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.