Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to Bill C-565.
Gatineau Park has an important place in our national capital region's history. The idea for a park in the Gatineau hills dates back to the 1800s.
In the early 20th century, two reports were commissioned, both of which recommended that the Canadian government create a park in the hills.
On July 1, 1938, the Government of Canada recognized the concept of Gatineau Park and the groundwork was laid with the introduction of a budget for the purchase of land in the Gatineau valley.
In 1959, the government introduced the National Capital Act. This legislation created the National Capital Commission, which was given the authority and responsibility to protect Gatineau Park, as well as many other properties, parks, and green spaces in an extensive area defined in the act as the national capital region.
The act states that the commission's mandate is:
...to prepare plans for and assist in the development, conservation and improvement of the National Capital Region in order that the nature and character of the seat of the Government of Canada may be in accordance with its national significance.
Gatineau Park is fully subject to this mandate, as it forms part of the national capital region.
Today, the park's millions of annual visitors, who are both residents of the region and tourists, enjoy its trails, forests, and lakes year-round, and I certainly enjoy them myself.
In recent years, there have been numerous efforts made by the government to study and improve the tools and mechanisms by which the commission administers and protects land and properties within the capital region.
In 2006, an independent panel was commissioned to study the mandate, mission, and activities of the commission. Many people and interest groups who were consulted felt the long-term sustainability of the green capital lands—especially Gatineau Park and the greenbelt—were at risk and strongly advised that formal protections of these lands be strengthened.
The panel subsequently published its report, which included 31 recommendations regarding the commission's operation, governance, and resources.
One key recommendation was to strengthen the commission's environmental stewardship role with respect to green spaces in the capital region, including Gatineau Park.
In 2009, and again in 2010, this government introduced Bill C-37 and Bill C-20 respectively, both titled “An act to amend the National Capital Act...”.
These bills defined boundaries for Gatineau Park, strengthened the importance of the environmental stewardship role of the National Capital Commission, and defined ecological integrity.
These bills were much more proactive and forward-looking than Bill C-565 and, unlike the chief opposition whip's bill, they also updated the commission's outdated authorities and governance structure and protected other federally owned lands in the region, following closely the recommendations of the panel from 2006.
The intention of these legislative proposals was to provide the National Capital Commission with all the tools it needs to fulfill its mandate.
Unfortunately, both these bills died on the order paper.
I wish to inform the chief opposition whip that I will be opposing her bill, for the following reasons.
First, the government will be introducing, shortly, a bill to amend the National Capital Act, which is far more comprehensive than Bill C-565. The government's bill would modify the governance structure of the National Capital Commission; clarify the commission's responsibilities regarding planning and sound environmental stewardship; establish boundaries for Gatineau Park and the greenbelt; enhance the National Capital Commission's regulation-making powers; as well as reduce some outdated constraints related to real property authorities.
It would be similar, in fact, to the former legislation introduced by the government in the recent past.
Second, Bill C-565 would impose a mandatory and legislative obligation on the National Capital Commission to acquire all real properties in Gatineau Park. This obligation would be extremely costly as there are presently more than 300 privately owned properties in the park. The consequences of legislating this obligation would be to inflate the prices of the properties within the park, and the National Capital Commission would be required to purchase them at any price. This is not a responsible way to spend taxpayers' money. This element of Bill C-565 is neither necessary nor desirable.
In 2008, the government put in place responsible measures through an order in council providing the commission with the authority to acquire any available real property inside Gatineau Park. The National Capital Commission uses due diligence to take into account the availability and the prices of properties, as well as the resources it has available in prioritizing property purchases in the park. These purchases, I think members will agree, must be made responsibly.
Third, although Bill C-565's proposed legislated obligation on the National Capital Commission to protect biodiversity in Gatineau Park would generally align with government policy, the current mechanisms in place, as well as the forthcoming government bill, would accomplish this goal more effectively.
The National Capital Commission is already mandated to protect biodiversity and promote educational and recreational activities in the entire national capital region, which includes Gatineau Park. The commission's 2005 Gatineau Park master plan also establishes priorities for actions in the areas of conservation and stewardship. Moreover, the forthcoming government bill would define and implement the concept of ecological integrity, which more accurately parallels existing government conservation legislation and policy, including the Canada Parks Act, and which would ensure that sound environmental stewardship is a main priority in managing the park.
Fourth, with regard to the boundaries of Gatineau Park, Bill C-565 proposes the same delineations as the previous government bills on the subject, using the 1997 boundaries established by the NCC board of directors. However, Bill C-565 also includes a prohibition on selling or transferring any public lands within the boundaries of the park. The inclusion of this prohibition in Bill C-565 illustrates the lack of knowledge and experience of the hon. member for Hull—Aylmer concerning the flexibility required to ensure effective long-term management of Gatineau Park.
Currently the National Capital Commission has designated Gatineau Park as national interest land mass, or NILM. NILM properties cannot be sold or transferred without Governor in Council approval. This NILM designation enables the National Capital Commission and the government to protect parks and federal lands that are of national interest, but it also provides the necessary flexibility to sell, transfer, or acquire properties when necessary in the public interest and to service communities.
Fifth, Bill C-565 states that the National Capital Commission cannot infringe on real property rights. In my opinion, this amendment is redundant, as real property rights are protected in the Code civil du Québec and are an area of provincial jurisdiction.
Sixth, Bill C-565 states that the National Capital Commission is to take into account the needs of the aboriginal populations and local communities, including the use of subsistence resources. Bill C-565 does not elaborate on whether this is meant to create hunting and fishing rights within Gatineau Park. If so, the National Capital Commission would have to modify or create regulations to ensure proper oversight and monitoring of these activities. This would be costly for the National Capital Commission and could have consequences for visitors to the park. An impact assessment would also have to be done to ensure that this inclusion aligns with government-wide aboriginal policy and treaty rights.
Finally, Bill C-565 would amend the Department of Canadian Heritage Act to specifically refer to Gatineau Park. The reason is that in September 2013, economic action plan 2013 transferred the activity and event mandate to promote Canada's national capital region from the NCC to the Department of Canadian Heritage, and a corresponding amendment was made to the Department of Canadian Heritage Act. However, since Gatineau Park is already part of the national capital region, there is no requirement to specifically identify this part of the capital region and not others.
Moreover, pursuant to an memorandum of understanding signed in October 2013 between the NCC and the Department of Canadian Heritage, the National Capital Commission continues to assume responsibility for, among other things, the management of activities, events, and promotions for Gatineau Park and the Mackenzie King Estate, while the Department of Canadian Heritage continues to manage activities relating to the urban lands for the capital region.
I am of the opinion that Bill C-565 is not an effective vehicle for protecting Gatineau Park. I would like to take this opportunity to reiterate the government's commitment to introducing comprehensive legislation shortly, which would ensure the continued long-term protection of Gatineau Park and provide the National Capital Commission with the tools necessary to manage and protect the entire capital region for all Canadians.