Mr. Speaker, I want to address the bill. It seems the National Capital Commission exists by virtue of the simple fact that there is not likely to be in this country a federal district, ever is a long time, but not soon for sure, because I do not think there is any appetite for it in either province, Quebec or Ontario, other than that the concept comes up every once in a while only to be shot down. Given that there is not likely to be a federal district any time soon, the National Capital Commission takes on even greater importance, because it is basically, therefore, the only tool that exists, the only agency that exists, to see to the appropriate development of not just green areas, but the capital itself. Therefore, I place a great deal of importance on this matter, since I represent a riding that is in the heart of the nation's capital, and I firmly believe in the importance to any country that its capital be a good reflection and accommodation of the entire country.
There is another concept that has to play in the crafting of legislation and consideration of such legislation, and that is the evolution on both sides of the river of the municipal authorities over the past three or four decades. If one were to take a close look at the growing maturity of the planning capacity of both the municipality on the Outaouais side in Gatineau and on the Ontario side in Ottawa and trace the history of the evolution of that authority and that power, one would see a greater capacity, a greater sophistication, and a greater maturity in the planning capacity of each.
However, when the National Capital Commission was created many moons ago, that was not the case. Therefore, the legislature at the time thought it best to give the National Capital Commission perhaps wider planning authority and less of a consultation mandate than I think it should have today.
These are some of the overriding, overarching considerations that will be reflected in my comments on this proposed bill.
The first element on which I would like to focus is one that was mentioned by my two colleagues, the members for Ottawa South and Hull—Aylmer, as well as by myself, and it deals with ecological integrity.
We, on this side of the House, obviously agree with the concept of protecting and maintaining ecological integrity. However, does the bill do what must be done? I believe this is a perfectly legitimate question in two respects.
First, is the concept of ecological integrity given enough priority? Second, is it applied equally enough throughout the land? We asked that question but it still remains unanswered.
Regarding the importance, at least from my point of view—and I think my colleagues on this side of the House share this concern—I believe that the issue of ecological integrity should be a priority. If one looks carefully at the wording of this bill, such is not the case. I could find the exact wording, but it says that in its planning, the National Capital Commission must give consideration to the maintenance of ecological integrity. That is not giving priority to ecological integrity. If one draws a comparison with the way this legislative assembly has dealt with national parks—and I am not suggesting that Gatineau Park has the same status—and if one looks at this issue in particular, one can see very quickly that in the case of national parks, ecological integrity is a top priority. It should be the same for Gatineau Park, but that is not what the bill does. That is a first observation and a bit of a disappointment with regard to the government's proposal. I think this should be amended should the bill make its way to committee.
The second concern is equally important. It is the whole concept of a greenbelt, which is as important on the Ottawa side, in the National Capital Region, as Gatineau Park is on the Outaouais side of the region. The bill, as far as I know and unless I have misread it, makes no provision for protecting the ecological integrity or even for maintaining it. There is no mention of priority here, even. There is the whole issue of the entire greenbelt.
I can tell you as an MP for the Ontario side of the National Capital Region that this is of paramount concern to me and that it concerns many of my fellow citizens. I am pleased to note, however, that the member for Carleton—Mississippi Mills recognized in his remarks that, in the consultations conducted by Mr. Paquet in 2006, and as indicated in his report, this concern for preserving the greenbelt and its ecological integrity had been raised by the people of our region.
However, the wording proposed by the government expresses no interest in protecting the ecological integrity of the greenbelt. This risks becoming an issue because it is quite important.
The second question concerns the whole issue of the plan for the national capital. Bill C-37, An Act to amend the National Capital Act and other Acts, proposes that every 10 years the National Capital Commission submit a 50-year plan or plan for the development over 50 years of the National Capital Region to the Governor in Council and that the plan be submitted for approval only to the Governor in Council. For those watching us, the Governor in Council means cabinet. In the 30 days thereafter, if I am not mistaken, the Governor in Council must table a bill in this House.
It does not go far enough. Like Parliament, the House is called on to approve master plans for national parks. It is sufficiently important that members representing all ridings in Canada decide on the development plan or the comprehensive development plan for their national capital.
It would be a golden opportunity to have a debate and a vote in this House at least every 10 years so that the duly elected representatives of the people of Canada can decide on the sort of capital they want.
That is not asking too much. The fact of ratifying the plan—if it or they were ever ratified—would simply confirm Canadians' perception of their capital. To ask only cabinet, the Governor in Council, to approve these plans every 10 years is inadequate. If the bill goes to committee, I will certainly insist that an amendment be called for as well to permit those who represent Canadians, the members of this House of Commons, to make decisions on their capital.
The other advantage of such a measure would be that once every 10 years all members would be asked to think about their capital, its development, its future and how Canadians in their riding, regardless of where they are in the country, connect with their capital. This sort of debate and interaction between members from across the country and the national capital could only benefit the country. We all know that people often tend to be critical of Ottawa. However, we must make our capital a place of pride that all Canadians can be proud of and where they can find something for themselves. That is the second point.
Third, I do not believe there have been consultations by the government on the legislation after the Gilles Paquet exercise, and that is too bad. I asked Ontario representatives, Quebec representatives and municipal representatives on both sides of the river if they had been consulted on the legislation and the answer was no.
