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House of Commons Hansard #48 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was indian.

Topics

An Action Plan for the National Capital CommissionGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, if I were watching this at home, I might feel that I was having a case of déjà vu or maybe that CPAC had run out of interesting things to cover and was showing us reruns, because we are dealing with a bill that was already dealt with. We had hours of debate. We had testimony. We had witnesses. We had parties working clause by clause to present a bill that should now be law. Yet the Conservatives, as has become their style, flushed the bill down the toilet because they did not want to answer any questions on the Afghan detainees.

Therefore, what we are living here in the House right now is akin to the extras in the movie Groundhog Day, where we come back every day and usually see the same dumb tough on crime bills and the government denouncing this and that. Yet I have seen this pattern since 2007, where the government has flushed its entire legislative agenda and then started everything from the beginning. It did that just this past January.

A legislative agenda is usually the pride of a government. It is something that it shepherds through the House. It is something it believes in. It does not just rip the bills up, throw out all of the witness testimony, spend millions of dollars and then say, “Wait a minute. Now we are serious. We are going to do it over again”.

We are looking at Bill C-20, which was Bill C-37 previously. We are having to go through the same process for something that should have been done. I have never seen a government with such a meagre standard for legislative results.

My hon. colleague spent many years in a provincial parliament and has seen many governments in action. Has he ever seen a government with such little interest or regard for the fundamental job it has as government, which is bringing through legislation, actually seeing the legislation get voted on and bringing it into law?

An Action Plan for the National Capital CommissionGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, the member makes a very good point, although I must tell him that there have been a lot of interesting speeches today. There is the recognition that we went through all of this last year. Sometimes there are days when I think it is deliberate and this is the way they want to conduct themselves in the House and there are other days when I think that they operate on a day-by-day basis.

There is still that bravado in the Conservative Party that while the Conservatives did not get a majority in actual terms, in their own minds they still think they are number one and they are going to act as though they were a majority government. They are not recognizing that they are not a majority government. I feel that they have that edge, that they have not come to grips with the fact that they really are a minority and that they are going to stay a minority. The public probably likes them that way but just wish they would develop a plan to get things done around here.

Why does the transport committee work so smoothly? Why do things get done in the transport committee? I may not be happy with some of the stuff that comes out of the transport committee and do not get me started on that, but in terms of a committee, it seems to work fairly well. If that one can work fairly well, why can that not be replicated in other committees?

An Action Plan for the National Capital CommissionGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Bloc

Robert Vincent Bloc Shefford, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have been listening to my colleagues and I agree with them that the government is taking a piecemeal approach to management. It is different from one day to the next. One day, it takes one step forward and, the next day, it takes two steps back. I think that the Conservatives do not even know where they are going. They do not have an agenda or anything.

I would like the member to tell me something. Does he think that, given the way they are managing the House of Commons, the Conservatives are taking the public hostage with their agenda, or, rather, their lack of an agenda ?

An Action Plan for the National Capital CommissionGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, that is probably the case. I would think they would want to show the public when they go into the next election that they have gotten certain parts of their agenda through. That is what I would think they would want to gain.

That is certainly what happened in the Lester B. Pearson years. I just indicated that quite a number of enormous developments happened during that period of minority government. The Gary Filmon government for a year and a half and the Bill Davis government, all of these governments had something to show for their period of time in office. I do not know why they would want to squander that period of time by lurching from day to day. That is what it looks like to us over here. In not even two years the Conservatives prorogued Parliament on two occasions. That does not sound to me like things are connected and working properly over there. They need a mechanic to fix their problems, and they are fixable, but somebody has to do it.

An Action Plan for the National Capital CommissionGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-20, An Act to amend the National Capital Act and other Acts. This is not the first time I have spoken to such a bill.

Bill C-20 was introduced following the prorogation, but had previously been introduced on June 9, 2009 under a different number, before Parliament was prorogued. At the time, important statements were made by the hon. member for Pontiac, because Gatineau Park borders the Outaouais region.

The Outaouais region includes four ridings, namely Hull—Aylmer, Pontiac, Gatineau and Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, which I represent in this place. I have one foot in the Laurentians and the other in the Outaouais region.

As the former chair of the Conseil régional de développement de l'Outaouais, I can say that Gatineau Park has definitely always been important to me. This park, which occupies more than 360 km2, is a federal property on Quebec soil.

Everyone knew that, at some point, the National Capital Act would have to be amended and modernized. I sit on the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, which received the June 9, 2009 version of this legislation. The committee will now have to review Bill C-20, which is before us.

I was in favour of modernizing this legislation, particularly since the community had set up a committee to make recommendations. I am not going to speak at length about this committee, which is made up of volunteers and which proposed interesting recommendations.

When I looked at the June 9, 2009 version of the bill, I had some reservations. As a member of the Bloc Québécois, I was proud to welcome to the committee the member for Gatineau, whose riding is closer to Gatineau Park and is part of the territory covered by the National Capital Commission. I am a member from the Outaouais, but my riding is located outside the territory that is under the National Capital Commission.

We benefited from the nice contribution made by my colleague for Gatineau. He takes an interest in the land covered by Gatineau Park, because his constituents ask him questions on this issue. It is not just an area: it is a park used by the public.

So, it is important to see how the federal government, which owns the land, manages this park for the benefit of the community. I was keeping abreast of this major issue in the local media. I thought the bill would put to rest most of the concerns I had at the time, when I was chair of the Conseil régional de développement de l'Outaouais.

