moved that Bill C-565, An Act to amend the National Capital Act (Gatineau Park) and to make a related amendment to the Department of Canadian Heritage Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to go into more detail on my Bill C-565, which would provide protection for Gatineau Park.
First, I want to thank my colleague from Ottawa Centre for seconding my motion for second reading today. I must also thank all of my colleagues who helped get petitions signed in support of my bill.
Gatineau Park's size, beauty and significance make it a national treasure. I am fortunate enough to live just a few minutes from the park, so every single day I can see just how much the people in my region love our park. Anyone who has visited our side of the Ottawa River knows that this park plays a huge part in the lifestyle of families in Gatineau and the surrounding communities. The people of the national capital region care about protecting this park.
It is not just the people of the Outaouais who enjoy this green space. With 2.7 million visitors a year, Gatineau Park is one of the most visited parks in Canada. However, as incredible as this may seem, Gatineau Park does not benefit from any permanent protections to preserve its natural and historical heritage. In fact, it is currently the only major federal park from which sections can be severed without parliamentary review or approval, despite how precious and fragile Gatineau Park's natural environment is. It is high time for this to change.
The purpose of my bill is simple: to remedy this absurd situation by giving Gatineau Park the same sort of protections that our national parks enjoy. We cannot wait any longer. We must act now if we want to leave a healthy park to future generations.
Recent studies clearly demonstrate this. There is a real risk of losing natural habitats. We can no longer be satisfied with the status quo in this matter. Climate change and increased urban development on the periphery of the park are just two examples of the pressures currently facing the park.
Over the past 20 years, the population has grown significantly in the national capital region. There is every indication that this trend will continue, if not increase further. It is important to ensure that the housing development that goes along with such a population increase will not be done at the park's expense. Canadians want to know that the park will not be parcelled out and sold off to real estate developers.
I can think of a thousand reasons for us to join forces to protect Gatineau Park. Its natural heritage, its importance to the economic development of the Outaouais and the many opportunities for outdoor activities that it offers are just a few examples. From an ecological standpoint, Gatineau Park is a truly unique green space. It is home to a surprising variety of wildlife: 230 species of birds live alongside over 50 species of mammals and a dozen species of reptiles. Visitors will also find a few thousand species of plants and about 50 different kinds of trees.
That biodiversity is all the more impressive given that it includes a significant number of endangered species. In fact, Gatineau Park is home to more than 90 endangered plant and 50 endangered animal species. For example, the only known populations of spiny softshell turtles in Quebec are found in Gatineau Park. The park plays a key role in maintaining balanced ecosystems in the Outaouais region. Protecting Gatineau Park better will help preserve our region's rich natural heritage.
The park is a very important symbol of our heritage. It is home to many Algonquin first nations heritage remains. There are also two official residences in the park: the residence of the Speaker of the House of Commons and the Prime Minister's country residence. The Mackenzie King Estate alone attracts 60,000 visitors each year. They come to admire the beautiful gardens and historic buildings.
Gatineau Park is really part of the identity of the national capital region.
Protecting Gatineau Park better will also encourage economic growth in the national capital region. The most recent studies have shown that Gatineau Park generates nearly $25 million in annual economic spinoffs and is a source of more than 400 jobs. It goes without saying that the park is a major attraction in the area and plays a major role in recreational and tourism development in the Outaouais. In addition, the park hosts many large-scale events, such as the Keskinada Loppet cross-country skiing competition, which I had the pleasure of attending just a few weeks ago.
I could go on and on about why Gatineau Park is such an exceptional place and why it deserves to be protected.
I wanted to recognize that exceptional nature by taking action. On April 22, 2012, I launched my “Together, let's protect Gatineau Park” campaign. Over the past months, I have carried out broad consultations involving various stakeholders. I invited members of the public to a major public consultation on the future of the park on May 26, 2012. I also met with the mayors of the communities surrounding the park, the chief of the Kitigan Zibi Anishnabeg Algonquin community, NGOs, National Capital Commission executives and the member of the provincial assembly. From those many discussions, I concluded that we all share a desire to protect the unique character of Gatineau Park and that we want its beauty to be known across Canada for many years to come.
The petition in support of my bill has received over 5,000 signatures. It is clear that protecting Gatineau Park is a priority for the people of the Outaouais and the national capital.
My bill would implement simple and effective measures.
First, we want to enshrine the park's boundaries in law. Currently, the park's boundaries can be changed, and the public lands that make up the park can be sold by order in council. Parliamentarians would have no say in the matter. My goal is to provide the park with legal protection similar to that afforded our national parks. The government would then have to pass a law every time it wants to change those boundaries. If these boundaries are enshrined in law, Gatineau Park will make up 7.8% of the land in the national capital region. That is really something.
Second, my bill would give the park official status by legally creating Gatineau Park, a conservation park situated in the national capital region. I am sure that all of the members here would be very proud to recognize the park as such.
Third, my bill would give the NCC two new missions: protecting Gatineau Park's natural biodiversity, as well as its underlying ecological structure and environmental processes, and promoting education and leisure activities within the park; and acquiring the privately owned real property situated in Gatineau Park.
My bill would also make it a mandatory requirement to meet six management objectives for Gatineau Park, which correspond to the principles applied by the International Union for Conservation of Nature to national parks, which are category II protected areas.
The first objective is to manage the area in order to perpetuate, in as natural a state as possible, representative examples of physiographic regions, biotic communities, genetic resources and unimpaired natural processes.
The second objective is to maintain viable and ecologically functional populations and assemblages of native species at densities sufficient to conserve ecosystem integrity and resilience in the long term.
The third objective is to contribute in particular to conservation of wide-ranging species, regional ecological processes and migration routes
The fourth objective is to manage visitor use for inspirational, educational, cultural and recreational purposes at a level which will not cause significant biological or ecological degradation to the natural resources
The fifth objective is to take into account the needs of indigenous people and local communities, including subsistence resource use, in so far as these will not adversely affect the primary management objective.
The last objective is to contribute to local economies through tourism.
Going back to the measures in the bill, the fourth prohibits the sale of public lands situated in Gatineau Park. It indicates that the NCC will no longer require the approval of the governor in council to purchase real property in Gatineau Park. This will facilitate and expedite the NCC process for purchasing private properties located within the park when they come on the market.
Finally, my bill amends the Department of Canadian Heritage Act:
...to specify that Gatineau Park is included in the organization, sponsorship and promotion of public activities and events, in the National Capital Region, that will enrich the cultural and social fabric of Canada.
These measures will not only help protect the integrity of the park, but also ensure the quality of its recreational experience.
Today, I am very pleased to confirm that my initiative has the support of leading environmental protection agencies as well as the petitioners. I have support from Nature Québec, Conseil régional de l'environnement et du développement durable de l'Outaouais, and the Ottawa Valley chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society.
Gatineau Park was created 76 years ago and still does not have legal protection or official status. As elected members, we have a responsibility to correct the situation and provide the park with the necessary legal protections to preserve it for current and future generations.
Since 2005, a number of private members' bills seeking to better protect Gatineau Park have been introduced in the House. They all died on the order paper.
Today we must seize this opportunity to finally respond to the will of the people of Hull—Aylmer, the national capital region, and Canada as a whole to ensure that this national treasure is preserved.
The message I have for my colleagues today is simple: let us put partisan interests aside and protect Gatineau Park together.