tools at its disposal to ensure that the lands for which it is responsible are properly administered in the interests of Canadians over the long term. Currently, the NCC's responsibilities are limited to protecting property, preserving order and preventing accidents.

The proposed legislation would allow the Governor in Council to make regulations governing the use of the property and the activities that take place there, and protecting the area's environment, the goal being to improve real property management and environmental stewardship. The National Capital Commission should have the means to enforce these regulations. Accordingly, the bill provides that any person who contravenes these regulations can be fined.

The proposed changes to the legislation also aim to make the commission, and specifically the deliberations of its board of directors, its long-term planning activities, and its decisions related to the national interest land mass, more transparent. In addition, the bill places a special emphasis on the protection of not only the real property for which the NCC is responsible, but also the environment and ecological integrity of Gatineau Park. As well, the bill recognizes the role the commission plays in areas such as transportation planning and the management of official residences in the national capital region.

I urge all members to vote in favour of this bill to keep our national capital region vibrant and a place of well-being for future generations.

Action Plan for the National Capital CommissionGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

Bloc

Richard Nadeau Bloc Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate my colleague for his speech. I can say right now that the Bloc Québécois will vote in favour of the bill but we would like to verify a few things.

Would my colleague agree to submit all National Capital Commission activities, decisions and development projects in Quebec to the Government of Quebec for approval?

Action Plan for the National Capital CommissionGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Lawrence Cannon Conservative Pontiac, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would first like to thank my colleague and his party for their support of this bill. We are quite pleased.

With respect to his question, I believe that there are memorandums of understanding or agreements between the Government of Quebec and the National Capital Commission for the management of a number of things. I recall quite clearly having had the opportunity to discuss this with the former minister responsible for the Outaouais, Mr. Benoît Pelletier. We have always been able to come to an agreement about certain things and it was governed by a protocol between the two levels of government.

Action Plan for the National Capital CommissionGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I liked the part of the minister's speech on the board of directors having to submit a 50-year master plan. That sounds like a very good idea in protecting the important green space in the area.

The minister alluded to some problems that the previous board had with meetings and public information being available. Could he expand a bit as to what inspired the bringing forward of this bill at this time?

Action Plan for the National Capital CommissionGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Lawrence Cannon Conservative Pontiac, QC

Mr. Speaker, one of the things MPs in the area realized was, first and foremost, it had been 15 years since the National Capital Commission had gone through a legislative review and a review of its activities. Therefore, one of the first things we did, as I mentioned in the speech, was to name an expert independent panel to review not only what fundamentally was not in sync with public thinking and the evolution in public thinking on transparency and public meetings, but also to see what role the National Capital Commission could play by comparing what was being done in other places.

As I mentioned, the committee came forward with a series of recommendations and contemporized the actions that needed to be taken by the National Capital Commission at this specific period. There are elements in the there that we view as being essential, which were not there before.

I think we can all be proud of the direction the review panel has brought us and hopefully we can get this adopted as fast as possible.

Action Plan for the National Capital CommissionGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

Bloc

Richard Nadeau Bloc Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask a question of my colleague, who is the minister responsible for the Outaouais in the government. Does the National Capital Commission have forecasts to ensure that its expenditures in Gatineau and Ottawa are equitable?

Action Plan for the National Capital CommissionGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Lawrence Cannon Conservative Pontiac, QC

Mr. Speaker, when I became a city councillor in Gatineau, Marcel Beaudry, one of the great chairmen the National Capital Commission has had, told me that the commission acted somewhat as a counterweight to balance things out between Ottawa and Gatineau. We have seen several activities over the last few years. I am thinking in particular of the work done on intersections, city streets, development and urbanization of the land. We have seen also the role played by the National Capital Commission to support initiatives by both the City of Gatineau and the City of Ottawa.

