Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-20, An Act to amend the National Capital Act and other Acts. The Bloc Québécois has some serious concerns about this bill. We welcome it, but we have some concerns.
When it comes to protecting the environment, our focus is on Gatineau Park. The park, which has an area of 350 km2, 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. As such, the park is subject to the whims and decisions of the organization responsible for running it, in this case the National Capital Commission, which, according to its powers under the legislation, can sell land, which includes land on Quebec soil.
A number of environmental groups and citizens' groups are calling for better protection of Gatineau Park, for example, by including a section in the act to give the park official legal status, to clarify its purpose, and to ensure its ecological integrity.
Some of the groups calling for this include the Ottawa valley chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, as well as the Gatineau Park Protection Committee.
The Bloc recognizes how important it is to protect and conserve natural settings. We believe that we must protect Gatineau Park from property development, clarify the purpose of the park and ensure that it is around for future generations.
Respecting Quebec's jurisdictions and the integrity of Quebec's territory, are both very important, and I must point out that in 2006, the House of Commons unanimously recognized the Quebec nation. In short, “nation” is the community to which we belong, the group with which we identify, and within which we debate and decide how our society is to be organized.
And because a nation is the special place where political decisions can be made, recognizing a nation means recognizing a political entity with legitimate political rights and aspirations.
By recognizing the Quebec nation, the House of Commons recognized the right of Quebeckers to control the social, economic and cultural development of Quebec themselves.
By stating that the Quebec nation is composed of all residents of Quebec, regardless of their origin or mother tongue or the region where they live, the federal government recognized that the Quebec nation has a clear geographic base made up of all, I repeat, all of the territory of Quebec.
In short, recognizing the Quebec nation also means recognition of the legitimacy of Quebec's repeated demands that Quebeckers should have the powers and resources needed in order to develop their own society.
To date, Canada has not yet acted on that recognition and continues to behave as if it were composed of a single nation.
However, the minister currently responsible for the National Capital Commission, the hon. member for Pontiac and Minister of Foreign Affairs, has abided by the Allaire report and the Charlottetown accord. Although they do little to satisfy the aspirations of Quebeckers, those two documents were clear about the need for Quebec to have full control over the development of its municipal and regional tourism.
I would like to quote the document entitled A Quebec free to choose dated January 1991 published by the Quebec Liberal Party:
It [Quebec] must also have complete control over regional development. Finally, in terms of sectoral policies, it must repatriate exclusive control over agriculture, energy, the environment, natural resources and tourism.
Regarding the Charlottetown accord of 1992, points 32 and 35 read as follows:
Exclusive provincial jurisdiction over tourism should be recognized and clarified through an explicit constitutional amendment and the negotiation of federal-provincial agreements.
35. Municipal and Urban Affairs
Exclusive provincial jurisdiction over municipal and urban affairs should be recognized and clarified through an explicit constitutional amendment and the negotiation of federal-provincial agreements.
This is from the 1992 Charlottetown accord.
It is particularly interesting to note that the minister responsible for the NCC, the hon. member for Pontiac and Minister of Foreign Affairs, is part of a government that came to the other national capital and solemnly promised to respect the Government of Quebec's jurisdictions.
I would like to quote the current Prime Minister. This is from a speech he gave in Quebec City on December 19, 2005, during the election campaign:
We will recognize provincial autonomy, as well as the special cultural and institutional responsibilities of the Quebec government. We will respect federal and provincial jurisdictions, as defined by the Canadian Constitution.
Now he must act accordingly.
Based on the fact that the current government has promised to respect Quebec's jurisdictions, the Bloc Québécois expects all activities of the National Capital Commission concerning Quebec to be subject to the approval of the Government of Quebec.
The governments of Quebec have always considered territorial integrity to be inviolable. The federal government, through the National Capital Commission, has gobbled up land in Quebec to the point where the NCC is now the largest land owner in the Outaouais. The NCC owns more than 470 km2 of land, or 10% of the land in Gatineau and Ottawa combined. On the Quebec side, the NCC owns most of Gatineau Park.
On May 18, 2010, the local press informed us that the City of Gatineau had to first negotiate the repurchase of land with the NCC before installing a standard cycling lane on a section of road in the Hull sector.
The message is clear.
Although the federal government and the National Capital Commission consider the Outaouais and the Ontario side as a single entity, we consider Gatineau and Ottawa to have their own identity and interests. The National Capital Commission must recognize that the Government of Quebec and the City of Gatineau, on the Quebec side, are better positioned to meet the needs of their citizens.
The Bloc Québécois believes that the federal government and its agent, the National Capital Commission, have the obligation to respect the integrity of Quebec's territory, both in terms of the land mass and the exercise of power.
The federal government's law and policies should be amended to ensure that: first, the federal government and its agencies cannot dispossess Quebec of its land; second, all National Capital Commission activities, decisions and development projects on Quebec territory are to be approved by the Government of Quebec in advance
In the same vein, but on a different matter—necessary amendments to Bill C-20 to respect Quebec's territorial integrity and jurisdictions—there is the very important point of the national interest land mass.
