Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak in support of Bill S-15, the expansion and conservation of Canada's national parks act.
This bill would bring legal protection to Nova Scotia's Sable Island as Canada's 43rd national park. It is a key action toward the Government of Canada's commitment in its 2011 Speech from the Throne to create significant new protected areas. The passing of this bill would mark the end of the steps to which the Government of Canada agreed, with the Province of Nova Scotia, to designate Sable Island as a national park reserve, and the start of a new iconic national park reserve for all Canadians.
In fact, in October 2011, the hon. member for Central Nova and I were honoured to join with the Premier of Nova Scotia, Darrell Dexter, in Halifax to sign the memorandum of agreement for a national park at Sable Island. I know that each of us shared, that day, a strong sense that not only were we concluding almost 50 years of work to conserve Sable Island, but that we were taking the necessary action to protect this iconic landscape for the benefit of future generations. The dream of protecting Sable Island is a long-standing one that we hope to realize very shortly with the passage of Bill S-15.
As the hon. member for South Shore—St. Margaret's noted earlier in this debate, it was the call of schoolchildren from across Canada to stop the proposed removal of the famous Sable Island horses that resulted in the first federal conservation action in 1961. And, as the Sable Island region became the focus for petroleum development in the late 1960s and early 1970s, organizations stepped forward to draw national attention to the future of the island. During this time, the level of development and human use of the island declined, allowing nature to once again reassert itself.
As someone who has had the honour and the distinct pleasure of visiting Sable Island, I can attest to this House what a special place we are bringing under the protection of our world-class national parks system. In size, Sable Island is tiny in comparison to the 30,000 square kilometres now protected in Nahanni National Park Reserve in the Northwest Territories, thanks to the actions of Parliament in 2009 when it significantly expanded Nahanni. However, from my first-hand experience, I can tell members that it is no less important. Nature indeed has reasserted itself, reclaiming Sable Island as a sanctuary for life on the edge.
As we fly into Sable Island, we cannot help but be impressed by the fact that this isolated sandbar island, located, as my colleagues have said, just under 300 kilometres from Halifax, has survived. It is amazing that it has survived, let alone sustained life. The island is a remarkable formation, not only for its geography as the only remaining exposed portion of the outer continental shelf in the northwest Atlantic, but for its wildlife. Some 190 plant species live there, including 20 that have restricted distribution elsewhere. It is a sanctuary for some 350 species of migratory birds, including the roseate tern that is listed as endangered under the Species at Risk Act. In fact, Sable Island is the breeding ground for virtually the entire world population of the Ipswich sparrow.
Perhaps most famously, Sable Island is home to a band of feral horses. The numbers vary, from year to year and from decade to decade, from 300 to 500 animals. It is one of the few bands in the world that remains entirely unmanaged. These horses were introduced, it is believed, in the 1730s, and were declared protected by the Diefenbaker government in 1961. As a Canadian, as a member of this House and as a visitor to Sable Island, I am proud to stand in this chamber to help conclude the work started back in 1961. What a legacy for this Parliament to leave to future generations.
And, what a legacy passed on from previous generations. As we have heard, Sable Island has a very long human history, some of it tragic. About 350 shipwrecks are recorded there, earning the island the title often referred to of “graveyard of the Atlantic”.
Life-saving stations were established there over 200 years ago and in subsequent years lighthouses and shelters for shipwrecked sailors were built, much attributed to the resourcefulness and determination of Canadians. Thanks to the professional expertise of Parks Canada, we will continue to tell these stories and will continue to share them with Canadians and people around the world.
The bill before us amends schedule 2 of the Canada National Parks Act to add the legal boundary description of Sable Island National Park Reserve of Canada. Using the national park reserve designation respects the ongoing discussions that the federal government is having with the Mi'kmaq of Nova Scotia under the Made-in-Nova Scotia Process. The Mi'kmaq of Nova Scotia support the national park reserve designation for Sable Island. The Government of Canada is committed to negotiating an agreement with the Mi'kmaq once the Made-in-Nova Scotia Process is completed in order to transition Sable Island to final full national park status.
Until that agreement is finalized, Sable Island would remain a national park reserve. I wish to stress that a national park reserve enjoys all the same protections that a national park does while respecting assertions of aboriginal or treaty rights. It is not a lesser category of national park. Some of our iconic parks, such as the Nahanni, in the Northwest Territories, and Gwaii Haanas and Pacific Rim on the west coast, are also still national park reserves. Nor is this time limited. We will not effect the transition to a full-fledged national park until we have concluded our work with the Mi'kmaq of Nova Scotia.