Thus, without giving figures—for I do not think we can get to the essence of things through quantitative analysis—we can look at the big picture. I think that the Canada-Quebec agreement which covers the Outaouais region of Quebec essentially sets up an obligation for the National Capital Commission. In 40, 50 or 60 years, people will take stock and realize how much the NCC was a driver of development in both the Quebec and the Ontario communities.

In my view, it is very much in the interest of everyone that this commission continues with its mandate and that we make sure it has the tools it needs to do so. Together, we will all be proud of our national capital.

Action Plan for the National Capital CommissionGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member and the government for bringing forward the bill. My colleague from Edmonton Centre has been part of the campaign in favour of this proposal to declare Gatineau a national park for quite a long time.

I had the privilege last week of speaking to the delegates from around the world who were attending the ICLEI event, which was about local initiatives for biodiversity. It is incredibly inspiring to hear what is going on in South Africa and Australia and some of the cities across our own country.

Ottawa, Gatineau and Aylmer are privileged to have this incredible park in their midst, which has been waiting to be preserved for all time by the federal government.

I am delighted that the government has responded to the recommendation that the board be revised and opened up to the public so that all decisions into the future can be more transparent and participatory, and to provide the legislative boundaries. I laud the government for that. In one week we have the Nahanni and now hopefully the Gatineau.

I am sure there will be issues that members of the various parties will want to discuss, and it will be good that the bill goes to committee, but I commend the hon. member for moving it.

I am wondering if the hon. member can give any assurance that this will not be one of the acquisitions that the government will be selling off and that towards the next budget the government will commit money to purchase additional private properties. I understand in the bill there is a provision to allow for the purchase of additional surrounding properties as they come up for sale.

Action Plan for the National Capital CommissionGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Lawrence Cannon Conservative Pontiac, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will make a quick comment in terms of the extremely important role that Gatineau Park and the greenbelt area play in this region.

I was involved, as a town councillor, with developing a strategic plan for Gatineau's 20/20 vision, and one of the outstanding features was Gatineau Park. We built our economic development and social and cultural plan around the fact that we have a very strong green entity in the community and that it is an asset that we need but that we can also promote as being extremely important for our community, and moving forward, for the quality of life for all our citizens.

On the question of whether this federal government will sell off the assets, the hon. member should not worry; we will not sell off those assets. Those are assets that we, as Canadians, can look at and say, “This is our national capital region. It is a beautiful region. It is an outstanding region”.

All we have to do is look at other national capitals around the world and we can certainly be among the most prominent, the most important, because of the environmental sustainability vision that people like Jacques Gréber and others had for this region, long before both the hon. member and I had visions. That is the task we have, to continue that vision and go in that spirit.

Action Plan for the National Capital CommissionGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Marcel Proulx Liberal Hull—Aylmer, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to debate Bill C-37, An Act to amend the National Capital Act and other Acts.

First of all, we have serious questions about the bill regarding the changes made to the governance of the National Capital Commission and the management of Gatineau Park. We plan to support Bill C-37 in principle, so it may be referred to committee for further study.

The national capital is a symbol of our country. It is important to ensure that this vision is understood by all visitors from around the world.

The national capital is a symbol of our country and it is important to ensure it represents the vision of Canada to visitors from around the world. An open and transparent National Capital Commission is critical to ensure that the capital represents the values of Canadians.

The national capital region is one of the most beautiful capitals in the world and we are very proud of it.

This organization is an important part of the national capital region. We must maintain transparency within the National Capital Commission and continue to improve it if possible. An open and transparent corporation would reflect the values of Canadians.

This update is a reflection of the current political reality. The public wants to have access to the discussions that relate to where they live. Any decisions that are made will have considerable repercussions on their lives. It is also a matter of principle. So, we have some serious questions, as I was saying, regarding the administrative changes proposed for the NCC.

I would remind the House that it is an independent corporation. Here are a few lines from the National Capital Commission's web site regarding its mission:

to prepare plans for and assist in the development, conservation and improvement of the national capital region in order that the nature and character of the seat of the Government of Canada may be in accordance with its national significance;

to organize, sponsor or promote such public activities and events in the national capital region as will enrich the cultural and social fabric of Canada.