One of the main concerns was the presence of the Quebec government at the table. We cannot have a federal property managed by the National Capital Commission and make changes to the National Capital Act without taking into consideration the Quebec government, which must make important decisions regarding its whole territory.

In this bill to amend the National Capital Act, I was surprised to see that the government of Quebec and that of Ontario—since part of the land managed by the National Capital Commission is located in Ontario—are not involved in the discussions.

The NDP member said that the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities works well, and it is true.

I have been a member of the committee since 2000. We have always been fairly pragmatic, and it is no secret that the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities takes a logical approach to issues.

We need to leave partisan politics aside as much as possible and try to resolve issues and problems one by one, in a logical manner. Members are familiar with the good parent concept. What would a good parent do in a given situation? That is how I have always acted at the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities.

If we are going to update the National Capital Act, why not do it right? When the time comes to once again discuss the acquisition of land, for example in Gatineau Park, why not consider what the provincial governments—of Quebec and Ontario—think, and consider the letters that have been sent to the member for Pontiac from the Government of Quebec?

I will not read out these letters written by Minister Pelletier, who was the minister responsible for the Outaouais in the Quebec National Assembly at the time. He was a Liberal minister who had no ties to the Parti Québécois or the Bloc Québécois. In 2007, he wrote a letter to express his interest in participating in discussions, because the bill provided for some very important additions, including the creation of a national interest land mass, which would allow the NCC to designate any land as part of this mass, and to proceed with the acquisition process. I am thinking of Gatineau Park and other land in the city of Gatineau and the surrounding area.

The same thing could happen in Ontario. The Bloc Québécois heard about a letter from Minister Pelletier, who was a member from Gatineau, in the Outaouais. He represented a riding at the National Assembly. Minister Pelletier wrote to the member for Pontiac, a member from the Outaouais, to say that the Government of Quebec must be involved in discussions regarding the national interest land mass. The Government of Quebec had to participate in these discussions and be involved in the decision. It was not simply a matter of consulting the Government of Quebec.

We are talking about land that is in Quebec. This Parliament has recognized the Quebec nation. Obviously, it comes up often and the Conservative members constantly repeat that they have recognized the Quebec nation. But the problem is that there is a world of difference between the recognition and applying this recognition. There is a world of difference and a sea of Conservatives that prevent these debates.

In committee I felt that we should have been able to make the Conservative members understand that we were updating the National Capital Act. And one way of updating the act would be to require that provincial governments—Ontario and Quebec—be involved in discussions about land acquisition and policies. The master plan will inevitably have an impact on land in Quebec and Ontario. Quebec and Ontario must be given a proportional number of seats at these discussions.

If we are talking about updating the act, we should actually do it. I can understand that the reporting committee was comprised of people from the area, citizens who participated in the debate. They were far removed from political concerns, but once the bill is passed and we want to update it, political concerns are obligatory, especially when the possibility of property or whatever being bought and sold affects land belonging to Quebec and Ontario.

Obviously, the Conservative representatives would not budge. Knowing my Conservative colleagues on the committee, I would say that this is not coming from them because they are usually open to negotiation. There was an official order.

We asked the National Capital Commission chair to appear and we will do so again when we examine Bill C-20. We realized that this bill represents the wishful thinking of NCC administrators who would like it to be a deciding body regarding federal land in Quebec and Ontario, even though they are not elected.

Understandably, we have many reservations. I think the Liberal Party also has many reservations. The NDP—we will see what happens when it is time to study Bill C-20—appeared to support it, but based on the speeches, I think the NDP members are beginning to have some doubts.

I was very surprised to see how reluctant the Conservative members were to enter into negotiations with Quebec or Ontario regarding lands within Quebec and Ontario. I was also surprised that those provinces were not given seats at the negotiating table or that a formal recommendation was not required from the Quebec National Assembly if there is to be any change to the total area or any land is sold. After all, we are talking about land that falls within the borders of Quebec and Ontario.

Quebec did not sign the Canadian Constitution, but the fact remains that the Constitution gives the provinces and territories certain rights. This bill ignores that fact. That is worrisome. The Conservatives say they want to update the legislation, so they introduced a bill to update the National Capital Act, to bring it in line with 2010, yet they are ignoring a slew of complaints and demands.

Through then Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, Benoît Pelletier, the Government of Quebec wrote directly to the hon. member for Pontiac, who was the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities at the time and responsible for the National Capital Commission. Mr. Pelletier said the act could not be amended in any way, especially regarding this new concept of “national interest land mass”, there could be no discussion and no decisions made without the consent of the Government of Quebec or the Government of Ontario.

No one is trying to take away any rights Ontario may have in that regard.

I thought this could have been negotiated easily in committee. Before prorogation, we were conducting the clause-by-clause review and we could sense that the Conservative government had many reservations. After the prorogation, the Conservative government introduced the new bill before us today, Bill C-20. I thought the government would have taken the opportunity to listen to us. We had already submitted our lists of amendments. We believed that, after the discussions, the government would have taken the opportunity to update the law or the new bill. That is not the case.

The Conservatives are digging their heels in, probably because they believe they may have the support of the NDP.

We are in favour of sending Bill C-20 to committee. Our objective today is to send Bill C-20 to committee for amendment.

I will take this opportunity to send a message to the NDP, often considered the centralizing party. If it decides to support the Conservatives and once again centralize the power to make decisions about Quebec or Ontario lands in the hands of the National Capital Commission, it will be maintaining its centralizing approach, which the Conservative Party wants to take advantage of in this matter.