As we heard, Sable Island is located in one of the largest offshore hydrocarbon basins in North America. I know that during this debate I heard again this evening concern expressed about the future of Sable Island and the petroleum activities that may be permitted within this region. However, at the end of the day, given that Sable Island National Park Reserve is being created in a region that is the subject of active petroleum exploration and development, I believe that our government and the Government of Nova Scotia have negotiated an approach to Sable Island that balances conservation and development in creating Canada's 43rd national park.
Members should consider what we would be accomplishing with this bill as it pertains to Sable Island. We would be creating a new and exciting park reserve on Sable Island that would conserve one of the largest dune systems in eastern Canada, habitat for endangered species and of course for the wild horses of Sable.
We would be protecting the asserted aboriginal rights and title of the Mi'kmaq of Nova Scotia while launching a new collaboration between Parks Canada and the Mi'kmaq. For the first time we would be putting in place a legislative ban on exploratory and extractive drilling for petroleum resources from the surface of Sable Island. We would be creating a legislated buffer zone around the national park reserve that prohibits drilling from the park boundary, which would be considered the shoreline at low tide, out one nautical mile.
We would be legally limiting the number of current petroleum-related activities that can be undertaken from Sable Island while directing those activities, if authorized, have low impact. I would be glad to speak to that in questions after these remarks. We would be putting in place a legislative requirement for the Offshore Petroleum Board to consult Parks Canada before consideration of any permits for this low-impact activity on Sable Island.
Finally, we would be providing opportunities for Canadians to experience and learn about Sable Island, whether by visiting the island itself or learning through various media.
At this time, I would like to echo the remarks of previous speakers in thanking the holders of petroleum discovery licences on or near Sable Island who voluntarily agreed to amendments that now fully and in perpetuity prevent them from drilling on the island and within the buffer zone of one nautical mile.
I too want to express my sincere appreciation to the Minister of Natural Resources and the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans for their work in helping to create a national park reserve on Sable Island.
I want to again express my sincere appreciation to the Province of Nova Scotia for working with us from day one to realize this new national park reserve.
I would like to assure this House that for Parks Canada, Bill S-15 would be but a first step as it takes on administration of the island and begins to deepen the connection Canadians make with this remote place in the northwest Atlantic Ocean.
In the coming years, the agency would work with partners and shareholders to protect this land of wild horses and windswept dunes, of shipwrecks and sea birds. The wild character of this island would continue to be a defining feature for those who make the once-in-a-lifetime journey there.
I have heard questions of mild concern to this effect, but Parks Canada would carefully facilitate experience opportunities while protecting the special place in perpetuity for the benefit of present and future generations.
At the same time that Parks Canada maintained Sable Island's ecological integrity, it would consult with the public and it would work with partners and stakeholders to prepare a management plan to guide all aspects of the future management of this wonderful national park reserve.
Now I wish to briefly describe the other proposed amendments to the Canada National Parks Act made in the second part of the bill.
First, with regard to the other proposed amendments in the second part of this bill, the bill before us would address issues raised by the standing joint committee for the scrutiny of regulations, in particular to correct the discrepancies between the English and the French versions of subsection 4(1). These changes are minor in nature. They would not alter the meaning of the clause.
The bill would also add a new subsection 4(1.1), which clarifies the authority of the Minister of the Environment to use section 23 or section 24 of the Parks Canada Agency Act to set fees in national parks.
In fact, an amendment to this bill in the Senate brought greater clarity to these changes. The bill would make changes affecting two national parks in western Canada. It would make minor changes to commercial zoning in the community of Field, British Columbia, in Yoho National Park, to reflect the current reality in Field while at the same time respecting the commercial limits established for that community and the community plan.
Finally, the last set of amendments is that Bill S-15 would change the leasehold boundaries of the Marmot Basin ski area that is within Jasper National Park of Canada by removing an area that is an important wildlife habitat for woodland caribou, for mountain goat, for grizzly bear and for wolverine in exchange for a smaller area of less ecologically sensitive land. This would result in a significant gain for the ecological integrity of Jasper National Park.