Generally speaking the role of the NCC is to develop the land in the National Capital Region and to promote our region.

This bill is a follow up to the recommendations of an ad hoc committee chaired by Mr. Gilles Paquet in 2006. The specific purpose of Bill C-37 is to amend the National Capital Act to:

(a) modify the governance structure of the National Capital Commission and increase its transparency;

(b) clarify the National Capital Commission’s responsibilities, including those regarding planning and sound environmental stewardship;

(c) establish the boundaries of Gatineau Park;

(d) enhance the National Capital Commission’s regulation-making powers;

(e) remove the requirement that the National Capital Commission seek Governor in Council approval for real estate transactions; and

(f) harmonize that Act with the civil law regime of Quebec.

This enactment also amends the Official Residences Act to clarify the National Capital Commission’s responsibilities regarding official residences.

Along with the green belt, Gatineau Park is one of the jewels in the crown of Canada's capital. Born of the Greber plan, it has gone on to become the lifeblood of our capital. Today we have some serious questions about the boundaries of Gatineau Park. They need to be made very clear.

On page 13 of the bill, the description of the Gatineau Park boundaries reads as follows:

The boundaries of Gatineau Park are within the registration divisions of Hull, Gatineau and Pontiac, Province of Quebec, are located in the municipalities of Chelsea, La Pêche, Pontiac and the City of Gatineau, and form part of the cadastres of the Township of Aldfield, the Township of Eardley, the Township of Hull, the Township of Masham, the Township of Onslow and the Cadastre du Québec.

An examination of this bill leads one to immediately grasp the need for a thorough study of the matter. The description of the boundaries runs from page 12 through page 34, a very detailed description. So we will be in need of briefings, maps, engineers, and GPS to make sure that everything that needs to be included or excluded is properly delineated and identified. We therefore feel this requires a far more thorough examination in committee. There we need to clarify its functions and accessibility and set the boundaries.

For many reasons, I do not think that Gatineau Park should necessarily become a national park, basically because there are portions of land inside and around the park that belong to the government of Quebec. I also think that any protection afforded the park should not include a prohibition of citizens to have access and engage in activities there. However there should be some limits set.

Highway developments in recent years have improved access for residents to the western part of the city of Gatineau and to the park. Like the greenbelt in Ottawa, Gatineau Park is an ecological treasure, but it must also be able to grow and adapt to the human environment. There must be a balance between the two. Protecting the park is essential. To do so, we have to know its physical boundaries and put protective mechanisms in place.

Some are disappointed that Bill C-37 does not go far enough, but others are happy to begin the discussion. That is the gist of the message I want to deliver today. We must vote in favour of the bill so that it can be studied in depth in committee. In the course of that process, we will have to pay attention to certain concepts included in the bill so that they are fully understood and defined. I cite for example two terms used in the bill which must be studied, explained and explored. The first is the reference to a national interest land mass and the second concerns the ecological integrity of the park.

The bill raises other questions. Would the NCC charge user fees? Also, is there a possibility of privatizing the park, certain parts of it or certain works arising from the use and preservation of the park? In addition, this bill raises the issue of public transit in the region. This whole issue, and its local and regional impact, must be studied. The issue of transportation in the region is nothing new, even though it is included in this bill. It is part of the original mandate of the National Capital Commission. That is why the commission has already participated and is now participating in studies and in some planning of transportation. The use and disposition of properties in the park must also be very clear, so as to cause no prejudice to anyone.

In conclusion, the Liberal Party of Canada will support Bill C-37 in principle, in the interest of its further study in committee.

At this time we support the bill proceeding to committee stage. In principle, the bill adds clarity and transparency to the National Capital Commission and grants it clearer responsibilities in which to manage itself. There are questions on how these administrative changes will work and we will need to examine these in committee. The issue of setting the boundaries of Gatineau Park must also be examined closely. This issue has the potential to be controversial. We will examine this issue more closely over the summer and in committee.

