Mr. Speaker, as we debate third reading of Bill S-5, I want to express my full support for the Nááts’ihch’oh national park reserve act.
The purpose of the bill is to formally establish and protect Nááts’ihch’oh under the Canada National Parks Act as our nation's newest national park. This would the forty-fourth national park Canada has created since it first set aside lands in the Rocky Mountains for Banff National Park.
Located in the Mackenzie Mountains of the Northwest Territories, this newest national park borders on the Yukon territory and shares part of its boundary with Nahanni National Park Reserve. At 4,895 square kilometres, it would be the fifteenth-largest national park in Canada.
I want to express my appreciation to fellow parliamentarians who have spoken in support of Bill S-5. It is clear that support for the protection of Nááts’ihch’oh national park reserve under the Canadian National Park Act cuts across party lines and is a vision shared by all.
However, as we move toward the end of debate on Bill S-5, I do want to address some of the perceptions that have emerged during discussion on Bill S-5, both in this chamber and in committee.
In short, some of the commentaries suggested our government lacks the commitment to both protect Nááts’ihch’oh national park reserve and to honour the undertakings we have made to the first nations and Métis of the area in the establishment agreement that we signed in March 2012.
The first issue I wish to address is the public consultation program.
A number of members have raised concern over the fact that so few of the over 1,600 participants in the consultation program indicated a preference for the boundary that closely resembles the one that was chosen.
When Parks Canada released its three boundary options for comment in 2010, it was very clear in its material that it was not a vote but a discussion. The agency clarified that it was possible that none of the three options presented would be the boundary, stating:
The three boundary options being presented are not formal proposals and it is unlikely that the final park boundary will look exactly like any of them.
Indeed, the final boundary was not any of the options presented for public consultation. At the request of the Sahtu Dene and Métis in 2012, the government added a 20-square-kilometre extension of the national park reserve boundary into the O'Grady Lake area. The purpose of this addition is to facilitate visitor access to this new national park in a very beautiful area.
As the consultation program demonstrated, the government's proposal to create Nááts’ihch’oh national park reserve generated considerable support among Canadians. Over 96% of the participants who submitted written comments expressed their support for this initiative to create a new national park, and over 61% cited as important the protection of the habitats of important wildlife species such as grizzly bears, caribou, Dall sheep, and mountain goats. Passage of Bill S-5 would be the best means for this House to positively respond to this level of support.
Consultation programs are but one element of an overall approach to deciding upon whether to create a new national park, under what conditions, and with what boundaries. In the case of Nááts’ihch’oh, the results of the 2010 public consultation program were not the only factor in deciding the boundary. Our government also had to consider the final views of the Government of the Northwest Territories and the Sahtu Dene and Métis; the results of the mineral and energy resource assessment that was undertaken the by the Geological Survey of Canada; the strategic value of the minerals in the area to Canada; the needs and plans of the current mineral development companies that have interests in the Nááts’ihch’oh area; and the views of other implicated federal departments.
The result of this process is a proposal for 4,895-square-kilometre national park reserve that would protect the upper reaches of the South Nahanni River as well as habitat for woodland caribou and grizzly bears, while allowing for the development of existing mineral claims and leases and for potential future mineral development.
The second issue I want to address is the suggestion that Parks Canada would not be able to maintain the ecological integrity of Nááts’ihch’oh national park reserve.
The Canada National Parks Act states:
Maintenance or restoration of ecological integrity, through the protection of natural resources and natural processes, shall be the first priority of the Minister when considering all aspects of the management of parks.
The establishment agreement we signed with the Sahtu Dene and the Métis commits both parties to sustain the ecological integrity of the South Nahanni River watershed.
Several speakers have cast doubt on our government's commitment to ecological integrity in light of the recent report of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development on Parks Canada and ecological integrity. I want to dispel this concern. Parks Canada continues to maintain professional and technical science capacity at each of Canada's national parks in order to deliver science-based programs such as ecological monitoring and restoration and the protection and recovery of species at risk. It will be no different in the Nááts’ihch’oh national park reserve.
In his report, the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development concluded that:
Parks Canada...is fulfilling its key responsibilities for maintaining or restoring ecological integrity in Canada's national parks. The Agency has developed a solid framework of policies, directives, and guidelines for fulfilling its key responsibilities....
