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.