Debates of Feb. 10th, 2011
House of Commons Hansard #128 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was parks.
- Question Period
- Committees of the House
- Hazardous Products Act
- Canadian Wheat Board Act
- Fairness for Victims of Violent Offenders Act
- Broadcasting Act
- Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999
- Committees of the House
- Questions on the Order Paper
- Business of Supply
- Canada Winter Games
- Black History Month
- Luc Plamondon
- Sustainable Communities
- Wine Industry
- Baker Lake Pond Hockey Tournament
- Surrey, B.C.
- Quebec Teacher Appreciation Week
- Jerome Jodoin
- Coast Guard
- Member for Papineau
- Human Rights
- The Economy
- Highway Accident in Sainte-Geneviève-de-Berthier
- The Economy
- Health Care
- National Defence
- Rights & Democracy
- Transportation of Radioactive Waste
- Quebec City Arena
- Search and Rescue
- Appointment of Judges
- Conservative Party of Canada
- International Trade
- The Environment
- Canada Border Services Agency
- Canadian Coast Guard
- Business of the House
- Points of Order
- Business of Supply
- Northwest Territories Act
Business of the House
Some hon. members
Business of the House
Maria Mourani Ahuntsic, QC
Mr. Speaker, I seek the unanimous consent of the House to adopt the following motion:
That, notwithstanding any Standing Order or usual practice of the House, Bill C-59, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (accelerated parole review) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts shall be deemed to have been read a second time, referred to a committee of the whole, deemed considered in committee of the whole, deemed reported without amendment, deemed concurred in at report stage and deemed read a third time and passed.
Business of the House
The Speaker Peter Milliken
Does the hon. member for Ahuntsic have the unanimous consent of the House to move the motion?
Business of the House
Some hon. members
Business of the House
The Speaker Peter Milliken
There is no consent.
Business of the House
David Christopherson Hamilton Centre, ON
As has been expressed, those of us who have experienced him at the provincial level have fond memories and scars to prove it.
I remember specifically my time as the Ontario solicitor general in an NDP government. If ever there were a ready-made political target, that is one. It was during that time that I learned why exactly he has the reputation and nickname of “the Badger”.
I am also know of his deep commitment to the professionalism of his craft. At a time when journalism is in a state of flux and is changing as much as politics is, he is someone who I believe always remembers every day why he chose to be a journalist. It is about the people, the public, getting the truth and the message out, but he has always done it with such great humour. He works hard. He is honest. When one had his word on something, it was kept.
Hence, I would just like to take a moment to express my appreciation for his dedication to, and professionalism in, his career and to the craft of journalism and the importance of professional media to what we do. An open and free press is an integral part of democracy. However, it is only about words and a structure if we do not actually have professionals in that profession. I believe that Richard Brennan is very much the gold standard of what it means to be a hard-hitting, hard-working, honest, professional journalist.
I wish him and his family the very best and hope that he continues to provide his part to public service as much as we try to provide ours.
I wish the Badger the best of luck.
Points of Order
John Baird Leader of the Government in the House of Commons
Mr. Speaker, I am rising on a point of order on something that arose during question period with respect to the issuing of an apology by the member for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke.
The member for Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte made a number of sexist comments with respect to the member for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, wondering if she was back in her riding organizing some sort of a bake sale. After I tried to point out the nature of his comments, these continued to the effect that she was having a bake sale in a Christian Church.
Such statements that stereotype women and malign their role in government and politics are unacceptable to all of us in this place, as are such comments with respect to a Christian Church. I am not just not sure why degrading someone who might be involved in fundraising activities for charities at a Christian Church has any place in the House as well.
Points of Order
Gerry Byrne Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte, NL
Mr. Speaker, the issue at hand is the comments made by the member from Ottawa Valley, I understand, regarding search and rescue activities. The member decided that it would be in the best interests of everybody if community groups funded these search and rescue activities themselves.