The commissioner also highlighted the fact that Parks Canada is recognized as a world leader in developing guidance on ecological integrity. I would note that Parks Canada is transparent with the Canadian public on the state of our national parks' ecological health, as we are the only country in the G8 that is reporting on the state of ecological integrity in our national parks system.
Parks Canada is also recognized internationally as a leader in building respectful, trusting relationships with aboriginal peoples, which includes the active use of traditional knowledge in ecological decision-making. It would be no different in the Nááts’ihch’oh national park reserve.
All of this augurs well for the ecological future of Nááts’ihch’oh, as our government has the legislative mandate for ecological integrity the staff and resources, and the track record to ensure that this park would be left unimpaired for the use, benefit, and enjoyment of future Canadians.
The third issue I want to address is the ability of Parks Canada to promote tourism associated with Nááts’ihch’oh national park reserve.
The agreement between Parks Canada and the Sahtu Dene and Métis confirms that a shared purpose is to “encourage public understanding, appreciation and enjoyment of the Park” and to “enhance the experience of visitors to the Park”. I am pleased to note that between 2009-10 and 2013-14, Parks Canada measured a 4% increase in visitation to our national parks, which is almost a half a million new visitors. Our government has seen growth in visitation to a range of sites. Gros Morne National Park, on the west coast of Newfoundland, saw a 6% growth between 2012-13 and 2013-14. There was a 21% growth in Cape Breton Highlands National Park in Nova Scotia, a 13% growth in Ontario's Bruce Peninsula National Park, and a 31% increase in visitation to Manitoba's Wapusk National Park.
At the urging of the minister responsible for Parks Canada, the agency is developing an approach to unleashing the economic potential of our northern national parks with a focus on more aggressively attracting visitors to experience northern Canada and the culture of the aboriginal people who call these lands home.
Clearly Parks Canada continues to deliver quality ecological integrity and visitor service programs, and, most importantly, it continues to deliver on its mandate to maintain and make use of the national parks so as to leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.
Finally, there have been suggestions during this debate that in creating Nááts’ihch’oh national park reserve, we would simply cut the ribbon on a new park and then abandon it, offering press releases but not funding its development and operation. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Among other things, the agreement signed by Parks Canada and the Sahtu Dene and Métis states that a shared purpose is to create employment and business opportunities for beneficiaries of the affected Sahtu communities. Since we signed that establishment agreement with the first nations in 2012, Parks Canada has moved to immediately implement the terms of the agreement. For example, the minister of the environment appointed representatives to the management committee that is to advise on the management of Nááts’ihch’oh. The management committee provides advice to the minister and the Sahtu Renewable Resources Board on various matters, including renewable resource issues, the park management plan, employment, training and economic opportunities for members, and protection measures.
Until a new office is constructed, Parks Canada has opened a temporary office in Tulita and hired four employees, including the site superintendent. One of these is a Sahtu beneficiary. Parks Canada is advertising all positions locally in the community and consulting with the Sahtu on how best to attract Sahtu beneficiaries. In hiring staff, Parks Canada is taking into account special considerations for Sahtu cultural knowledge and provides preferences to qualified Sahtu members.
After signing the establishment agreement, Parks Canada started discussions with the first nations on the supply of offices, a visitors' centre, a warehouse, and housing units. In the end, the total capital investment in the community will be $3 million.
Clearly, we have not just cut a ribbon and run. We are committed to fulfilling the terms of our agreement with the Sahtu Dene and Métis and have moved to immediately implement it. We have committed the necessary funds to establish, develop, and operate this new national park. We are taking steps to ensure that this new national park reserve will not only protect the environment but make a meaningful contribution to the social and economic well-being of the community. This legislation would protect the lands and waters of a nationally significant landscape in the Nááts’ihch’oh national park reserve of Canada.
In passing the bill and making it law, we are providing Parks Canada with the powers necessary to protect this national treasure for the benefit of all Canadians. It is not just here in Parliament but across our nation that people work to protect the great symbols of our nation, the great institutions of our democracy, and the natural and cultural heritage that stand as a testament to the history of our great nation. We owe them our gratitude.
In conclusion, I hope that all members will support passage of Bill S-5 and the formal establishment of Nááts’ihch’oh national park reserve under the Canada National Parks Act.