Bill C-20 would introduce the concept of “national interest land mass”, which would allow the National Capital Commission to designate any land, such as Gatineau Park and other land in and around Gatineau, as being part of that land mass and prescribe the process for acquiring it.
Clause 10.2 states:
If criteria and process are prescribed under paragraph 10.3(a), the Commission may designate all or a portion of any real property or immovables as part of the National Interest Land Mass or revoke such a designation, as the case may be.
Clause 10.3 reads as follows:
With the Governor in Council’s approval, the Commission may make regulations
(a) setting out the criteria and the process respecting the designation of all or a portion of any real property or immovable as part of the National Interest Land Mass and the revocation of such a designation; and
(b) prescribing in relation to public lands that are designated as part of the National Interest Land Mass or classes of those lands — in addition to any requirements under the Federal Real Property and Federal Immovables Act — the process by which those lands or classes of them may be acquired by the Commission or by which the administration of them may be transferred to the Commission, and any terms and conditions of such an acquisition or transfer.
This concept raises a number of concerns, especially among elected officials of the Government of Quebec, who have written about them to their federal counterparts. In an October 30, 2009 letter to the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, who is the minister for the Quebec City region, Quebec's Canadian intergovernmental affairs minister, Claude Béchard, shared this concern:
This new tool, due to the NCC's increased presence on the Quebec side of the Outaouais region, further complicates the Government of Quebec's exercise of its jurisdiction with respect to land use planning.
This concept of national interest land mass has been cause for concern to the Government of Quebec since 2007, when on the occasion of the release of the report, “The National Capital Commission: Charting a New Course”, Benoît Pelletier, then the minister responsible for intergovernmental affairs and the Outaouais region, had written to the hon. member for Pontiac, the current Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of State for the National Capital Commission, to express his apprehension.
Thus, the Government of Quebec was already protesting in 2007. I will read an excerpt from the letter from Quebec's Minister Pelletier to the federal minister, the hon. member for Pontiac:
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.
As far as transportation development in the Outaouais region is concerned, the section on the National Capital Commission's mandate introduces a new provision in the commission's mission, which may cause problems. The bill proposes that the commission:
(a) prepare plans for and assist in the development, conservation and improvement of the National Capital Region, including in relation to transportation in that region, in order that the nature and character of the seat of the Government of Canada may be in accordance with its national significance;
The Bloc Québécois believes it is clear that developing land within Quebec's boundaries is within the purview of the Quebec government, both in the federal capital region and elsewhere. The same goes for transportation.
The Bloc Québécois believes that until Quebec has full power, the federal government's laws and policies should be amended to ensure that all National Capital Commission activities, decisions and development projects within Quebec's boundaries should be subject to the prior approval of the Government of Quebec.
Just like the “national interest land mass”, the transportation issue could “further complicate the Government of Quebec's exercise of its jurisdiction with respect to land use planning”.
In a letter dated October 16, 2007, Minister Pelletier wrote the following to the member for Pontiac, the Minister responsible for the National Capital Commission:
In the past, the Government of Quebec repeatedly condemned the NCC's methods in the Outaouais region and the impact of its decisions, most often made without consultation following a closed-door process utterly lacking in transparency. The relationship between the Government of Quebec and the NCC is tense, as illustrated by the fact that important road infrastructure agreements signed in 1972 and 1985 were not completed until 2007.
That was a letter from the Government of Quebec to the federal government on the subject.
The Bloc Québécois believes that in general, under legislative power sharing provisions, road development and maintenance, along with public transportation, fall under Quebec's jurisdiction. That is no secret.
Land use planning is and must remain under Quebec's jurisdiction, even in border areas like the Outaouais region.
I would now like to turn to consultation with the Government of Quebec. The letter refers to “the NCC's methods in the Outaouais region and the impact of its decisions, most often made without consultation following a closed-door process utterly lacking in transparency”. Minister Pelletier was writing on behalf of Quebec's National Assembly and the Government of Quebec about Quebec's position on the National Capital Commission's role in the Outaouais.
The recurring problems in relations between the National Capital Commission and the Government of Quebec mainly stem from the fact that the federal government has given this organization too much power. The National Capital Commission regularly oversteps certain boundaries that we feel properly belong in the Quebec government's jurisdiction.
Bill C-20 proposes some amendments that illustrate this perfectly.
Now I would like to talk about the master plan. This bill would require the National Capital Commission to outline its broad objectives in a master plan once every 10 years, which seems reasonable to us.
What seems less reasonable is that the National Capital Commission can do this without consulting provincial governments or the public, including those who live in the areas affected by these broad objectives.
The Bloc Québécois believes that the people and governments directly implicated, especially the Government of Quebec, are best suited to identify what they truly need.
From these statements, it is obvious that the Bloc Québécois will study this bill again very closely, and we hope that this time the amendments we propose will be adopted, if anyone expects the Bloc Québécois to vote in favour of this bill.