In principle, the bill brings clarity and transparency to the National Capital Commission, and assigns it clear management responsibilities. We have questions about how these administrative changes will function, and so will need to have them studied in committee.

Any question relating to the boundaries of Gatineau Park must also be very closely examined.

We will work on this over the summer and during its study in committee, seeking the clarifications to all the issues we raise.

Message from the SenateGovernment Orders

June 18th, 2009 / 4:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

I have the honour to inform the House that a message has been received from the Senate informing this House that the Senate has passed the following public bill to which the concurrence of the House is desired: Bill S-208, An Act to amend the Food and Drugs Act (clean drinking water).

Message from the SenateGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

It is also my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Gatineau, Government Contracts; the hon. member for Burnaby—Douglas, Public Safety; and the hon. member for Vancouver Quadra, Forest Industry.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-37, An Act to amend the National Capital Act and other Acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Action Plan for the National Capital CommissionGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Bloc

Richard Nadeau Bloc Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate the hon. member for Hull—Aylmer, who is my neighbour in the Outaouais, for his speech in which he said that the Liberal Party will support Bill C-37 so it can be studied in great detail in committee.

Could the hon. member tell us why it is necessary to look at the boundaries of Gatineau Park?

Action Plan for the National Capital CommissionGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Marcel Proulx Liberal Hull—Aylmer, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his question.

Of course, it is rather difficult to determine now the benefits and drawbacks related to certain boundaries of Gatineau Park. However, I can provide an example for the hon. member.

There are currently some private properties in Gatineau Park. Other properties are immediately adjacent to the park. Some of the properties located inside the park benefit from transactions that took place in years past. If we were to now block or stop any additional development in Gatineau Park, this would have the effect of increasing the value of existing properties. However, in some cases, the value would go down. We are talking about properties that were acquired from other private interests, of land acquired from the National Capital Commission, or of properties neighbouring the park. Therefore, I believe that we will have to look very closely at the boundaries of Gatineau Park.

Earlier, I talked about the park's geographical location. Hon. members probably noticed that a section of the park is located in the riding of Hull—Aylmer, but most of it is in the riding of Pontiac.

We will have to take a close look at the park's boundaries to ensure that the process is fair to those who are already settled in the park, to those who have neighbouring properties, and also to municipalities. Indeed, some municipalities are currently using public roads located in the park, while residents of these municipalities use the park in various ways. So, we will have to be very cautious and careful, and we will have to do a thorough and detailed study of the boundaries of Gatineau Park.

Action Plan for the National Capital CommissionGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

Bloc

Richard Nadeau Bloc Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his response.

Now, I would like to know what my colleague from Hull—Aylmer thinks about submitting all National Capital Commission activities, decisions and development projects relating to property in Quebec to the Government of Quebec for its approval.

Action Plan for the National Capital CommissionGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Marcel Proulx Liberal Hull—Aylmer, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague from Gatineau already asked that question to my colleague, the member for Pontiac and Minister of Foreign Affairs, who obviously spoke just before I did in favour of the bill. The response given by the Minister of Foreign Affairs was quite clear: there are agreements between the governments of Quebec and Canada on different topics, different transactions and different places where the Government of Canada can act in the province of Quebec.

But I do not believe that the Government of Canada has to ask the Government of Quebec for permission to do work in a park that belongs to the Government of Canada. I understand and I can see where the member for Gatineau is going with his question. We should not expect that tomorrow morning, next month or five years from now, the Government of Canada, through the National Capital Commission, will decide to build a zoo, an amusement park, water slides or other things without consulting the neighbouring municipalities, the general public and obviously also the Government of Quebec.

The Government of Canada has jurisdiction over its own territory but there are agreements on sharing responsibility and on consultation between the governments of Quebec and Canada, so my colleague from Gatineau has nothing to be afraid of. I do not really believe that just because it owns Gatineau Park, the Government of Canada, through the National Capital Commission, will play tricks on the Government of Quebec.