When community groups fund activities in rural Newfoundland and Labrador, quite often bake sales are the method they use to raise those funds.
The question arises from a statement that I hold dear, that this is stupid. I said to the local media that, apparently, the federal government was considering a new method of funding search and rescue missions in the North Atlantic: putting on a bake sale. That was the gist of the Conservative MP who was visiting our province on a parliamentary study tour of the country's search and rescue capacity.
To a captive audience that included family members of those who tragically lost loved ones to the perils of the high seas, the Ottawa Valley MP pronounced that her constituents did not expect the services of the Coast Guard when they are boating on the Ottawa River or while cruising on the Rideau Canal in summer, so why should fishermen and mariners of the North Atlantic expect anything more?
It was an absolutely astonishing admission. The outspoken Conservative MP said it plainly for everyone to hear, that no crew of any fishing vessel operating 200 miles out to sea should expect or deserve emergency backup from trained, professional, military SAR technicians in a timely fashion.
Community groups should take more of a role in all of this, she said, implying that the cost of purchasing and operating dual-engine rescue copters and fast rescue craft could easily be managed by bake sale profits held in church basements.
Her message could not have been interpreted otherwise. It could not have been interpreted as anything than saying to the families of the victims of the sea's cruelty and to those who wish to prevent further tragedy that they were being greedy by asking for such services.
Provincial minister Shawn Skinner put it right: it was insulting, and the insult could be felt on many levels. Why would she say such a thing when the families of those who lost their lives were sitting in the very same room while she said it? Why would she say such a thing and then, as if the issue were not being taken seriously by anyone, not at least acquaint herself with the fact that the primary aerial responder to offshore search and rescue is Canada's military, the Department of National Defence, not Fisheries and Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard.
As a member of the defence committee studying search and rescue activity, that is a basic fact that the member should have understood before she started talking about how the coast guard should be providing these services.
Attitudes within the government must indeed change. Our Canadian government must show a respect and understanding of my province's needs. That would begin with the Prime Minister of Canada publicly stating that the MP, by her own careless words and comments, was no longer suited to being a member of the parliamentary committee studying an issue as important as this. He must immediately remove her as a member of the committee and replace her with another MP from his own caucus, someone this time who has a little bit of respect and understanding of the issues the committee is studying. If he fails to do that and do it immediately, he is endorsing her careless, thoughtless words and the prejudice they reveal.
That decision is now for the Prime Minister. He can show that he is the Prime Minister of all Canadians or he can continue to show his contempt for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Would the member like to continue this discussion?
Points of Order
John Baird Ottawa West—Nepean, ON
Mr. Speaker, the member in question was wrong and the member has apologized. The government does not condone those comments in any way, shape or form. That member has apologized. The member Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte should apologize for his sexist comments.
Points of Order
The Speaker Peter Milliken
I did not hear the comments but I will look at the record in the House and see if they are there and get back to the House if necessary on this point. However, it appears to be more a matter of debate than a point of order at this stage but I will look at the record and come back to the House.
Statements by the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary regarding KAIROS--Speaker's Ruling
The Speaker Peter Milliken
I am now prepared to rule on a question of privilege raised by the hon. member for Scarborough—Guildwood on December 13, 2010 concerning allegedly misleading statements by the Minister of International Cooperation and the former parliamentary secretary to the Minister of International Cooperation, the member for Kootenay—Columbia.
I would like to thank the hon. member for Scarborough—Guildwood for having raised this matter, as well as the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, and the members for Kootenay—Columbia, Guelph, Laurentides—Labelle, Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher, Toronto Centre, Ottawa Centre and Scarborough—Rouge River for their interventions.
The hon. member for Scarborough—Guildwood charged that the Minister of International Cooperation and her former parliamentary secretary made statements in the House that were deliberately misleading with regard to who had been responsible for a government decision to reject a funding proposal for the Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives, known as KAIROS.