I would like to say to my Conservative colleagues that, if they are not a centralizing party, they should not give the centralizing powers that it does not wish to give itself to an organization comprised of unelected officials, the members of the NCC board of directors. That is what they are doing. They are handing over the power to purchase and sell Quebec and Ontario land to an organization that is at arm's length from Parliament, without the say of the House of Commons and, even worse, without any authorization from Quebec and Ontario.

The CEO said that they would be consulted. They are consulted, but it is the commission that makes the decisions and its members are not elected. That was the message from the CEO of the NCC, a very nice Quebecker. She said that the committee established to make recommendations found that it was reasonable for the National Capital Commission to make the decisions because it was not a government jurisdiction. It seems that the members of the board of directors are experts and that they will make decisions about the purchase and sale of land.

With this new concept of national interest land mass, non-elected officials would make the decision to dispose of or acquire lands in Quebec and Ontario or do whatever they want with them, with no legislative decision by the House of Commons. It is laughable. Even worse, they would do so without the authorization of the governments of Quebec and Ontario, just because these people represent a federal agency that is not subject to provincial laws. The NCC, in addition to the members of the House of Commons, controls these lands. It is quite something.

Sometimes, democracy can be set back for a good cause. That is what the government is doing with Bill C-20, An Act to amend the National Capital Act and other Acts. The government is knowingly giving non-elected officials powers that belong in theory to elected officials. The NDP seems to be the Conservative government's willing partner in this.

This brings me to the minister, the member for Pontiac. That is not how I know him. When he was a member of the National Assembly, he always had respect for the laws of Quebec and Ontario, because they are important parts of Canada's Constitution. One can try to set them aside, which is what the National Capital Commission would like to do with the new powers it is asking for in this bill. These administrators can always decide to consult Quebec and Ontario, two provinces that, alone, account for at least half the people of Canada.

The Bloc Québécois will reach out as it has always done. I am glad my NDP colleague said the transport committee has always worked well. We have always taken a logical approach and tried to act as a good parent would. What would a good parent do in this case? I do not believe a good parent would give responsibility for lands in Quebec and Ontario to an agency run by non-elected officials who could decide to buy or sell them.

We are talking about lands as important as a park. I did not talk about the greenbelt in Ontario, but I am talking about Gatineau Park. We are talking about giving non-elected officials responsibility for lands in Quebec and Ontario, without letting the House of Commons have any kind of say.

An Action Plan for the National Capital CommissionGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Bloc

Paule Brunelle Bloc Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to what my hon. colleague had to say. This bill really comes as a surprise to me. This is the first time I have seen it, even though I am told that it has been introduced in the House more than once. Bill C-20 deals with land acquisition, with the Government of Quebec not taking part in the discussions. The member told the House about the creation of a so-called national interest land mass.

It seems to me that, when I was in elementary school, Quebec had well-defined boundaries. Territorial integrity and management come under provincial jurisdiction. This brings back bad memories—I hope my colleague will be able to reassure me—memories of certain partitionists who wanted to chop away large parts of Quebec.

Can we go along with that? Where will a bill like that take us?

An Action Plan for the National Capital CommissionGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from Trois-Rivières for her question. Her imagery does reflect a particular reality. It proves that the Conservatives are still speaking in double talk. They recognize the Quebec nation, but they do not want to allow direct negotiations with the government of Quebec about federal lands on Quebec soil, concerning the future, the sale or the purchase of those lands, or anything else. This is difficult because we are supposed to have moved on. We should be able to modernize the National Capital Act, to make the commission members understand that, no, they cannot make decisions about this. They are not elected, and when they are dealing with matters that relate to the territory that is constitutionally within the boundaries that were assigned and recognized for Quebec and Ontario in the past, they may not make decisions without the authorization of Quebec or Ontario.

Obviously, once again, what surprises me is that the government sometimes introduces a bill and then we say that we will improve it in committee. Well, we realized very early on that this is a strategy on the part of the Conservatives and that the New Democratic Party has fallen for it. Once again, we are debating this bill in this House, and as I was saying earlier, we are going to vote for it so we can improve it in committee, so that our colleagues in the NDP and the Conservative Party clearly understand what a mess they are getting themselves into.

An Action Plan for the National Capital CommissionGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Bloc

Robert Vincent Bloc Shefford, QC

Mr. Speaker, I could not have put it better myself. We are to put our trust in a government that decided at the beginning of the year to prorogue the House. The reasons it gave for doing so do not hold water and neither do the statements the Conservatives are making today on abortion or anything else. I think they have a hidden agenda.

Things were happening just before prorogation that did not sit so well with them, nor with the lobbies perhaps. I do not think that prorogation is something they decided on an overnight whim. They decided they had had enough, that some bills were moving ahead too quickly and in the wrong direction; a direction they had not anticipated.

Again today, as my colleague was saying, we end up with the decisions they have made, with a bill that gives the National Capital Commission increased decision-making power with no concern for the provinces whose land it is using.

It is in every province's best interest to manage its own land, especially when we are talking about a park and deciding what a commission will do with that park. Will there be a housing development? We do not know. However, someone, somewhere knows what will happen to that park.

I have a question for my colleague. Does he think the Conservatives have a hidden agenda? Are there lobbyists or a group of people who believe it is important that this bill be passed? Do they want the commission to have more power in order to take this land and truly create development that should not exist, all without consulting Quebec? I would like to know what my colleague has to say about that.

