Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be speaking to Bill C-565, concerning Gatineau Park. In my opinion, this park is a real jewel in the Outaouais and surrounding regions.
This natural gem is a mere 15 minutes from Parliament. It is incredible how much there is to do in the park, at any time of year: hiking, swimming, cycling, skiing, camping, picnics, canoeing and so on. There is something for everyone, regardless of age or personal preference. People who live in the Ottawa-Gatineau area love planning their activities there because there is so much to do.
In its 2007 report on the Act to amend the National Capital Act (establishment and protection of Gatineau Park), the Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources proposed amendments.
At the beginning, the report states:
Gatineau Park is hereby dedicated to the people of Canada for their benefit, education and enjoyment, subject to this Act and the regulations, and it shall be maintained and made use of so as to leave it unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.
It also states:
Maintenance or restoration of ecological integrity, through the protection of natural resources and natural processes, shall be the first priority of the Commission when considering all aspects of the management of Gatineau Park.
Those are both important points, and they are in line with Bill C-565's objectives, which are to keep the park from being sold off in small parcels by real estate developers, ensure that future generations can benefit from using the park just the way it is, and preserve all of the biodiversity contained in the park. In particular, I am talking about the large number of threatened plant and animal species that are found in the park. In fact, Gatineau Park is home to the largest concentration of threatened species.
The number of visitors to Gatineau Park has grown steadily over the years, as can be seen from the numbers. According to statistics, it is one of the most visited parks in Canada. In 2011, the park received more than 2.7 million visits and generated more than $25 million in annual economic spinoffs.
However, although this is great news for the region, there are some valid concerns, since all of these visitors could put an already fragile treasure at risk. I will explain, and I want to draw a parallel to another park in the region I am from, just a few kilometres from the riding of Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, which I represent.
I want to share a little of the history of Parc national de la Jacques-Cartier, which is located just a few minutes from my riding of Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles. This park, which is 670 km2 in area, is located 30 minutes outside Quebec City, in the Jacques-Cartier River valley, in Quebec. It has over 100 km of walking trails and is frequently visited by people in my riding and the entire region.
In 1895, the Province of Quebec created Parc national de la Jacques-Cartier to be an area protected from colonization and a place for fishing and hunting. In 1972, more than 20,000 residents of Quebec City signed a petition within a few days to oppose the creation of a hydroelectric dam on the Jacques-Cartier River. The park has been legally protected only since 1981.
If the public had not opposed the dam and the park had not received legal protection in 1981, the entire valley would have been flooded and urban development, which already exists in Stoneham-et-Tewkesbury, would have taken over by now.
Obviously, these days, the people who benefit most from the park are the people who live in the region, including those who live in my riding, as well as all of the new generations who are happy to have access to a wonderful historic park.
I want to point out that the NDP has been fighting for Gatineau Park for almost nine years. This issue is very important to us and to the public, and we will not give up.
I want to thank my colleague, the member for Hull—Aylmer, for the excellent work she has done on her Bill C-565 and for picking up where my colleagues from Ottawa—Centre left off. They tried to get a bill passed to have Parliament protect Gatineau Park in 2005, 2006 and 2009.
When we have something precious, our first instinct is to protect it. I do not think Gatineau Park is any different. It is something precious not only for visitors, but also for nature itself and for future generations, as I explained.
Therefore, the NDP is asking that Gatineau Park's boundaries be enshrined in law and given parliamentary protection.
The NDP continues to insist on this because Gatineau Park is not currently protected by parliamentary law and can be sold one small parcel at a time to private interests without parliamentarians being able to do anything about it.
Furthermore, we are unsure of the limits and boundaries of the park. That is one more reason why we should clarify the status of the area that we want to keep out of the hands of private interests for the benefit of the general public and all those who want to visit the park and enjoy the activities available.
We, the NDP members, want the park to have the same legal protections as our national parks. However, we want to be very clear that we are not asking for Gatineau Park to be designated a national park.
I would like to return to the background of this park and the problems it faces. Gatineau Park is operated by the National Capital Commission and for 75 years has not had any special status. Thus, unlike national parks, it has no legal protections or official status. At present, 2% of the land located within Gatineau Park belongs to private interests. What could happen is that development arising from the growing demand for housing could encroach on Gatineau Park.
All available data indicates that the region's population will grow significantly in the years to come. This leads us to believe that real estate developers will look to Gatineau Park for housing sites. That is one of the threats to Gatineau Park that we want to stave off by providing this parliamentary protection and nothing less.
There are many advantages to passing Bill C-565 that will benefit the inhabitants, the environment, biodiversity, future generations and the first nations.
By passing this bill, we can prevent the sale of public land in the park and also give the National Capital Commission the mandate to purchase the 2% of private property within the park.
By passing this bill, we are also ensuring that we can maintain the biodiversity of any endangered animal and plant species in Gatineau Park, which, as I said earlier, is home to the largest concentration of species at risk.
By passing this bill, we can leave this heritage for future generations and protect the environment.
By passing this bill, we are reminding Canadians of the importance of the historical ties linking Gatineau Park and the Algonquin people, who roamed the Gatineau hills long before the arrival of Europeans.
It is not just the NDP that wants this special protection: many stakeholders support our position. I am talking about Nature Québec, the Conseil régional de l'environnement et du développement durable de l'Outaouais, and the Ottawa Valley chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, to name a few.
There is also the petition circulated by my colleague, who sponsored Bill C-565. That petition has gathered nearly 5,000 signatures. That many signatures clearly proves that the people overwhelmingly support our initiative.
Furthermore, according to a survey conducted by Le Droit in 2009, 86% of respondents wanted the government to bring in legislation to protect Gatineau Park. The government has even shown some signs of openness on this issue. Now we want it to translate words into actions by supporting Bill C-565. After all, the government has recognized that “Gatineau Park is a precious natural resource”.
Accordingly, all that remains to be done is to vote in favour of Bill C-565, which is a good bill, because as I said earlier, the NDP has been fighting to get it passed for over eight years now.