Action Plan for the National Capital CommissionGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

Bloc

Richard Nadeau Bloc Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to Bill C-37, An Act to amend the National Capital Act and other Acts. The Bloc recognizes the importance of improving the conservation of natural settings and the protection of Gatineau Park and property development. It considers, however, that the federal government must act with respect for the environment and the jurisdictions of Quebec, as regards the management of its land, for example.

In this vein, the Bloc would like to express a number of reservations. They concern, among other things, the matter of transportation and the powers of the National Capital Commission to designate parts of Quebec land a national interest land mass.

The Bloc supports efforts to make the National Capital Commission more transparent. And particularly so, as these measures echo recommendations made by the Bloc during the 2006 consultations when the commission's mandate was reviewed.

In addition, the Bloc decries the fact that the government did not include certain recommendations drawn from our 2006 brief on the review of the NCC's mandate, to the effect, first, that all activities, decisions and proposed development by the NCC within Quebec territory be first submitted for approval to the Government of Quebec and, second, that spending on one side or other of the river be shared equally by Gatineau and Ottawa.

Consequently, the Bloc is in favour of having Bill C-37 studied in committee as concerns Gatineau Park. This is an important site the NCC manages. With an area of over 350 kilometres, Gatineau Park is currently a federal park administered by the National Capital Commission. Unlike other national and provincial parks in Canada, the park has no legal protection, which makes it vulnerable to sales of its lands by the NCC.

Under an agreement concluded in 1973, the Government of Quebec transferred management control over 5,060 hectares of land belonging to Quebec situated within Gatineau Park to the federal government, in perpetuity, according to the two orders in council accompanying the agreement. The agreement concerns some 17% of the park lands. Despite the transfer of the right of management, the Government of Quebec continues to view itself as the sole owner of these lands.

Certain concerns should be raised regarding, among other things, the matter of transportation. In the section on the NCC's mandate, a new provision concerning the objects and purposes of the commission is causing concerns. The bill proposes powers under the objects and purposes of the National Capital Commission with respect to transportation in the region. To the Bloc, it is clear that responsibility for the development of Quebec land in the federal capital and elsewhere belongs to the Government of Quebec. The same is true in the case of transportation.

The Bloc Québécois believes that federal government legislation and policies should be amended so that all activities, decisions and proposed development by the National Capital Commission within Quebec territory should first be submitted to the Government of Quebec for approval.

With respect to transferring financial resources, the Bloc Québécois does not agree with a number of the National Capital Commission's objectives, particularly those concerning the development of a national identity, it goes without saying.

We recognize that the Outaouais region will benefit from planning and we understand that Canadians want to revitalize the area surrounding the federal seat of government. All the same, we believe that all planning activities should occur under the direction of the Government of Quebec.

As to the national interest land mass, which is a very touchy, important and sensitive issue, the bill introduces new sections authorizing the National Capital Commission to designate some lands as being of national interest. In clauses 10.2 and 10.3, the federal government is proposing nothing less than to give the National Capital Commission the power to acquire lands deemed to be of national interest. As soon as such lands come under the ownership or management of the National Capital Commission, it becomes responsible for planning their use. The Bloc Québécois recognizes the importance of protecting Gatineau Park from building development, but that protection must respect the integrity of Quebec territory.

With respect to the boundaries of Gatineau Park, these are defined for the first time in the legislation. Although this is a positive step, the Bloc Québécois wants to hear what experts have to say about the boundaries and will make sure that they correspond to those recognized by the Government of Quebec.

In the interest of transparency, the bill makes a number of changes to the National Capital Commission's operating procedures, that is, how the federal organization makes decisions. For example, the bill requires the commission to hold four open meetings per year. That was one of the demands in the Bloc Québécois' 2006 brief, and it will make the commission more transparent. Furthermore, at least every 10 years, the National Capital Commission must submit a master plan to the governor in council, who will in turn submit it to the House of Commons following approval.