An Action Plan for the National Capital CommissionGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question. He is right, especially because this bill has not been improved or changed a single bit. Bill C-20 is the same bill that was introduced before prorogation, despite all the comments made and amendments proposed by the Liberals and the Bloc Québécois.

This means that the lobbyists did their job and convinced the member for Pontiac, the Minister of Transport at the time, that he needed to amend this bill by taking powers away from the House of Commons and the governments of Quebec and Ontario, if they had any, and to give all that power to a group of friends. I should point out that people who are appointed to the National Capital Commission are usually friends of the existing government. This group of friends is therefore making important decisions regarding the greenbelt in Ontario or even Gatineau Park.

These subjects are of great interest to people in the Outaouais and to people across Quebec, because they have to do with land we can use. I think that the lobbyists have done their job. My colleague is right. Anyone who is remotely intelligent would realize that a good parent would not have made that decision. They should have consulted and gotten permission from Quebec and Ontario for any land changes, considering the area that is involved here.

You can find private property within Quebec parks. Every time a decision is made regarding parks in Quebec, there are consultations. The provincial government and the owners are present, and that is how it should be done. The same thing could have been done with the Government of Canada, which owns the land. The federal government must sit down with the governments of Quebec and Ontario to talk about the land in question, to tell them how it plans to expand or cut back and to ask their advice. That is not what was decided. The government decided to give all that responsibility to non-elected officials who are friends of the governing party and who will decide whether to acquire or sell portions of land. What will happen in the future? It is disturbing.

An Action Plan for the National Capital CommissionGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, I just want to be clear. I understand the argument with respect to the consultations with the two respective provinces in this particular case, the Government of Ontario as well as the Government of Quebec, but would the government not also suggest that it be vetted here in the House of Commons as well? It is merely being tabled.

We saw an incident a while back when the government made changes. It signed an agreement to make changes to NAFO, which is the offshore fisheries agreement, and it was just tabled. It was never brought to debate by the government. The opposition had to take it into its own hands to inspire a debate.

In this particular case, would the government also agree with the fact that it should be debated, not just tabled in this House, when it is about changes and especially when it is about the master plan? Would it extend that policy when it talks about consultation with the provinces? What about the case of Parks Canada? Would it also suggest that any changes to management plans for Parks Canada would have to be done in consultation with the provinces?

An Action Plan for the National Capital CommissionGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his question. He understands the situation. I did not have enough time in my speech to mention that once Quebec and Ontario authorize changes, further authorization from the House of Commons would be required to confirm the changes. I know that in committee, Liberal members gave some very good examples of decisions that are made in the rest of Canada and then have to be dealt with here in the House of Commons.

The Bloc Québécois will support all of the amendments once consultation with Quebec and Ontario about changes to boundaries in the master plan has taken place and their authorization has been obtained. A decision will then be made in the House of Commons. We always support Quebec's decisions, regardless of whether the government in power is federalist or sovereignist. We are always consistent.

An Action Plan for the National Capital CommissionGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Bloc

André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, it will come as no surprise that my arguments will go along the same line as those presented by the hon. member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel. My colleague and the hon. member for Gatineau have a deep knowledge of the national capital region. Their ridings are part of, or next to the Outaouais region.

I know that the hon. member for Gatineau delivered a speech in this House on Bill C-37, which was the first version of Bill C-20 now before us.

Even if the Bloc Québécois is in favour of referring this legislation to the committee for review, it is out of the question for us, as my colleague pointed out earlier, to give a blank cheque to the government.

As I said, Bill C-20 seeks to amend the National Capital Act and other acts. It is similar to former Bill C-37, which was introduced on June 9, 2009, but died on the order paper following the latest prorogation by this Conservative government. The bill was reintroduced exactly like it was at first reading, in June 2009. In other words, no change was made. We had raised some issues regarding Bill C-37, but the government did not respond to our concerns in Bill C-20. So this is truly a cut and paste job.

What we have before us is exactly the same bill, and this is why we are again pointing out the issues that had been raised, not only by the Bloc Québécois members who represent the ridings close to the national capital, but also on several occasions by the Quebec government.

Already back in 2007, representations had been made by the Quebec government to its federal counterpart, about the federal government's intentions with regard to the changes to the national capital region.

Gatineau Park is definitely a gem in that region. I had the pleasure of discovering it when I first came here on Parliament Hill. In fact, I even vacationed shortly before the 2000 election, because I thought I was probably going to settle here during the week, when the House is sitting. I then had the opportunity to visit the magnificent Gatineau Park which, as I said, is a gem. However, as with any gem and any self-respecting national park—even though it does not officially have that status—we must be very careful regarding its development and the use that we want to make of it.

I first established myself in the region as a parliamentary assistant and not as a member. That took a bit longer than expected, but in 2000 I had the opportunity, when I was here on the Hill as a parliamentary assistant, to enjoy the beauty and attractions of Gatineau Park. I would even say that I had more time to enjoy it when I was an assistant because now, as soon as the work here ends, I go back to my riding. So I get to enjoy the beauty and attractions of my riding, Richmond—Arthabaska.

We in the Bloc Québécois feel that we must pay close attention to this bill. We obviously recognize the importance of improving the protection and conservation of natural settings. We believe that it is necessary to protect Gatineau Park from property development and to clearly define its function in order to ensure that it is there for the long term, for future generations.