He measured those statements against a response to a written question, testimony in the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development, and an internal CIDA document obtained through an access to information request. Guided by Parliamentary Practice in New Zealand, Third Edition at pages 653-4, the member for Scarborough—Guildwood stated at page 7,144 of Debates:
In order to establish a prima facie finding that a breach of privilege and contempt has occurred, three elements must be present: one, it must be proven that the statements were misleading; two, it must be established that the member at the time knew the statement was incorrect; and three, in the making of the statement, the minister intended to mislead the House.
In response, the hon. member for Kootenay—Columbia apologized for his statement, made in the House on March 15, 2010, that “CIDA thoroughly analyzed KAIROS' program proposal and determined, with regret, that it did not meet the agency's current priorities”. He characterized his statement as a mistake and that he had not known that it was misleading and concluded that he had not intended to mislead the House. I thank him for his timely apology, and I consider any allegations against him to have been satisfactorily addressed.
For his part, the parliamentary secretary to the government House leader maintained that the matter was not one of privilege but rather of debate as to the facts. As to the proceedings of the standing committee referred to, the parliamentary secretary emphasized that as no report had been made to the House on this matter, it would be inappropriate for the Chair to take note of those proceedings.
In a ruling I gave on January 31, 2008, I stated at page 2,435 of Debates:
...before finding a prima facie breach of privilege in situations such as these, the Speaker must be convinced that deliberately misleading statements were made to the House.
For the question of privilege now before us, the Chair is, in essence, being asked to assess the accuracy of the minister's answers to questions in the House. In any such circumstance, it has been well established over time that the Speaker has a limited authority. House of Commons Procedure and Practice on page 510 clearly explains it by stating:
The Speaker ensures that replies adhere to the dictates of order, decorum and parliamentary language. The Speaker, however, is not responsible for the quality or content of replies to questions. In most instances, when a point of order or a question of privilege has been raised in regard to a response to an oral question, the Speaker has ruled that the matter is a disagreement among members over the facts surrounding the issue. As such, these matters are more a question of debate and do not constitute a breach of the rules or of privilege.
It was based on this practice of ours that, on January 31, 2008, at page 2435 of Debates, I stated:
...any dispute regarding the accuracy or appropriateness of a minister’s response to an oral question is a matter of debate; it is not a matter for the Speaker to judge.
This is not to say, however, that there are not circumstances when the Chair could determine, given the proper evidence, that statements made to the House have indeed breached the privileges of the House. In fact, the member for Scarborough—Guildwood neatly laid out the standard of proof that would be required to demonstrate that the House has been deliberately misled.
It was with these principles in mind and ultimately the need to determine that there was intent to mislead that I undertook to review all of the evidence that could be taken into consideration in this case. Again, however, the Chair was limited in its ability to act on the full range of that review since much of the proceedings referred to in member's submissions were never officially placed in the hands of the House. The parliamentary secretary to the government House leader was not mistaken in his assertion that any and all statements made in committee, even when those have been repeated verbatim in the House, remain the business of the committee until such time as it elects to report them officially to the House. This is a long-standing practice and I would refer members to a ruling I made on June 14, 2010, at page 3778 of Debates, where I stated:
...if there are issues about the proceedings in the committee, it is incumbent upon the committee itself to deal with them and, should it deem it necessary, to report to the House on the matter.
Furthermore, while a copy of an internal CIDA document obtained through an access to information request was provided to me, it was not tabled in the House and, thus, is not officially before it.
As a result, in this particular circumstance, the Chair has been left in a delicate position.
As noted earlier, the Chair reviewed all the documents available. In doing so, to fully grasp the allegations being made, particular attention was paid to the committee testimony of the minister and senior CIDA officials and to the internal CIDA document obtained through an access to information request made available to me by the hon. member for Scarborough—Guildwood. The full body of material gives rise to very troubling questions. Any reasonable person confronted with what appears to have transpired would necessarily be extremely concerned, if not shocked, and might well begin to doubt the integrity of certain decision-making processes. In particular, the senior CIDA officials concerned must be deeply disturbed by the doctored document they have been made to appear to have signed.