It is a bad way to start. The government, having received the report from Gilles Paquet, should have taken it upon itself to consult the municipal and provincial authorities, if only to start creating a consensus and also to show that this would be the way of the future.
There is an incredible importance in the fact that the National Capital Commission itself would consult its municipal and provincial partners on a regular basis. The government, not having done that, shows a terrible example. Perhaps we should even consider amendments to the legislation that would create a mechanism that would oblige the National Capital Commission in this consultation on a regular basis.
If we are to create a plan for the National Capital Region, which hopefully would be approved in the House every decade, I think the strength of that plan would obviously be greater if it were the result of some serious consultation with municipal and provincial authorities in the National Capital Region.
The fourth point has to do with the role of planning. The land-use planning in the entire National Capital Region, its economic development, and the location of jobs must necessarily be included in the master plan that the National Capital Commission will prepare to submit to the Governor in Council and, I hope, to the House for approval every ten years.
The role that the National Capital Commission will play in the plan is not very clear insofar as this development and the integration of it is concerned. I have supported the famous 75-25 split in public service jobs—75% on the Ontario side and 25% on the Quebec side—ever since it was formulated and it should be built into the legislation and into all NCC plans, at the very least.
The distribution of these jobs within each of the regions on both sides of the river is also important. There has to be a balance within these regions, which should also be reflected in the plan. Why do I emphasize this? Because it should also be included in all the planning around transportation.
When we are talking about transportation, we are talking about public transit and the network of roads and bridges. As soon as the issue of transportation is raised, we fall into discussions which, I hope, will not be interminable, even though they have always seemed to be so far. The government had a golden opportunity to introduce a bill and make amendments to the National Capital Commission Act that would have given it the ability and authority to do what needs to be done in order to plan appropriately for economic development and the integration of road and public transit networks on both sides of the river.
In the Outaouais, there are plans for Rapibus. Very good. In Ontario, there is light rail. How will these two networks be integrated? The National Capital Region is an integrated economic unit and this fact should be taken into account in the rules, in the legislation governing the National Capital Region, and in its mandate and its planning obligations. However, this does not seem to be the case. I am rather concerned about this deficiency in the bill that the government introduced in June, if I remember correctly, and that we will now spend a few minutes discussing. It is very important because it concerns the future of our community and the future of the Canadian capital. We need to do our homework and do it right. I think there are some problems in this regard.
There are a number of areas where we may agree on the technicalities of the various authorities that the NCC should have in terms of its flexibility for acquisition and disposal of land, as long as the ecological integrity is respected. That is why it is so important to put it in for the Greenbelt as well.
If we are to say that we will not protect the integrity of the Greenbelt but give the NCC the authority to acquire and dispose of lands without coming back to the higher authorities, whether it be the Treasury Board or cabinet, then we may open the door to some things we do not want to see. Therefore, it is attractive to tie in both ends.
I have no problem as a legislator in granting some authority to institutions and agencies such as the National Capital Commission. I come from an milieu where we had delegated much higher authority than we seem to in this Parliament. Therefore, I am quite open to that. However, it has to be done within the context where the expectations of preserving certain things, such as the ecological integrity of a Greenbelt, are well spelled out and cannot be deviated from.
If we do not spell out the fact that we expect the ecological integrity of the greenbelt to also be respected, then I would be very hesitant to increase the authority of the NCC in acquiring and disposing of land, perhaps in the greenbelt. That is how it ties in. If we have protection of the ecological integrity of the greenbelt as well, the rest flows very easily.
Finally, this is a personal bone that I have with the government. Here would have been a very good example of a bill that could have been set up for referral to committee before second reading. We have heard a willingness to co-operate from all parties. We have heard some concerns from the three opposition parties so far, and we may hear some more, about some things that are in the proposed bill and some things that are not in it.
I would hate to be forced into a situation, should the bill go to committee after second reading, to be told that we could not amend it a certain way because it might be seen to be expanding the bill, that we could not do a certain thing because blah, blah. Whereas if we had referred to committee before second reading, after five hours of debate or less, whichever committee would get this would have had the opportunity to really bite into this legislation and do what was best.
When we were on the other side in a minority situation, I was a deputy House leader. We made it a point to ensure that as many bills as we could were referred to committee before second reading, because we wanted to trust the committees. We wanted to give leeway to the committees and their members to do what was right, and it worked.
The fact that the government refuses time and again to refer any bill to committee before second reading shows that it does not want to work with the opposition parties. It shows that it does not trust in the capacity of individual members to get along in a committee setting to do what is right for the public good, to do what is right for legislation. The government refuses to acknowledge, when it comes down to it, that we all have the same interests in protecting the nation's capital, in this case, or protecting the interests of our fellow citizens, in most legislation, but it does not want to give us that. It seems to say “It's my way or the highway”.
In great part that sometimes leads to the situation we now see in the House, where it is very difficult. That side has no desire whatsoever to listen to anything from this side.
Should the bill go to committee and should there not be a willingness to accept certain amendments, I will not support the legislation after second reading. That has to be very clear. I have said this after having spoken for 20 minutes, and those guys were not listening. I detailed quite clearly the legitimate preoccupations that I am conveying to the House on behalf of my constituents, but it does not seem to sink in.
It is unfortunate that we may end up in that situation, but if that is the desire then so be it. As for me, I will continue to work positively to try to improve the legislation should it go to committee.