We feel that any National Capital Commission activities involving Quebec should be undertaken with the Quebec government's approval. I believe that my colleagues were able, with their questions and comments, to question my colleague from Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel about this. It is obvious to us that the Government of Quebec not only has something to say in this, but that it has the last word and the most important word when it comes to its own territory.

Even though an agreement was signed in 1973 with the federal government so that the National Capital Commission would take charge of Gatineau Park—I would say that it was a cross-border agreement between Ontario and Quebec, but let us say it was from the two sides of the river—it must be understood that Quebec never wanted to give up any territory or land in Gatineau Park to the federal government.

As I said, we raised some concerns, particularly with respect to the touchy issue of respect for Quebec’s territorial integrity and protection for its powers. That is often the case with various pieces of legislation, as the hon. members can understand. Be it in committee, in motions that are put forward or in bills, we are always very concerned about the respect shown for Quebec's fields of jurisdiction. Often, when discussing with other colleagues, I realize that it sparks something in them about the situation in their own provinces. They want to defend their provinces' interests and ensure that their fields of jurisdiction are also protected.

No one is as sensitive as we from the Bloc Québécois are with regard to Quebec, because of our sovereignist stance.

The Bloc is in favour of this bill being referred to committee. We will not be giving a blank cheque, as I said. We will discuss several issues, starting with environmental protection, once the bill is in committee.

Gatineau Park occupies 350 square kilometres. It is federal land managed by the National Capital Commission. Unlike other national and provincial parks in Canada and Quebec, Gatineau Park is not protected by legislation and has no official status. We did not say that this did not need to be examined more closely. For national parks at least, these are beneficial in terms of ensuring the protection of the environment and site, and preventing the overdevelopment of that land.

As such, the park is subject to the whims and decisions of the organization responsible for managing it, that is the National Capital Commission, which, according to its powers under the legislation, can sell land.

Several environmental and citizens' groups continue to call for better protection for Gatineau Park. They want the government to add a section to the act to give the park official legal status, clarify its purpose and guarantee its ecological integrity.

The Bloc Québécois recognizes the importance of protecting and preserving natural areas. As such, we believe that the government must protect Gatineau Park from real estate development, clarify the park's purpose, and protect it for future generations.

With respect to Quebec's jurisdiction and the integrity of its territory, Quebec governments have always considered territorial integrity to be inviolable. Regarding National Capital Commission encroachment on Quebec's territory, the Commission d'étude sur l'intégrité du territoire du Québec, the Dorion commission, submitted a very interesting report to the Government of Quebec covering the period from 1968 to 1972. Our position on the inviolability of Quebec's territorial integrity has not changed since.

Through the National Capital Commission, the federal government has chipped away at Quebec's territory to the point that the NCC is now the largest landholder in the Outaouais region. The NCC holds over 470 square kilometres of land, which is about 10% of all of the land in Gatineau and Ottawa combined. On the Quebec side, the National Capital Commission owns much of Gatineau Park.

Not long ago, on May 18, the local media reported that the City of Gatineau, which wanted to redevelop a section of road in the Hull sector to install a standard bike lane, would have to negotiate with the National Capital Commission for control of the land before proceeding.

We see that this situation is unique. A particular municipality has its territory, falls under Quebec jurisdiction, and must go to great lengths with another organization to be able to manage its territory to meet the needs of its people.

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. They are quite different. Both parties have their own interests. We believe that the NCC 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 cycling path I mentioned earlier is a good example of this situation.

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—that is what we will be asking for in committee when the bill gets there—to ensure that neither the government or its crown corporations, including the NCC, can dispossess Quebec of its land. Furthermore, all National Capital Commission activities, decisions and development projects on Quebec territory are to be approved by the Government of Quebec in advance.

I was saying earlier that the Quebec government had made representations and I have letters from two different ministers, at different times, to prove it. I will come back to this point later.

There is another important matter that will be discussed in committee: the amendments to Bill C-20 required to ensure respect for Quebec's territorial integrity and jurisdictions with respect to the “national interest land mass”.

The bill seeks to introduce into the law the concept of a “national interest land mass”, which would permit the NCC to designate any lands—for example, Gatineau Park and other land in the City of Gatineau or surrounding area—and to establish the process for their acquisition.

This concept raises many concerns, particularly among Quebec's elected officials. Already in 2007, following the release of an NCC report entitled “Charting a New Course”, Benoît Pelletier, the minister responsible for intergovernmental affairs and the Outaouais, who was a member from the Outaouais area at the time, had warned the federal government about the “national interest land mass”. He wrote to his federal counterpart responsible for the National Capital Region, the current Minister of Foreign Affairs who was transport minister at the time. Mr. Pelletier informed him of his apprehensions as far back as 2007. This is not a brand new concept.

I would like to quote Mr. Pelletier's letter, which states:

Moreover, despite noting that the Canadian Constitution gives the provinces jurisdiction for land-use planning, the report nevertheless promotes a new idea, that of the “national interest land mass”(NILM): land in the NCC portfolio that is deemed essential to the long-term viability of Canada's Capital Region. This is a remarkably nebulous concept. It could potentially entail a risk of encroachment on Quebec's territorial jurisdiction in the Outaouais, given that a number of important components of the NILM, including the Gatineau Park and other parcels of land in the greenbelt, are located in Quebec. Such an expansion of the NCC's prerogatives is an extremely disquieting prospect.

When the Government of Quebec expresses such concerns, naturally we in the Bloc Québécois share those concerns. The Government of Quebec has every prerogative and every right to protect its land.

