Mr. Speaker, as this is the first time I am rising in the House since the incidents of yesterday, I just want to take a moment to thank all the House of Commons security services and all our security partners who helped. I extend my deepest condolences and those of my constituents in Scarborough—Rouge River to the family of Corporal Nathan Cirillo. Our thoughts and prayers are also with Constable Son, of the House of Commons security team, who suffered a gunshot wound, in the line of duty, protecting our House of democracy.
I will move on to Bill S-5, which would amend the Canada National Parks Act to create the Nááts’ihch’oh national park reserve of Canada. The Nááts’ihch’oh national park reserve is in the Northwest Territories in the South Nahanni watershed. The proposed area for the park covers an area of 4,895 square kilometres, situated entirely in the Tulita district of the Sahtu settlement area. The proposed area for the Nááts’ihch’oh national park reserve has been long recommended for conservation by the aboriginal Sahtu people, who have been the guardians of that land for thousands of years. They have said that land use should be for conservation.
I was reading from CPAWS, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, Northwest Territories Chapter, when I was doing some research to learn about the Nááts’ihch’oh national park reserve. The first thing that came up is the following:
Nááts’ihch’oh National Park Reserve lies in the headwaters of the South Nahanni River watershed, upstream from and adjacent to Nahanni National Park Reserve...and World Heritage Site. These two parks, working together, are necessary to protect the globally-renowned land, water and wildlife of the South Nahanni Watershed.
Right away, when I was doing my research, the first words that came up were about the importance of conservation for the aboriginal people of the Sahtu, who have been the protectors of those lands for thousands of years. Then, from CPAWS Northwest Territories, the word that stood out for me was “protect”. It is to protect the land assembly and the groundwater table and the entire watershed.
The proposed Rouge national urban park has a potential land assembly of 100 square kilometres, which includes land surrounding the Rouge river and the Duffins Creek watershed in Toronto, Markham, and Pickering. It is the ancestral home of the Mississauga, Huron-Wendat, and Seneca first nations and has sacred burial grounds and village sites.
This past weekend, I spent four hours in the Rouge visiting the sacred burial grounds, the location of a past ossuary. I spent time with an aboriginal elder, David Grey Eagle, who has been protecting these lands, working with the Friends of the Rouge Watershed and many other local people who care about Rouge Park.
We have been fighting for 100 square kilometres of park, but what the government has proposed for the study area, not even the actual final park size but the study area, is 57 square kilometres. The reason I am talking about Rouge Park is that I see the same pattern with the Nááts’ihch’oh national park reserve.
When the government did the consultation with the community for the Nááts’ihch’oh national park reserve, there were three options presented: option one was a total area of 6,450 square kilometres; option two was 5,770 square kilometres; and option three, which was the smallest of the proposals, was 4,840 square kilometres. Of the people who sent in responses and comments through the consultation process, 92.3% supported option one, which was 6,450 square kilometres; 4.6% supported option two; and 3% supported option three.
The government ended up making minor adjustments, and the option it is putting forward is the closest to option three. The government is supporting approximately 3% of all the people who were consulted on what they wanted for that protected land area. It does not make any sense. The government should be supporting the comments of 92.3% of the people consulted rather than 3%.
The Nahanni National Park Reserve, which is just south of the Nááts'ilch'oh national protected reserve, would protect approximately 86% of the watershed of the South Nahanni River. Protecting 86% of the watershed would not ensure the ecological integrity of the entire watershed. It is important that 100% of the watershed be protected, not 86%.
It is also important to note that the area is rich in mineral resources. The final park boundaries put forward by the government were selected so that a maximum amount of mineral resources lie outside the boundaries. This is disconcerting, because new mining stakes are prohibited within the park boundaries. It would seem that the boundaries have been adjusted and rejigged to allow for new mining stakes to occur just outside the park boundaries. This is concerning, because through mining processes, the watershed will continue to be affected in a negative way if it is not done in a sustainable manner. I and 92.3% of the people in the area are concerned about the proposed boundaries.
It would also leave out critical wildlife areas that lie outside the Nááts'ilch'oh national park reserve. When I say critical wildlife areas, I mean the caribou calving and breeding grounds. Major upstream tributaries of the South Nahanni River flow downstream into the Nahanni National Park Reserve, which makes it more of a concern, because it would not be just the Nááts'ilch'oh national park reserve but the Nahanni National Park Reserve that would be affected, because its tributaries would potentially be affected.
I would like to quote Mr. Stephen Kakfwi, the former premier of the Northwest Territories, who said that he is “disappointed with the way the boundary lines are drawn”. He said in an interview that the Prime Minister “is protecting the mining interests more than environmental interests. Unfortunately I think [the Prime Minister] has let down Canadians in his choice”. He went on to say that local people were put in a corner, because it was either the smaller protected area that was put forward or it was nothing.
I am in the same position. All New Democrats have the same belief. We want more protected areas. We support the creation of a national park, but it is not fair to put the community in a corner and tell it that it will get this tiny piece of land as a national park or it will get nothing. Why can we not just do it properly? If we say we are committed to conservation and ecological integrity, then why do we not commit to conservation and ecological integrity instead of saying that we will commit to a small piece and not the whole area?
Another issue I want to talk about is the maintenance of parks. The Toronto Star reported in December 2013, after a departmental performance report by Parks Canada in November 2013, that there is approximately a $3-billion backlog in the deferred maintenance at Parks Canada.
With new parks being created and already a $3-billion backlog in maintenance of these parks, I am concerned for the future of Nááts’ihch’oh. I am also concerned for the future of the Rouge national urban park, which is to be created in my backyard. I want to know that when we are creating national parks, we are committing to ensuring that they are protected, conserved, that there is ecological integrity of the ecosystems and the habitat, and also that they will be maintained for future use for the generations to come.