Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure today to rise and speak in support of Bill S-5, An Act to amend the Canada National Parks Act (Nááts’ihch’oh National Park Reserve of Canada).
I have heard a lot of talk about Christmas today in the House, and maybe it is because everybody is anxious to get to their ridings, meet up with their constituents and attend a lot of the celebratory events held around Christmastime.
However, when I look at the bill and this new park, we have to first acknowledge the Sahtu Dene and Metis people, the area's aboriginal people, for the wonderful gift of this park. I want to thank them on behalf of all Canadians.
I want to also thank my Conservative colleagues for accepting this gift and bring forward legislation for the park.
In the lengthy hearings that were held, there was huge overall support for the park. A number of options were looked at. Option 1 would have encompassed an area of 6,450 square kilometres, and would have provided the best conservation value, while providing an open area around the existing mineral interests. Option 2 encompassed an area of 5,770 square kilometres, which would diminish the achievement of conservation goals and would allow more mineral potential to be available. Option 3, the smallest land proposal, encompassed an area of 4,840 square kilometres, and took advantage of the mineral potential within the proposed park reserve, while providing some protection to key values.
Hearings were held on all three options. What we have before us today is not the preferred option of all those who attended the hearings. Of those who participated in the hearings and indicated a preference, 92.3% preferred option 1. However, before us today is option 3. This park is a lot smaller than the option preferred by those who expressed an interest but, at the same time, baby steps are better than nothing, and this is a step in the right direction.
I am not saying anything new or controversial when I say that we live in one of the most beautiful countries on this planet. I have had the pleasure to travel from coast to coast to coast in my previous life and had the privilege of visiting some of our remotest regions. I have seen the majestic beauty and diversity of our geography. Therefore, I, like other Canadians, am very concerned that we offer some environmental protection for some of the pristine north and biologically-diverse areas. However, with the creation of a park, we would guarantee for Canadians some level of conservation and an area for them to visit.
It would not be in the Christmas spirit if I did not say that this is a positive step on the part of my colleagues across the way, because it is.
My next plea to my colleagues across the way is this. Now that they have put forward legislation that we New Democrats will be supporting—though they could have gotten it through the House without our support—the key thing for them to do now is to provide resources. We have a knack for passing legislation that sounds very grand and gives a sense of hope to people, but if we do not resource the legislation we pass, it remains words on paper. We have heard over the last number of years how many of our national parks are in dire straits and need funding to be maintained.
In December of 2013, which seems like a long time ago, the Toronto Star reported that there was an almost $3 billion backlog in deferred maintenance at Parks Canada. I want to repeat that number: $3 billion in backlogged maintenance. If we throw into that context a new park, which New Democrats are supporting, we worry that the creation of this new park could just be an empty gesture unless we are willing to maintain the parks and do what it takes to keep them going.
In its November 2013 departmental performance report, Parks Canada identified aging infrastructure, inadequate levels of funding, and maintenance as key risks for the department. The Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development identified a wide and persistent gap between what the government commits to and is achieving.
Creating a park is wonderful, and we should take credit for that, but at the same time, let us make sure that we also put resources into the budget to support not only this park but also other parks that are getting run down. I would say that they are more than a little run down according to the report that was given to us by Parks Canada.
When New Democrats looked at the 2013-14 budget announcement of spending on infrastructure in parks, the picture became even bleaker. The budget announced $391 million over five years to deal with crumbling buildings, roads, and dams. This amount will not even cover the backlog. More importantly, the amount the government is actually going to spend in the short term is ridiculous. Guess how much it will spend on all our parks in 2014? It will spend just $1 million. While that is a huge sum of money, I know, for those who work for a living, the evidence shows that the government is $3 billion behind in just doing repair work. It has budgeted just $1 million for that work; then in 2015, next year, it will spend $4 million.
The New Democrats are not surprised at the broken promises from across the way. The Conservatives have broken promises on a huge number of issues, which I will get to later. The government then says that after the next election, it will spend $386 million. Why is that spending only required after the next election, when the need, as identified in November 2013, is well into the billions of dollars?
Because of that, it is very difficult for New Democrats to take the government at its word. Of course, the NDP supports the creation of national parks in Canada's north, as well as across Canada, from coast to coast to coast. I am very proud that my riding of Newton—North Delta has local parks. The region has some amazing parks as well, and citizens from coast to coast to coast really appreciate them.
In my younger days, I spent much time camping in our national parks, from the time my kids were little until quite recently. It was an absolute pleasure to go into those parks and enjoy our beautiful scenery and everything that our parks had to offer, like kayaking, swimming, and so on. I say “until quite recently” because, to be honest, since my election, I have not really had the time to go camping with my children or grandchildren. However, it is certainly something I do look forward to next summer.