However, despite the obvious frustration expressed by many of the members who have intervened in this case and the profoundly disturbing questions that evidently remain unanswered in the view of these same members, the Chair is bound by very narrow parameters in situations such as this one. It may sound overly technical but the reality is that when adjudicating cases of this kind, the Chair is obliged to reference material fully and properly before the House. With regard to statements made by the minister, this material is limited to a few answers to oral questions and one answer to a written question, not to any comments in committee.
In the circumstances, with this key limitation in mind and in the absence of a committee report on this matter, the Chair cannot find evidence in documents properly before the House to suggest that the minister's statements to the House were deliberately misleading, that she believed them to be misleading or that she had intended for them to be misleading. Accordingly, I cannot rule that the minister deliberately misled the House and, therefore, I cannot find that there is a prima facie question of privilege.
The House resumed consideration of the motion.
Opposition Motion—Forillon Park
Business of Supply
Opposition Motion—Forillon Park
Business of Supply
Pierre Paquette Joliette, QC
Mr. Speaker, your ruling was so short that I was still caught up speaking with a colleague.
Before I begin my speech on our opposition motion here today, I would like to extend my sympathies to all the families affected by the serious accident that took place on Highway 158 near Joliette, in Sainte-Geneviève-de-Berthier. Five workers from Saint-Côme in my riding were killed in the accident. On behalf of all members of this House, I would like to offer my sincere condolences to the families affected by this tragedy.
Speaking of tragedy, expropriating the land needed to create Forillon Park was also a great tragedy. Through this Bloc Québécois opposition day motion, we are trying to make restitution, as least in part, for the damage that was caused some 40 years ago. I would like to read the text of the motion moved by the hon. member for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine and which I had the honour to second:
That this House issue an official apology to the people whose properties were expropriated to create Forillon Park for the unconscionable manner in which they were treated, and that the Speaker of the House send the representatives of the people whose properties were expropriated and of their descendants an official copy of the Journals of the House of Commons indicating the adoption of this motion.
First of all, it is important to recognize that, just like previous governments and especially successive Liberal governments have done previously, the federal government has turned up its nose at this situation and has refused to acknowledge the problems that have been caused by this unconscionable manner in which many families in the Gaspé have been treated. If the federal government, whether Liberal or Conservative, is incapable of assuming its responsibilities regarding the apology that needs to be made to the people of Forillon whose land was expropriated, we thought it was important that this House issue an official apology to those people, to their families and their descendants 40 years after the fact.
That is the first step for us and an apology in due form will complement in a much more tangible way what the Conservative government has already started to do on a technical level. Indeed, and I will come back to this later, the government has allowed those whose properties were expropriated, their families and their descendants, for three generations, to have access, free of charge, to the national parks. That was an initiative we acknowledged at the time, but it does not go far enough. First, it was only logical since the land once belonged to them and was their home. Second, that does not constitute an apology. For now it is just extremely limited and very technical redress by the Conservative government. It needs to go at least so far as to issue an apology, as I was saying.
When we look at this entire saga, we see that these things never should have happened. Now, I am sure lessons have been learned and such things will never happen again. The results of this expropriation also apply to other expropriations. I know that the hon. member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel will have a chance to come back to that. Those whose properties were expropriated in Mirabel are seeking redress from the government without going as far as asking for an apology. That hon. member, who is much more knowledgeable than I, will have a chance to elaborate on that.
In 1963, the Bureau d'aménagement de l'Est-du-Québec mentioned for the first time in its report the creation of a national park at the end of the peninsula. Those who are familiar with the history of the Bureau d'aménagement de l'Est-du-Québec know that this bureau made or rather suggested a number of decisions—because it did not make decisions; it only told the government what to do—that were rather questionable. For example, shutting down a number of villages to try to concentrate the populations did not have the desired effect. On the contrary, doing so resulted in tearing the social fabric.