Representations will have to be made to the commission. There is a serious imbalance within the members of the commission. The bill introduces some changes to how the NCC works, including some that the Bloc Québécois supports. For example, the bill requires the NCC to hold four open meetings per year. It is hard to be against such transparency. That was one of the demands in the Bloc Québécois' 2006 brief, and it will make the commission more transparent.

The current National Capital Act requires that commissioners be appointed according to predetermined criteria. That is where the problem lies. That is why I wanted to draw everyone's attention to this problem.

Three commission members have to come from municipalities in Ontario, only two from Quebec municipalities and eight from elsewhere in Canada.

This provision has already been clearly disputed by the Government of Quebec. In 2007, Minister Pelletier wrote:

Furthermore, the report suggests less representation for Quebec than for Ontario.... The Government of Quebec is against any such imbalance in Quebec's representation on what may become the NCC's executive body. Since we already know that significant issues of direct concern to Quebec in the areas of land-use planning and territorial integrity would be handled by the new body, Quebec demands equal representation on it.

This urgent request by the Government of Quebec to the federal government goes back to 2007, but it was not heard. Bill C-20 has exactly the same criteria and clauses that were in Bill C-37 and for which we had raised these problems.

In 2009, the Government of Quebec reiterated its request to the federal government:

...Quebec has fewer representatives on the NCC's Board of Directors than Ontario, and this situation is unacceptable given the impact that the board's decisions could have on the Outaouais.

That is crystal clear. The Bloc Québécois is therefore asking that the NCC have as many members representing Quebec as representing Ontario. That makes perfect sense.

Regarding federal government spending, we believe that the federal government and its agent, the NCC, must make a formal commitment to split their spending equitably between the cities of Gatineau and Ottawa, based on population. We have been calling for this sort of thing for a long time now, especially when it comes to various issues in the national capital region.

We have repeatedly called for an equitable approach to the location of federal buildings and public service jobs, and we are doing the same thing with regard to this bill and federal government spending.

NCC investments are not commensurate with Gatineau's demographic weight compared to Ottawa. The bill does not correct this, and the government does not intend to correct it. The Bloc Québécois will be sure to raise this issue in committee.

The area covered by the NCC currently has a population of 1,104,500, including 239,000—nearly 22%—in Gatineau and 865,000—just over 78%—in Ottawa. We had a table prepared showing NCC investments from 2001 to 2005 by region, in millions of dollars. Unfortunately, this is not the first time we have seen how disadvantaged Quebec is, nor is this the only issue where it is true. NCC spending is not commensurate with the population of Gatineau.

The following figures are dramatic. In total, between 2001 and 2005, more than 85% of spending went to Ottawa, even though it accounts for roughly 78% of the overall population. About 15% of spending went to Gatineau, even though it represents roughly 22% of the overall population. We are at a clear disadvantage when it comes to spending. This is something we will be sure to bring up in committee.

The government has to understand that by agreeing to send Bill C-20 to committee, we are not giving the government a blank cheque. There are many issues we will have to look at carefully before we support such a bill.

An Action Plan for the National Capital CommissionGovernment Orders

5:45 p.m.

Bloc

Robert Vincent Bloc Shefford, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member opposite for saying that I am a nice guy. I think that he is right and I invite him to continue to praise me.

The fact is that it is a government bill. However, I have not yet heard a single member from the opposition parties other than the Bloc talk to the bill. I wonder if it is because they do not want to talk or because this bill is not important for them.

For the opposition parties, be it the Liberals or us from the Bloc—and I guess the NDP too—I do not think that we should leave the complete control over a park or park lands to one organization that could use it as it wishes, be it for real estate development or whatever.

I personally believe that decisions of that nature are not for the National Capital Commission to take by itself. The elected representatives should have a voice in the process. First and foremost, the Quebec and Ontario governments should be consulted to ensure that informed decisions are made about the use of NCC park lands, be it their dismantling, the transfer of part of it or whatever. I think that is important.

In fact, we are unable to know what they think and how they see Bill C-20. I am flabbergasted to see that nobody has risen to talk to the bill.

Since there were no consultations with the provinces, does the hon. member believe that the bill will allow the government to do what it usually does and that is remove powers from the provinces and inefficiently manage the agreements with Quebec and Ontario in this House .

An Action Plan for the National Capital CommissionGovernment Orders

5:50 p.m.

Bloc

André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Shefford. I completely agree with the concern that he raised. In fact, it is more than a concern; I would say that it is a fact that this government, like many other governments before it, is a centralizing government. The idea behind that is to have total control over virtually all the resources and land in any given province.

Why are we almost the only ones who rise in this House to ask questions and offer warnings? As a sovereignist party, we are well aware that until Quebec is a sovereign nation, we cannot lose that authority over the integrity of our land. If Quebec becomes a country, that will change everything. We would take care of our Gatineau Park; we would manage our land. But for now, this is what we have to work with.

Obviously, this issue raises some concerns, since the commission is run by friends who were appointed by the current government and who will be taking over beautiful Quebec land. This is land that we want to preserve, and that we do not want to expose to all kinds of crazy development.

There were talks of property development. That does not mean we are completely against this kind of development. But the Government of Quebec absolutely must be consulted about any potential changes or developments. The Government of Quebec must make the decision. The decision must not come from the National Capital Commission.