These provisions are a step in the right direction. The Bloc Québécois would have liked to have seen another provision about the equitable appointment of commissioners, as stated in the brief I referred to earlier. It is important to understand the terms. We asked that:

“national capital region” commissioners representing Quebec be as numerous as those representing Ontario, and that Quebec be guaranteed one quarter of the commissioners from outside of the “national capital region”.

Some of the additional recommendations contained in the Bloc Québécois 2006 brief on the National Capital Commission review were not included in the government's bill and that is deplorable. Here are a few that could have been included in this bill.

With respect to the integrity of Quebec's territory, and based on the fact that the current government has promised to respect Quebec's jurisdictions, the Bloc Québécois expects all activities of the National Capital Commission concerning Quebec to be subject to the approval of the Government of Quebec.

Although the federal government and the National Capital Commission consider the Outaouais and the Ontario side as a single entity, we consider Gatineau and Ottawa to have their own identity and interests and the National Capital Commission must recognize that the Government of Quebec and the City of Gatineau, on the Quebec side, are better positioned to meet the needs of their citizens.

The Bloc Québécois believes that the federal government and its agent, the National Capital Commission, have the obligation to respect the integrity of Quebec's territory, both in terms of the land mass and the exercise of power.

The federal government's law and policies should be amended to ensure that: the federal government ceases to dispossess Quebec of its land; the National Capital Commission does not have the right to proceed with expropriations; all National Capital Commission activities, decisions and development projects on Quebec territory are to be approved by the Government of Quebec in advance; all board meetings of the National Capital Commission are to be held in public.

The Bloc Québécois believes that the federal government and its agent, the National Capital Commission, must formally undertake to equitably share their expenditures between the cities of Gatineau and Ottawa on the basis of population.

The Bloc Québécois will vote for Bill C-37 so that it can be studied in more detail in committee.

Gatineau Park is an extraordinary place and very beautiful. It deserves to be visited and better known. In the very distant past, the Champlain Sea came this far and one of the banks where its waves crashed was Gatineau Park. When we visit Champlain Lookout, we can see how vast and deep the Champlain Sea might have been.

There is also Lac Philippe, the picnic places and Pink Lake, which is remarkable for the fact that there is no oxygen in its depths. It is highly valued by scientists, who can conduct some of the rarest studies in the world here. There are also the bicycle paths, the hiking trails, and the places where families can go with their children to admire and appreciate nature in a safe environment.

As a result of the various eco-climates in Gatineau Park, trees as rare as the ironwood can be found. It used to be prized by locals when the forest industry was still cutting down trees here. Ironwood was used to make axe handles. It is very rare nowadays, and the members of all parties and all the people in the world should get to know and appreciate the micro-climates to be found in Gatineau Park.

Many people enjoy the cross-country ski trails in the winter. They have places along the trails where people can stop and eat something they have brought along. A wood stove is provided. People can get warm in these enclosed places and enjoy their skiing all the more. My students and I did some winter camping in Gatineau Park. We could spend the night in the quinzhees and continue our skiing the next day on the well-groomed trails.

The animals are also very interesting. There is Kingsmere too. You know just what I am talking about, Mr. Speaker. It was the cottage of none other than William Lyon Mackenzie King, the former Prime Minister of Canada. If I am not mistaken, you invited parliamentarians to visit it last night. It really deserves a visit.

We all know—

Action Plan for the National Capital CommissionGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Order, please. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. member, but there is someone here.

A message was delivered by the Usher of the Black Rod as follows:

Mr. Speaker, Her Excellency the Governor General desires the immediate attendance of this honourable House in the chamber of the honourable the Senate.

Accordingly, the Speaker with the House went up to the Senate chamber.

And being returned:

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-37, An Act to amend the National Capital Act and other Acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Action Plan for the National Capital CommissionGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Bloc

Richard Nadeau Bloc Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I understand that we had to deal with some business of Parliament, but now I will continue.