It was within this context, in the 1960s, that the idea of a park came into being. At that time, the government had a fairly bureaucratic vision, which unfortunately still exists today, and it adopted a top down approach by imposing measures it thought were good for people. In 1968, a federal-provincial agreement was signed regarding the development of the park in Gaspé. In 1969, a preliminary agreement was reached between Quebec minister Gabriel Loubier and the well-known federal Liberal minister Jean Chrétien. At the time, the end of the 1960s, this resulted in a major debate within the Union Nationale government. Moreover, Marcel Masse, who is well-known in the Lanaudière region because he currently lives in Saint-Donat, opposed the fact that so much land belonging to Quebec was being given to the federal government. Nevertheless, the project went ahead and the final agreement was signed on June 8, 1970. It was then decided that area residents would be expropriated and that the federal government would control the land for 99 years.
On July 22, 1970, the expropriation act was tabled. Negotiations began with those being expropriated and it became apparent that the attitude of the Government of Quebec, and that of the federal government, toward what was happening to these people was extremely casual. In fact, the word “casual” is not strong enough; pressure was put on people who did not technically know their rights. When they became aware of what those rights were, they were subject to legal harassment until one by one they gave up and accepted the small amount of compensation they were being offered.
Let us take, for example, the case of Lionel Bernier, a lawyer who may have been the one who helped those being expropriated from Forillon the most. He was, at the time, a young lawyer who had grown up in the community of Forillon. He took the case at the request of his father and began to read the case law.
He wrote this himself. His words were reported in Le Soleil on May 14, 2001. “I read all the literature I could. It was clear that the government negotiators were saying whatever they liked. I defended those people practically by myself.” It was fortunate that Lionel Bernier was there.
In 1973, Justice Dorion, of the Régie des services publics du Québec, held that the assets of those expropriated had been assessed at far too low a value and directed Quebec to give them more. In April 1973, Jean Chrétien stated that residents would no longer have to move when a national park was established, a policy that was put into effect for Gros Morne National Park in Newfoundland. Unfortunately, in 1973, Jean Chrétien, as minister, could have done things differently. But the hand was already stuck in the grinder, the arm was on its way through, and the rest was to follow. Though a number of court decisions favoured the expropriated people, nothing really ever came together for them.
As I mentioned, on March 5, 1973, Justice Guy Dorion ruled in favour of the expropriated people. The ruling was very harsh for the government and the compensation awarded was three to five times higher. The government filed an appeal, and, quietly, one by one, those who had been expropriated became discouraged and took absolutely paltry settlements.
I will close by mentioning that the hon. member for Lévis—Bellechasse was present on August 21, 2010, the 40th anniversary of the establishment of Forillon National Park, to announce the action on park access that I described earlier. But he refused to raise any possibility of an apology from the federal government, the Conservative government. In fact, he spoke in very harsh terms. Government actions do not happen overnight. It seems to me that, 40 years later, it may be time to take this step out of simple decency. Of course, we are asking for the support of all parties in the House in passing our motion and offering a proper apology to the people who were expropriated from Forillon and to their descendants.
Opposition Motion—Forillon Park
Business of Supply
Blaine Calkins Wetaskiwin, AB
Mr. Speaker, it has been a while since I have had an opportunity to rise in the House. I certainly appreciate the opportunity to rise today to speak to this issue put forward by my colleague on the fisheries committee, the member for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine.
The hon. member's motion refers to the properties that were expropriated to create Forillon National Park at the eastern tip of the Gaspé Peninsula.
I have travelled to the Gaspé as a member of the fisheries committee. It is a beautiful area. I have no doubt that this is indeed a magnificent national park. It is made up of 244 square kilometres of cliffs and mountains where the northeast tip of the Appalachian Mountain chain meets the waters of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, including a 160 meter-wide marine component that extends along the shoreline.