That is absolutely essential. My colleague knows very well that what is going on in this House. The members of the Bloc Québécois are defending Quebec land, defending Quebec, and defending Gatineau Park.

An Action Plan for the National Capital CommissionGovernment Orders

5:50 p.m.

Bloc

Paule Brunelle Bloc Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Quebec nation has been recognized by this very House. Where there is a nation, there are people and there is land. Based on the fact that the government repeatedly promised to respect provincial jurisdiction, I am very skeptical about this bill and the National Capital Commission's operations. I figure that the NCC will be able to make changes to our land without the consent of the Government of Quebec.

However, territorial integrity has always been considered to be inviolable, something that every Quebec government has recognized. It seems to me that the NCC ought to do the same.

While the Bloc Québécois agrees with the idea of referring this bill to a parliamentary committee with a view to making changes to it, does the hon. member not think that one change should be to specify in the bill that the federal government and its corporations are not entitled to divest Quebec of its land and that any land-use planning activity, decision or project affecting Quebec should be submitted to the Quebec government for prior approval?

An Action Plan for the National Capital CommissionGovernment Orders

5:50 p.m.

Bloc

André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from Trois-Rivières for her relevant question, to which I would say, yes, of course. As I said when I responded to a question from my colleague from Shefford, Quebec needs to be consulted as well as actively involved. It must decide what happens on its own territory.

My colleague spoke about the government having recognized the Quebec nation. It seems that the Conservative government's recognition of the Quebec nation was meaningless.

There are numerous examples, such as the fact that Bill 101 cannot give people the right to work in French in federal institutions in Quebec. If you work in a bank, a port or any institution under federal legislation, you are not subject to Bill 101. When this question is raised in the House, we are flatly refused by the federalist parties, both the Liberals and the Conservatives.

By introducing this bill, the Conservative government is not following through on its so-called will to recognize the Quebec nation. This is another bad example. It is a botched bill. We do not need to read the bill in detail to realize that, to the Conservative government, Quebec's territory is no different from any other region. And, despite the warnings and very clear letters that the Government of Quebec has sent over the past three years about this issue, the Conservative government is introducing exactly the same bill as in 2009, with no changes.

For us, this bill is another example we can give in our respective ridings of how this government does not even respect Quebec's territorial integrity.

An Action Plan for the National Capital CommissionGovernment Orders

5:55 p.m.

Bloc

Robert Vincent Bloc Shefford, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would have liked to have heard from other members representing ridings that surround Gatineau Park. People who live here see the park as a place to relax. They really like having access to this park.

The government sees the park as a way to please some of its friends by helping them make money through land sales and real estate development. As the Gatineau and area population grows, young people will be able to walk the trails in Gatineau Park. We must keep it intact. If the government really wants to develop the land, it must consult the most important stakeholders: the people of Quebec.

I would like the member for Richmond—Arthabaska to tell me and the House why this park is so important and why the government must consult Quebec before dismantling it.

An Action Plan for the National Capital CommissionGovernment Orders

5:55 p.m.

Bloc

André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Shefford. It is a concern that all members should have. Once again, we have shown that we alone defend the interests of Quebec.

We have been debating this issue for a long time, particularly today. I would remind my colleague that, in 2006, the Bloc Québécois presented a paper on the integrity of Quebec's territory. Based on the fact that the current government has promised to respect Quebec's jurisdictions, we expect all activities of the National Capital Commission concerning Quebec to be subject to the approval of the Government of Quebec. That is not the case.

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. The residents of the Outaouais region living within Quebec's territory will say the same thing. Gatineau Park must be considered part of Quebec's territory and the Government of Quebec must control this territory.

Our own interests are not being looked after. The National Capital Commission must recognize that, on the Quebec side, the Government of Quebec and the City of Gatineau are better positioned to meet the needs of their citizens.

An Action Plan for the National Capital CommissionGovernment Orders

6 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Resuming debate. Is the House ready for the question?

An Action Plan for the National Capital CommissionGovernment Orders

6 p.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

An Action Plan for the National Capital CommissionGovernment Orders

6 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

An Action Plan for the National Capital CommissionGovernment Orders

6 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

An Action Plan for the National Capital CommissionGovernment Orders

6 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I declare the motion carried. Accordingly, the bill stands referred to the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities.

(Motion agreed to, bill read the second time and referred to a committee)

The House resumed from April 30 consideration of the motion that Bill C-10, An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867 (Senate term limits), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate Term Limits)Government Orders

6 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Cardin Bloc Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, allow me to first say a few words about yesterday. The House was not sitting. Some provinces were celebrating a holiday that is their own. In Quebec it was National Patriots Day. In order to justify my absence from the House, I participated in the National Patriots Day to pay tribute to our Patriots, those of yesterday—and also those of today and tomorrow—because we owe it to them to remember. We also have a duty to pursue the Patriots' democratic ideal, which is the democratic ideal of a people. It is also the right to live free and independent in one's own country, namely Quebec. It was an action-packed and sunny day, filled with festivities and events.

Let us now deal with senators. It would probably be more interesting to talk about the Ottawa Senators hockey team, but we must address the bill and debate it. Senators are also people at the service of the Canadian government. That is why the government appoints them. There is nothing democratic in this process. The government looks for individuals who can best promote its causes, regardless of their area of expertise. I could talk about two senators specifically.

My Senate division—we might as well talk about a dukedom—includes Sherbrooke and is called Wellington. The word Sherbrooke does not appear in the Senate division of Wellington. Since 1867, there have been exactly 10 senators representing the Senate division of Wellington: seven Liberals and three Conservatives over a period of 143 years. I should add that, for one reason or another, the position was vacant for at least seven years.

