Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak in support of Bill S-5. As has already been said in the House, the NDP supports the creation of national parks and the preservation of ecosystems and habitats that are essential to the survival of plants and wildlife.
Consultations revealed that the public overwhelmingly supported creating a bigger park. Unfortunately, the government ignored public opinion and decided to protect only the smallest of the three potential areas, neglecting to include very important wildlife areas. Witnesses spoke about the park.
For example, the hon. Ethel Blondin-Andrew, chairperson of the Sahtu Secretariat, said the following:
The Sahtu Dene and Métis support the establishment of the park. We maintain that any park in the settlement area must be created and managed in partnership with the Sahtu Dene and Métis and based on our cultural traditions, spiritual values, and economic aspirations.
I believe it is timely for me to talk about our proposed national park in the south Okanagan's lower Similkameen.
Ever since my election in 2006, I have been in contact with those opposed to the proposed park as well as those in favour. There is no question that the vast majority of my constituents in this area want some form of protection for this pristine area. However, there are differences as to how this can be accomplished.
After listening to both sides, I have come to the conclusion that the only way to preserve this fragile ecosystem is by means of a national park. Failing to do so will leave these areas under threat of mining and development regardless of what safeguards the provincial government of the day implements. Although a great deal of work has been done by Parks Canada to move this process forward, there has been some dissatisfaction with the process.
As a result of political pressure, the current B.C. Liberal government has withdrawn its support for a national park. In my conversation with our previous minister of the environment in 2012, I was reassured, however, that should the position of the provincial government change, the federal government would once again get involved in the process. This is encouraging news. I would like to thank the federal government for its commitment.
I would also like to quote from a letter that Ms. Doreen Olson, coordinator of the South Okanagan-Similkameen National Park Network, received from the federal Minister of the Environment in December of 2013. It states:
I would like to assure you that our government recognizes the important role that Canada's system of national parks plays in providing Canadians with meaningful experiences and opportunities for discovery. Since its creation over 125 years ago, Canada's system of national parks has continued to grow, and our government has put significant efforts into increasing Canada's protected areas.
Our government is committed to ensuring that our national parks continue to provide Canadians and visitors the means to connect with our country's national heritage.
This gives us hope. The key now is for the government of British Columbia to re-engage in the process.
There have been a number of concerns about the proposed national park, the most serious being the lack of first nations' involvement on a government-to-government basis.
Since then, the Okanagan Nation Alliance has conducted a feasibility study and found that it is:
—feasible to explore further discussions with Parks Canada about a future National Park Reserve, so long as Syilx Title, Rights and interests are protected and respected. The Syilx Parks Working Group advocates a collaborative and consensus based model with Parks Canada similar to those in Gwaii Haanas.
There are two other concerns: the ability of our local helicopter school to continue training in the proposed area and ranching. While both of these issues have been addressed by Parks Canada, they could and should be a vital part of any negotiations between the provincial and federal governments.
It should be noted that there is a growing overwhelming support for the national park from the Okanagan Basin Water Board, Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen, Regional District of Central Okanagan, Regional District of North Okanagan, Town of Osoyoos, city of Vernon, British Columbia Wine Institute, Kelowna Chamber of Commerce, South Okanagan Chamber of Commerce, and tourism associations such as Oliver Tourism and Destination Osoyoos, as well as a number of environmental groups such as the South Okanagan-Similkameen National Park Network.
In addition, thanks to the former mayor of Osoyoos, Stu Wells, the Union of B.C. Municipalities passed a resolution in support of the park. There is also support from the City of Greenwood. A resolution was passed, stating the following:
The City of Greenwood fully supports the re-engagement of discussions between the Government of British Columbia and the Government of Canada, towards the establishment of a new National Park in the South Okanagan-Similkameen; and asks to be consulted throughout the process to ensure that we are partnering in economic development, tourism, and business development strategies and programs.
I would also like to issue a big thanks to Dan Ashton, Penticton MLA and chair of the province's all-party Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services for his support. The standing committee recently completed its report and has recommended that the province work with the federal government and local stakeholders to assess the feasibility of, and support for, the establishment of a new national park.
I should add that as was pointed out in previous statements and questions, it takes a long time for this process to take place. It takes many stakeholders, and I firmly believe that the time is right for the Government of British Columbia to re-engage with the federal government to get this process moving so that we can leave a legacy for the future.
Last but not least, I would like to single out and thank Doreen Olson of the South Okanagan-Similkameen National Park Network for her years of tireless efforts in promoting the establishment of a national park. I do not know how many meetings I have had with Doreen or how many meetings she has had with other folks, but I would just like to thank her and those in her organization for their effort.
The B.C. Minister of Environment, Mary Polak, recently visited our area to consult with residents, and I thank her for doing so. I had written the minister in November of 2013 asking the Province of B.C. to formally re-engage in negotiations with the Government of Canada and first nations. So far we have not had a positive reaction from the government of B.C.
We have a chance to do something right for future generations to come. I strongly urge the Province of B.C. to re-engage with the federal government and first nations. We have a potential win-win situation: the protection of our environment, tourism dollars for our area, a beautiful opportunity for people from all parts of the world to come and visit this pristine area, and, of course, full-time employment, which will certainly support our local economy. We cannot allow ourselves to miss this opportunity.
I strongly urge the Government of British Columbia to work with the federal government and to re-engage with the federal government, first nations, and other stakeholders to make the national park in the South Okanagan-Similkameen happen.