This is spectacular country, carved by erosion of the pounding sea, where sheer cliffs plunge into the sea and pebble beaches line the coves. Inland streams tumble out of the rugged hills. The park is covered mainly by boreal forest, but also many tundra species of plants live along the limestone cliffs.
The park is home to black bears, red fox, moose, and massive colonies of seabirds. Some 245 bird species have been sighted in the park, many of them nesting on the coastal cliffs, including razorbills, cormorants and kittiwakes. Puffins, gannets and petrels feed in the fertile waters. From the shore can be seen many species of whale, pilot and minke, blue and humpback. Harbour porpoises play off the shoreline, and harbour and grey seals clamour out of the icy waters to sun themselves along the rocky coast.
Below the surface swim cod, herring, mackerel and salmon, and the wealth of these fisheries attract not only the animals that feed there but for 200 years they attracted European settlers.
As the hon. member's motion attests, this land was also once home to communities of people who fished the teeming waters, people with names like: Bourgaise, Fruing, Gavey, LeBoutillier, Lemesurier and Simon. They caught cod, and dried and salted it into what was known in the markets of Italy, Spain and the Caribbean as Gaspé Cure.
Many of the people who settled these shores came from the Channel Islands of Jersey and Guernsey. Others were United Empire Loyalists who had fled the United States after the revolution. Still others were Irish who came to escape the potato famine.
When the government in 1970 expropriated the houses to create the park, a way of life that had sustained the population for several generations came to an end. The land became part of what is now grown to be a network of 42 national parks, 5 national marine conservation areas, and 167 national historic sites across Canada.
People who lived in this area faced a challenging way of life, fishing for cod in the cold waters of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and then drying the cod on the beaches through the short Gaspé summer and having small forest plots in the woods around the park.
Let us not forget that elsewhere on the coast of the gulf and the Atlantic Ocean many similar communities have disappeared due to the changes in the global economy and the marine environment. New technology for catching and preserving fish for the markets of the world have replaced the drying racks that once stretched out along the pebble beaches.
Parks Canada has taken measures to commemorate and to honour the people who plied the cold waters and built their homes, and raised their families on the Forillon Peninsula.
In the meantime, what about the economy of the region? Given what we now know about what became of the cod fishery and the little villages it sustained in Atlantic Canada, has there been a benefit to the people of the Gaspésie as a result of the decision more than 40 years ago to create a national park at Forillon? The answer, I believe, is yes.
In considering the hon. member's motion, we should look at that as well, not just what was lost as a result of the expropriation but also what has been gained.
This year after all marks 100 years since Canada created the first national parks service. Last year we celebrated 125 years since the creation of Canada's first national park, Banff National Park, in my home province of Alberta. Over that time Parks Canada has been a world leader in the protection and preservation of natural and historic heritage.
These parks and national historic sites have left a rich environmental and cultural legacy, but I also want to emphasize that they create economic opportunities and add to the prosperity of nearby communities.
Each year, millions of tourists visit the national parks, national historic sites and national marine conservation areas. In 2007, for example, some 137,000 people visited Forillon National Park. They come to hike, ride on horseback and explore the coastline and the rugged interior. They marvel at the magnificence of the scenery and the abundance of wildlife. I am confident that once visitors have seen the beauty of Forillon, they will go home and tell their families and friends that a national park like Forillon is an economic and natural treasure and will continue to enhance the economy of the Gaspésie.
We must look at the other side of the equation when we consider the hon. member's motion. What has been gained as a result of Parks Canada's administration of the region? In fact, Parks Canada is Canada's largest provider of natural and cultural tourism products and encourages visitor spending of nearly $2.7 billion in national parks and historic sites. About $1 billion of that spending comes from foreign visitors. That is new money added to our Canadian economy.