In Sherbrooke, there is a senator who is not the senator for Sherbrooke, or Wellington, but who is the senator for the Senate division of La Salle. I am talking about Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu. That individual has gone through hardships and we have a great deal of sympathy for him, but today he embodies a specific cause. We can definitely see why the Conservative government approached him to defend this cause, without worrying too much about details.

Ironically, the senator representing the Senate division of Wellington, or Sherbrooke, is Leo Housakos. Senator Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu, who lives in Sherbrooke, represents the Senate division of La Salle, while Mr. Housakos, who is the senator for Wellington—or Sherbrooke—does not live in that region. As we can see, this institution has no dynamic or democratic link with the population.

Since 1867, the government has been appointing senators and keeping them for as long as they want to remain in the Senate. As I was saying earlier, in 143 years, we have had only 10 senators.

I would like to come back to Leo Housakos, who is the senator for the Wellington division. I said earlier that the government approaches individuals it needs to render specific services. Senator Housakos, for example, has services he can render. People said of him that he could raise tens of thousands of dollars in just a few weeks, thanks to a highly developed network of business associates in Montreal.

He is the one who fills the coffers before an election campaign. He is a token senator who renders services for the Conservative government and who has almost nothing to do with advancing Quebec and Canadian society.

A Conservative source, who asked to remain anonymous in order to speak freely, said that Senator Housakos was very effective. The source said that you are not appointed at 40 years of age if you do not keep your promises.

The source painted a certain picture of him and things that were happening in Quebec society. We hear about construction companies and the funding of political parties. We also know that Leo Housakos has close friends in engineering consulting firms and construction businesses.

He is also president of a company, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the engineering firm BPR. That is another aspect that has been talked about.

People have also said that construction contractor Tony Accurso, who owns many companies and is involved in big business in Montreal and Laval, is an acquaintance of Leo Housakos.

We have also heard that Mr. Housakos and Mr. Soudas have been friends since childhood. These are people serving the government. More specifically, they are serving the Prime Minister directly.

Now we simply want to limit the length of term served by senators to eight years.

The Bloc Québécois is not terribly fond of the Senate. The Bloc is against the principle of Bill C-10 because for all intents and purposes, we could very well do without such an archaic institution given that senators are only there to help the government get re-elected. These individuals are, perhaps not manipulated, but at least directed to help the government win election after election and to ram bills through. Conservative senators toe the party line.

The Bloc Québécois believes that the Conservatives want to reform the Constitution by going over the heads of the provinces and Quebec. On November 22, 2006, the Conservative government moved a motion recognizing the nation of Quebec. Since then, the Conservatives have systematically attacked the nation of Quebec and have rejected every proposal to solidify the recognition of the nation of Quebec.

The changes proposed by the Conservatives serve only to undermine Quebec and to punish it for not voting Conservative. Just look at the democratic weight of Quebec, Senate reform and the fact that they have called political party financing into question.

The Canadian Constitution is a federal constitution. Accordingly, there are reasons why changes affecting the essential characteristics of the Senate cannot be made unilaterally by Parliament and must instead be part of the constitutional process involving Quebec and the provinces

In the late 1970s, the Supreme Court of Canada considered the capacity of Parliament, on its own, to amend constitutional provisions relating to the Senate.

According to the ruling it handed down in 1980 about Parliament's authority over the upper house, decisions pertaining to major changes affecting the Senate's essential characteristics cannot be made unilaterally.

This means that Quebec and the provinces must be consulted on all reforms that affect the powers of the Senate, the method of selecting senators, the number of senators to which a province is entitled and the residency requirement of senators.

In 2007, Quebec's former intergovernmental affairs minister, Benoît Pelletier, reiterated Quebec's traditional position when he said:

The Government of Quebec does not believe that this falls exclusively under federal jurisdiction. Given that the Senate is a crucial part of the Canadian federal compromise, it is clear to us that under the Constitution Act, 1982, and the Regional Veto Act, the Senate can be neither reformed nor abolished without Quebec's consent.

The same day, the National Assembly unanimously adopted the following motion:

That the National Assembly of Québec reaffirm to the Federal Government and to the Parliament of Canada that no modification to the Canadian Senate may be carried out without the consent of the Government of Québec and the National Assembly.

Quebec feels that the division of powers must be reformed before the government reforms central institutions such as the Senate. We need to remember the 1978-79 constitutional decisions by the Lévesque government.

In addition, the government of the Liberal Party of Quebec, a federalist party, took part in the Special Committee on Senate Reform in 2007. In its May 31, 2007 brief, it stated:

The Government of Quebec is not opposed to modernizing the Senate. But if the aim is to alter the essential features of that institution, the only avenue is the initiation of a coordinated federal-provincial constitutional process that fully associates the constitutional players, one of them being Quebec, in the exercise of constituent authority.

The Government of Quebec, with the unanimous support of the National Assembly, therefore requests the withdrawal of Bill C-43 [elected senators]. It also requests the suspension of proceedings on Bill S-4 [which became C-19, then C-10 on Senate term limits] so long as the federal government is planning to unilaterally transform the nature and role of the Senate.

This is a far cry from the position of Daniel Johnston Sr., who in Toronto in November 1967 called on the government to consider transforming the Senate into a true binational federal chamber.

Do I have any time left, Mr. Speaker?