If I am not mistaken, Mr. Speaker, I had got to the Kingsmere estate, which you are familiar with because as Speaker of the House of Commons, you occupy one of the residences there, which is maintained by the National Capital Commission. It is also an interesting place because the former Prime Minister of Canada, Mackenzie King, built residences there out of material he inherited from his grandfather, who was the leader of the Reform Party in Ontario, in Upper Canada, at the time of the 1837-1838 rebellions. We will recall that the Reformists in Upper Canada and the Patriots in Lower Canada worked, each in their own way and with their own people, to bring democracy to the people they represented, Upper Canadians and Lower Canadians. We know that the British Empire was familiar with the formula which it applied at home, but refused to allow real democracy to be instituted in a straightforward, honest manner.

So Prime Minister Mackenzie King’s grandfather was one of those leaders, as Louis-Joseph Papineau, an important figure, was for Lower Canada. It is interesting to note that Montebello, where Louis-Joseph Papineau spent the last 20 years of his life, is not far from Gatineau Park, in terms of relative distance when we compare them today.

It also has a very interesting lake, not only in terms of its views and what it is used for, but also in political terms: Meech Lake. We all know that the Bloc Québécois first came into being in the Outaouais. As they say, truth emerges from the clash of ideas. The Meech Lake accord was first signed by all of the premiers on Quebec’s national holiday, June 24, 1987, on the shores of Meech Lake. Prime Minister Brian Mulroney had invited all of the provincial premiers to work out a way for Quebec to become part of the Constitution that had been patriated so incongruously—to put it mildly—by then Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau. Meech Lake saw the start of a great debate, all across Canada, all across Quebec. On June 23, 1990, the three-year-old agreement finally crumbled. We know the political dealing that took place at that time. Five demands had been put to Canada by Quebec, for it to sign on to the patriation of the 1982 Constitution. I would mention in passing that it was never signed, and since that time a majority of the members representing Quebec in the House of Commons have been from the Bloc Québécois.

I tell this story by way of saying that inside Gatineau Park itself, in this magnificent spot, is a place of great political significance to the Bloc Québécois: Meech Lake. It is worth making the trip, to go and walk on its shores and even go swimming, just as one might in Lac Philippe.

That said, the Bloc Québécois reiterates its position: we are going to vote in favour of Bill C-37 so that the National Capital Commission can enter the 21st century.

Action Plan for the National Capital CommissionGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Liberal Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to the comments of my colleague from Gatineau. Since we have both worked on several files which come under the responsibility of the National Capital Commission and since we have some time left, I would like to ask him a few questions.

My first question is about the important role played by the National Capital Commission with respect to integration and urban planning in the national capital region on both sides of the river. Is my colleague satisfied with the powers and responsibilities of the NCC vis-à-vis this role of creating cohesion between both sides of the river with regard to urban planning and land-use planning? Is he satisfied with the powers and the role it has?

Second, I would like to know if he is satisfied with the way the NCC carries out this work presently? If not, what would he like to see corrected in the work of the NCC?

If I have some time left after his answer, I will ask him another question.

Action Plan for the National Capital CommissionGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

Bloc

Richard Nadeau Bloc Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I salute my colleague from Ottawa—Vanier, who was once president of the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa, where I also was a student and where I also tried to be elected, a few years after his mandate, not as president, but as a member of the executive. Although I lost the election at the time, I am happy that we can both be members of Parliament here today. Therefore, I salute my colleague, who is originally from Mattawa.

Here is my answer to his very pertinent question. To begin with, land use in Quebec is a matter for the National Assembly of Quebec to decide. Also, the City of Gatineau knows best how the land should be used in the interest of all of its population. I agree that there can be some degree of coordination due to the creation of the National Capital Commission, which was in 1959, the year I was born. Cohesion and coordination always are useful.

Now, we must never forget, and this element is missing from the bill, that the integrity of the Quebec territory must be respected.