I remind the House that while the fisheries of Atlantic Canada have declined from their former glory, the tourism industry worldwide represents one of the fastest-growing sectors of the global economy.
Increasingly tourism is an important industry that supports small businesses and provides employment to Canadians across the country, particularly in regions renowned for their beauty, such as the Gaspésie. Tourism contributes about 2% of Canada's gross domestic product and is crucial to the bottom line of key industry sectors, everything from airlines to restaurants, hotels, and so on.
Parks Canada itself spends significant amounts of money in goods and services, wages and salaries, but more important than their direct investment is the spinoff economy that sustains communities across our country. The activities Parks Canada undertakes across Canada create nearly $2 billion in paid labour that supports nearly 42,000 jobs. These jobs are often in remote communities, such as the northeastern tip of my hon. colleague's riding.
When we look at Quebec, Parks Canada activities create in the surrounding communities approximately $201 million in labour income, which supports more than 4,500 jobs. That is year after year, but I would also point out that under Canada's economic action plan, an additional $48 million was invested in 28 projects in the province of Quebec. These included some $3.25 million invested in Forillon National Park. For example, $1.6 million was spent in the park to counter shoreline erosion on the Route du Banc to help ensure that visitors would continue to enjoy this magnificent site. Another $1 million was invested to refresh and make improvements to the campsite.
Does Forillon National Park contribute to the economy of the Gaspésie? Of course it does. In fact, the total economic impact attributed to Forillon National Park on gross domestic product is estimated at about $13 million each year, including the provision of some 326 full-time jobs in the region.
When the families moved from the region to make room for the national park in 1970, they helped create the foundation for a different kind of economy on the tip of the Gaspésie. No longer is it a region of catching and drying cod, but a vibrant tourism destination that will continue to attract visitors for many years to come. That is what we are celebrating in this year when we mark a century of Parks Canada.
Today, Parks Canada administers about 360,000 square kilometres of national parks, national historic sites and national marine conservation areas. In total, this is an area bigger than all of Germany. No wonder foreign visitors are impressed by the vastness of our beautiful and wonderful parks system.
Canada has protected these regions in a series of individual steps to set aside lands for future benefit for future generations. Some of these acquisitions have been very large, such as the agreement a few years ago to increase the Nahanni National Park reserve in the Northwest Territories to six times its previous area. The park is now about the same size, in fact, as the entire country of Belgium.
Over the past few years, we have moved quickly to protect more land, water and historic sites. We have taken steps that will increase these areas by over 30% and reintroduce wildlife to their traditional habitats. Along the way, Parks Canada has learned valuable lessons about how to work with local communities to help ensure they benefit from the economic activity that will come about as a result of the park designation.
Parks Canada no longer expropriates land, as was the case in Forillon some 40 years ago. Instead, in places Nahanni, as well as the Mealy Mountains, Lancaster Sound, Sable Island, Gwaii Haanas National Marine Conservation Area reserve, and the Haida heritage site, we worked with the local communities, the landowners and local governments.
That is worth celebrating. This is a year for us to celebrate, the centennial of our Canada's national park service, 100 years in which Parks Canada has protected our natural habitats and places of incredible beauty, as well as so many of the heritage sites that represent the creation of our nation. One hundred years, as well, of contributing to Canada's economy and the economies of regions far from the big cities, regions such as the Gaspésie, and a hundred years of learning how to create these protected areas in a way that will sustain the communities that have grown up within and around these marvellous regions.
We learned lessons from the creation of Forillon, lessons that have helped Parks Canada work more effectively with communities. We have helped contribute to the economy of the Gaspésie. That is worth celebrating.
However, we cannot rest on our laurels. Our government has done much for the protection of natural landscapes in Canada.
Notwithstanding the wrong-headed way in which Forillon and Kouchibouguac National Park lands were taken from property owners some 40 years ago, there have been significant changes in the way national parks have been created.
