Mr. Speaker, as a servant of the national capital region in this House, I am especially pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-37, our government's action plan for the National Capital Commission.
Allow me to also note that I will be splitting my time with our wise chief government whip. I speak of the hon. member for Carleton—Mississippi Mills.
I am delighted to rise in this House to speak about the amendments to the National Capital Act introduced by our government.
Members of this House will not be surprised that my wife and I have walked, cycled, and skied every centimetre of every trail in this region. As a boy, I also swam at Petrie Island and at Britannia Bay. As a teenager, I even took forbidden midnight dips in Pink Lake. Come to think of it, my first date with my wife was a 40 kilometre bicycle ride to Pink Lake and back, 36 years ago today, during the Rosh Hashanah holidays of 1973.
I know well the scenic beauty and unique experiences that our capital has to offer to all who live here and to those who come to visit.
With my family and friends, I often enjoy the charms and treasures of our wonderful capital. This would likely be impossible were it not for the vision and hard work of the National Capital Commission.
It was at Camp Fortune that my wife, our four children and I learned to downhill ski and snowboard. Closer to home, the Mer Bleue cross-country trails, sheltered from the icy wind, are just superb.
A strong NCC means a strong national capital region, and we must ensure that the NCC is as effective and as responsive as possible. This includes increasing transparency and accountability. This has been a cornerstone of all our government's policies since taking office 1,319 days ago.
Let us not forget that this is the government that introduced the Federal Accountability Act. Our government has listened and we made changes to the NCC that will make it more open and more accountable to residents, to taxpayers and to all Canadians.
The Prime Minister's decision to appoint Marie Lemay as head of the NCC 20 months ago was an enlightened one.
The appointment by the Prime Minister of Russell Mills as NCC chair also was an inspired stroke of genius.
Naturally, they are supported by Maureen Hayes and a team of seasoned professionals.
Now, by introducing amendments to the National Capital Act, our government is presenting a vision for the future of the NCC. In order to ensure that Crown lands and historically important sites can be enjoyed by Canadians for years to come, we must act now.
The NCC plays a key role in protecting and preserving these lands.
Take the Greenbelt, for example. This great swath of land encircling urban Ottawa includes farms, forests and wetlands that total over 20,000 hectares. These lands provide places for people to experience outdoor pursuits and appreciate natural beauty, in some cases literally at their doorsteps.
The Greenbelt encircles Ottawa from Shirleys Bay in Ottawa West--Nepean to Green's Creek in Ottawa--Orléans. Nearly three-quarters of the total area is owned and managed by the NCC on behalf of the taxpayers of Canada. The rest is held by other federal departments and private interests practising sustainable farming and forestry.
More than one million visitors a year go walking, sliding down hills, cross-country skiing or snowshoeing there, among other places.
The environmental protection provisions in Bill C-37 will help protect fragile ecosystems in the Gatineau Park and in the Greenbelt while also ensuring that residents in urban and suburban Ottawa-Gatineau have a greater say in issues that affect them and their families.
The NCC also administers the Rideau Canal on behalf of Parks Canada.
Now a UNESCO world heritage site, the construction of the canal is one of the single most important developments in Ottawa's and likely Canada's history.
The Rideau Canal was a vital economic and military safeguard for the country in the 1800s. It is a tribute to the genius of Colonel John By and his Royal Engineers. I did not mean my engineers, just the Royal Engineers.
Today, it is a favourite route for boaters. In winter, a nearly eight kilometre stretch of the canal is transformed into the world's largest naturally frozen skating rink. It is a cornerstone of our heritage and the centrepiece of our national capital that continues to awe visitors from around the world.
Here I would like to pay tribute to Henry Storgaard and to all the board members of the Rideau Canal festival. The work that they did this year was amazing. I was thrilled to support them.
By the way, I also commend Michel Gauthier's efficient organization.
It is important for children across the country to learn about the Rideau Canal, a cornerstone of our heritage and the centrepiece of our national capital that continues to awe visitors from around the world.
On behalf of Canadian taxpayers, the NCC owns and maintains many green spaces and parks. Many people who visit the region remark favourably on the quality of these facilities. In downtown Ottawa near the National Arts Centre we have the luscious Confederation Park. In my youth, it was an ugly parking lot. Before that, it was a luxury apartment building.
Now, it hosts various cultural events throughout the year, such as Winterlude, the Ottawa International Jazz Festival and the National Capital Marathon Race Weekend, just to name a few.
Those who live and work here know that these parks are delightful places to escape to, at lunchtime for example, to read, meditate or simply relax.
These are but a few examples of what the NCC has to offer, on a daily basis, to both locals and visitors.
I encourage all hon. members to vote in favour of this bill and to help keep the national capital region and the National Capital Commission doing the good work that they are doing right now for the benefit of all Canadians.
I encourage hon. members from all sides to vote for Bill C-37, thereby helping the NCC to continue the excellent work it is doing for the benefit of all Canadians.