Mr. Speaker, I rise today to share my thoughts with this House on Bill C-565. It is flawed, it is inefficient, and it would cost taxpayers an estimate of up to $100 million, if not more, which is unacceptable. It also would create administrative confusion between provincial and federal jurisdictions, and of course, the National Capital Commission.
The National Capital Act was passed over 50 years ago, in 1959. It continues, without major updates, to successfully govern one of the most important crown corporations in the capital region, the National Capital Commission. The NCC is mandated by the government to prepare plans to assist in the development, conservation, and improvement of the national capital region so that the nature and character of the seat of the Government of Canada reflect its national significance. The commission is the steward of all federal lands in the national capital region, including Gatineau Park. In collaboration with the NCC, the Government of Canada is committed to ensuring that the NCC can continue to effectively fulfill all of its functions, including the protection of Gatineau Park.
That being said, Bill C-565 does not offer any proposals to assist the NCC in accomplishing its mandate in the capital region as a whole. In more specific terms, Bill C-565 lacks any effective or appropriate mechanisms for future generations.
First, the bill would result in the misspending of millions of dollars of taxpayer money. The bill would amend the mandate of the NCC to require it to purchase all available properties in the park. There are currently 377 privately owned properties in the park. In a normal market, and extrapolating from the prices of acquisitions in the past, the cost to purchase all of these 377 properties would be over $100 million. If that figure were not big enough, multiply that $100 million many times over, based on the strong possibility that this legal obligation of the NCC to purchase properties would lead to exponential inflation of private property prices in the park. The result of this scenario would be the NCC being legally obligated to buy hundreds of properties at prices far above their normal market value. Meanwhile, this money could be better spent on the park's protection and maintenance while acquisitions continue to be prioritized based on how they contribute to the long-term sustainability and well-being of the park.
Second, the bill goes into great detail concerning the NCC's obligation to protect biodiversity and to promote education and leisure activities in the park. These ideas are far from revolutionary, as the previous government bills introduced in 2009 and 2010 proposed similar obligations. However, these previous government bills took a more appropriate approach by utilizing the concepts of ecological integrity and environmental stewardship, which are foundations of existing federal parks legislation, including the Canada National Parks Act. The forthcoming government bill would continue to make use of these concepts.
Third, although I appreciate that the bill sets out the same boundaries for the delineation of Gatineau Park used in our previous bills, that is where the similarities end and the problems with the member's bill begin. The bill would absolutely prohibit a sale or transfer of any public lands within these boundaries. This inclusion shows a lack of understanding of how a park with the size and unique character of Gatineau Park needs to be managed. Sometimes it is necessary, in the public interest or in the interest of the park itself, to perform minor alterations to the boundaries. The NCC requires a mechanism that allows government oversight of the transfer or disposition of a piece of property, as long as the overall area of the park remains the same. Our government bill would ensure that the integrity of the park was protected while the NCC was provided with this necessary flexibility.
In the meantime, the NCC already has in place a designation called a national interest land mass, or NILM. A property designated NILM cannot be sold or transferred without government oversight and approval. Gatineau Park is designated an NILM. This designation has been successfully used for many years in the capital region to protect and manage property the government wishes to maintain for future generations, which includes, of course, Gatineau Park.
Fourth, the bill would create preferential treatment in Gatineau Park for aboriginal peoples and local communities regarding rights of subsistence. It is my opinion that this refers to hunting and fishing rights in the park.
At this time, no hunting is allowed in the park, while a few provincial lakes allow licensed fishing.
Hunting is inappropriate and unsafe in a park that hosts more than 2.7 million visitors per year from around the world. Clearly, there is a safety hazard there.
Furthermore, the bill would put the NCC in the precarious position of deciding who is allowed to do what in the park and who would require regulation and enforcement, at a very high cost to taxpayers. This provision would effectively pit the local community against visitors in a park that is meant to be enjoyed equally by everyone as part of a capital region shared by all Canadians.
Fifth, the bill could potentially infringe on provincial jurisdiction as well as federal relations.
The bill states that the NCC may not, in pursuing its objectives, infringe on real property rights. I would like to remind members that real property rights in Gatineau Park are already protected by the Code civil du Québec. This inclusion in the bill is therefore redundant and unnecessary. I do not know why the chief opposition whip thinks it is necessary for the federal government, through its legislation, to pronounce and interfere on issues of provincial jurisdiction.
The final issue with the bill is its unnecessary amendment of the Department of Canadian Heritage Act. The rationale for this inclusion comes from the transfer of the activity and events mandate in the national capital region from the NCC to the Department of Canadian Heritage, pursuant to economic action plan 2013. However, the member should know that subsequent to this transfer, the NCC and the Department of Canadian Heritage entered into a memorandum of understanding under which the NCC would continue to handle these responsibilities for, among other places, Gatineau Park and the Mackenzie King Estate, while the Department of Canadian Heritage would be responsible for these activities in urban areas of the capital region. This is another example of the lack of understanding and nuance that permeates the opposition whip's bill.
In conclusion, the bill is irreparably flawed. It must be opposed, as it would be extremely costly to taxpayers. It is unnecessarily rigid, blunt, and at times, quite redundant. It could potentially present issues relating to provincial jurisdiction and federal-provincial relations and could create favouritism and controversy regarding hunting and fishing rights in the park. It is unnecessarily narrow in addressing only Gatineau Park within a much larger national capital region.
Shortly the Government of Canada will introduce an act to amend the National Capital Act and other acts that will be similar to the previous government bills. The intention of this forthcoming legislation is to provide the National Capital Commission with all the tools it needs to continue to successfully fulfill its mandate.
For these reasons, I would like to inform the chief opposition whip and members of this House that I oppose Bill C-565.