Here is a park that the Conservatives have brought forward after seven years of consultation and negotiations with the aboriginal peoples of that region. The Conservatives can create all the parks they want. After all, they have a majority. However, without funding and careful protection of the ecological integrity of this park and all national parks, the designation is relatively meaningless in conservation terms.
When I have visited our Pacific Rim National Park in B.C. on the west coast of Vancouver Island, I saw first hand some of the upgrading that was needed. I have had the absolute pleasure of enjoying that beautiful park since moving to B.C.
I want to keep touching on the fact that we need resources to support our parks. It is like owning a house. I am sure many of my colleagues across the way own their own homes. When we own a house, if we do not do the repairs, it starts to crumble around us. First it gets run down, and then before we know it, it is crumbling. It is the same when we create parks. If we do not maintain them and invest in their maintenance and infrastructure, our parks become compromised and also start crumbling.
I am sure that my friends across the aisle do not want that to happen either. I know they are going to bring forward a budget in January that will have significant dollars attached to it, so that we can go forward and make sure that our parks are protected.
I just cannot imagine anyone in Canada being opposed to the creation of national parks, except perhaps for some mining interests and others that want to go in and extract goods. We have to find a way to support our extractive industries while at the same time making sure that we look after our environment. We have to make sure that for our grandchildren and our great grandchildren have parks that are pristine and protected as a national heritage that they can visit.
Coming from England, I was so overwhelmed by the geography of Canada when I first came here. I had all kinds of stereotypes in my head when I came from England, which were soon destroyed. They should have been destroyed, because a lot of my stereotypes were based on what I saw on television. However, at the same time, I saw the diversity of our geography.
I first moved to Quebec. It is a beautiful province. We enjoyed our two years in Quebec and its geography and wilderness. We spent a lot of time outdoors—every time we could get away in fact—and explored it and the surrounding areas.
However, whether we are in Newfoundland, the Yukon, B.C., or Saskatchewan, Canadians are very concerned about their environment and Canada.
Here I will digress just for a nanosecond to say that I am also hearing from Canadians that they are very embarrassed at the actions our government has taken recently when it comes to the protection of our environment and the role it has played internationally. Quite honestly, I was so taken aback when I heard the Prime Minister say that it would be crazy to regulate the oil and gas industry, because I remember hearing many times from ministers and the Prime Minister how those regulations were coming. Then suddenly, it is all an act of craziness.
We are very concerned about the environment and, as a result, we New Democrats do want to say that this is a little step in the right direction on the part of the Conservatives. After all, creating a park is a good Christmassy thing to do. However, at the same time, I have to plead with my colleagues across the way that they look at some of the deregulation they have done, some of the environmental protections they have taken away, and that they reinstate many of those to protect our waterways, our pristine coastlines, and our lakes.
I would say that in my beautiful province of British Columbia, we are very dependent on the tourism industry, so we just cannot imagine the kind of damage that would happen if there were an oil spill along the B.C. coastline. We have seen how many years it takes to do the cleanup and how many billions of dollars it takes. Because of the pristine nature of our lakes and rivers, we are also concerned about these because we do not want them to become the victims of oil spills as well.
We want to ensure that the government members across the way, in the spirit of Christmas and as they look to other good things they want to do, really look at their government's degradation of environmental protection. My plea to them is that they not do it for themselves, but for their children, their grandchildren, and their great-grandchildren. If they do not have children or grandchildren of their own, they should do it for the sake of all the children who will follow us and live on this planet long after many of us have gone.
When talking about our environment, it is not a joke. I want to say that whether I visit an elementary school or high school, I am so delighted to get the privilege of visiting schools in my riding where the students decide the agenda. They decide what they want to ask me about. I do not walk in and say what we are going to talk about that day. I am invited in and the students ask me questions. The top two questions in every classroom I go to are related to the environment, to climate change. Our young people get it. Whether I am visiting Princess Margaret Secondary School in my riding or Tamanawis Secondary School or NDSS, the students are fully engaged.
Here we are, the day before the House recesses for Christmas, and I take this opportunity to wish my colleagues across the aisle and on this side, and Canadians from coast to coast to coast, a merry Christmas to all who celebrate Christmas, and to people who do not celebrate Christmas, happy holidays. I wish that they enjoy this time with their family. This is the time when all of us get together and sit around the fire and tell old stories. I am really looking forward to spending the Christmas break with my beautiful grandchildren and the rest of my family.
Merry Christmas to you as well, Mr. Speaker, and happy holidays.