One example that I wish to talk about is a national park in western Canada called Grasslands National Park. The website shows that the area has been identified as a potential national park by virtue of a 1988 agreement between the Governments of Canada and Saskatchewan. This agreement replaced a 1981 document when disagreements between the two levels of government arose concerning oil and gas exploration and water management in the park area.
However, Grasslands National Park will eventually cover 900 square kilometres, or 350 square miles, in two blocks along the Canada-U.S. border in southwestern Saskatchewan. The federal government purchases land on a willing seller/willing buyer basis. There will be no expropriation for the acquisition of these lands.
As of 2005, the national park owns a total of 497.3 square kilometres, or 192 square miles, a little over half of what it is looking for in both the east and the west blocks. It may be several years before the park is completely established, however, there is sufficient land base to pursue formalizing Grasslands National Park by including it in the schedule of national parks. This was achieved within the new Canada National Parks Act that received royal assent on October 20, 2000, and a proclamation on February 19, 2001. It also goes on to talk about the draft management plan and so on.
The important thing to note is that the way national parks and the Government of Canada is now engaging in the acquisition of lands is significantly different than it was 40 years ago. This is a much more reasonable way to approach the issue of land acquisition. Fair market value for the property is paid to the landowner when the landowner is ready to sell. It may make things inconvenient for governments that would like to otherwise hurry up the process, but it seems to strike the fair balance of achieving the desire to preserve and protect the natural habitat, while respecting the rights of property owners, such as they are in our country today.
Had this method been approached in 1970, perhaps we would not be having this debate in the House of Commons today.
In order to correct some of the wrongs of the past, Parks Canada has offered to install placards and other interpretative signs in places like Kouchibouguac National Park.
As we can see from an article, Parks Canada admits the pain of expropriation. This is an article that appeared in the National Post, October 9, 2007. We have seen some of the wrongs documented, as we look back in history. There were threats and clashes with police, crusades to save the New Brunswick Kouchibouguac National Park in 1969. A public inquiry and a change in how the federal government reserved land for parks came after.
Now nearly 40 years after some 250 families had their homes expropriated to create this 238 square kilometre reserve, Parks Canada is discussing the installation of interpretation panels and picnic tables as one way to recognize the more than 1,000 people who were dislocated from their small piece of paradise.
The article continues and goes on to say how the landowners, the families and the descendants of those landowners are pleased that this initial step happened in 2006, but it is not going far enough just yet.
The same can be said also for our government's response in Forillon. On August 21, 2010, my colleague, the member for Lévis—Bellechasse, announced that those people, whose houses were expropriated in the creation of the national park or historic site, and their children and grandchildren would have free access to locations where their houses were once expropriated.
In recognition of the expropriations that took place at Forillon National Park 40 years ago, the Government of Canada has extended access privileges to three generations of those whose houses were expropriated to facilitate their connections with areas of personal interest within the national park.
My colleague, the member for Lévis—Bellechasse, also inaugurated the exhibition titled, “The Gaspesians from Land's End at Forillon”. This is a new permanent exhibition which presents the richness and diversity of the ancient inhabitants of Forillon and also tells the stories of the families living on this land before the creation of the park and the expropriations of 1970.
Parks Canada will continue the work begun with the affected communities and commemorate these events with respect and ensure that former residents have free access to places that evoke personal meaning for them.
I have other examples of wrongdoing in the past that need to be corrected. Some of those things have been corrected, but given the fact that I am probably not will not get through the example I wanted to discuss in the time I have remaining, I will conclude by saying how much I appreciate the member for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine for bringing this matter to the attention of the House. It is an important thing to consider.
All members, no matter what level of government they are elected to, whether it is municipal, provincial or federal, should always keep in mind the tensions that arise during the expropriations of land. This serves as a good reminder of some of the failings that have happened in the past and why we should be ever mindful of respecting people's personal property.