The Government of Canada is proud to table this bill to formally establish a Sable Island national park reserve of Canada, and to give this national treasure the highest level of environmental protection in the country. Sable Island would join with other places that have become Canada's premier natural and cultural icons in a national parks system that covers more than 326,000 square kilometres, an area that is 4 times the size of Lake Superior and that celebrates the infinite beauty and the variety of our land.
Bill S-15 marks the third time our government has brought before Parliament a legislative proposal to increase the size of Canada's internationally acclaimed network of national parks and national marine conservation areas.
In fact, in May 2011, Parks Canada was awarded the prestigious Gift to the Earth award by World Wildlife Fund, its highest accolade to applaud conservation work of outstanding merit. In recognizing a conservation action as a gift to the earth, WWF highlights both environmental leadership and inspiring conservation achievement, which contribute to the protection of our shared living world.
The Gift to the Earth award recognizes Parks Canada's conservation leadership and its globally outstanding track record in creating new protected areas and in embracing precedent-setting aboriginal participation in the establishment and the management of our protected areas.
I would like to briefly speak to some of these new protected areas, which would soon see Sable Island among them.
In 2009, Parliament unanimously passed legislation resulting in a sixfold expansion of Nahanni National Park Reserve, bringing the park to 30,000 square kilometres in size.
It was remarked in the House that this was the conservation achievement of a generation, one that was accomplished with the close collaboration of the Dehcho First Nations. Designated one of the planet's first world heritage sites, this expanded park now protects in perpetuity significant habitat for grizzly bear, caribou and Dall sheep, as well as the famed South Nahanni River.
A year later, after a parliamentary review, the Gwaii Haanas National Marine Conservation Area Reserve and Haida Heritage Site became the first marine protected area to be scheduled under the Canada National Marine Conservation Areas Act. In a global first, this new marine protected area, along with the existing Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site, protects a contiguous area that extends from alpine mountaintops right down to the bottom of the ocean floor—a rich temperate rainforest and its adjoining marine ecosystem now protected for the benefit of future generations. All of this was accomplished as we worked hand in hand with the people of the Haida Nation.
It is important to note that our government has not only worked to protect large or remote natural areas such as Nahanni, Gwaii Haanas and Sable Island, but we are also working to protect endangered habitat and species and to conserve some of the last large remaining natural areas in more developed settings.
In 2011, the government announced the purchase of the historic Dixon family ranch lands of the Frenchman River Valley, in southwest Saskatchewan, in order to protect it for future generations as part of Grasslands National Park of Canada.
This land acquisition of approximately 111 square kilometres within the west block of Grasslands National Park's existing boundary is significant for its spectacular scenery and its native grasslands, which includes critical habitat for species at risk.
Allow me to quote the hon. member for Edmonton—Spruce Grove, when she observed:
This vast, windswept prairie was home to millions of free-roaming bison prior to European settlement. With the re-introduction of bison—an icon of the prairie—the park will restore grazing to this mixed-grass prairie ecosystem, enhance the long-term integrity of the park and once again give Canadians the opportunity to view these symbols of the prairie after over a century's absence in this area.
It is these kinds of actions that speak to the power of our national parks. Not only do they protect the natural areas that have been handed down from generations before us, but they also provide us with the opportunity to restore what might have been lost.
Again to Grasslands National Park, in 2009, Parks Canada reintroduced the black-footed ferret, a species that had disappeared from this region more than 70 years ago.
Finally, I am particularly proud of our government's initiative to bring the message of protected areas and conservation to the Rouge Valley of Toronto.
In the 2011 Speech from the Throne, our government announced that it would work to create a national urban park, the first national urban park in Canada, in the Rouge Valley. This is an important initiative that would help increase the profile and public investment in urban conservation. I am also proud of the fact that our government will invest over $143 million, over 10 years, for park development and interim operations, with an annual budget of $7.6 million to continue operations.
The overall size of a Sable Island national park reserve and Rouge Urban National Park are not as large as our great northern and Rocky Mountain national parks, but they are no less important. They complement the mandate of large protected areas by focusing on some of our most endangered ecosystems, and they provide yet another opportunity to inspire people to take action to conserve their local natural areas.
Passage of Bill S-15 would ensure that the natural and cultural features of a Sable Island national park reserve of Canada would be protected forever, for the enjoyment, the appreciation and the benefit of current and future generations of Canadians.
I hope that hon. members across both sides of this House will join me in supporting Bill S-15.