Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for North Okanagan—Shuswap.
I have been in the House all day today for this debate. The people who would be listening might think the debate is strictly about the Rouge National Urban Park. It is certainly a very important piece of the debate and something I think most of our Ontario colleagues have been focused on, but there are actually another couple of elements to this.
I will be focusing on the Wood Buffalo component, but I want to take a broader look at our national park system. As Canadians, we can be proud of our national park system. There is a plan, which is really looking at the 39 different ecosystems and getting national parks into every area of our natural regions across the country, coast to coast to coast. We are 60% of the way toward getting that job done. Certainly when we were in government, supporting the Rouge National Urban Park was something we did as part of moving this mandate forward.
Really, we have an incredible system, whether it is something like the well-known Banff in Alberta, Jasper, or some of the lesser known parks. As I was looking at our park system there are ones like Terra Nova in eastern Newfoundland. I am very pleased that there has been a decision to celebrate our 150th anniversary that Canadians will have free access to these parks across our country. I think that is a really good piece of the celebration and the celebratory ideas that have been put forward about what we will do. I encourage all Canadians to take advantage, and I might try to take an opportunity also to visit some of the national parks that I have not had the privilege of seeing.
Not only are our national parks very special to us, but a lot of them also have UNESCO designations. I think that really speaks to the treasure that we have in the 47 parks.
A component of this legislation deals with Wood Buffalo and I will talk about the near future, and then I think we need to go thousands of years back. Wood Buffalo National Park was created in 1922 and the purpose was to protect the declining bison. People were very concerned about the bison numbers, so it was created as a protection measure for the bison.
It is our biggest park. It is actually bigger than Switzerland. It is an enormous park. It is 44,000 square kilometres. It is really a big park that was created for the purpose of protection, but it is also representative of Canada's northern boreal plain.
I have not had the opportunity to go to this park, but I understand it is a place where we see the aurora borealis and a place where whooping crane research is happening. It is the nesting habitat of the last remaining of our migratory flocks, and of course the bison have made a comeback.
The park is located in northern Alberta and part of the Northwest Territories. I understand it is a true pleasure to visit, both in the summer and in the winter, but there is more to the Wood Buffalo story than something Canada did in 1922. There is evidence that indigenous people inhabited the region. There is evidence going back more than 8,000 years, so currently within that park there are 11 indigenous groups and eight reserves, and it is predominantly Cree, Chipewyan, and Métis. In the park there is some subsistence hunting, fishing, and trapping that still occurs.
This legislation would create the Garden River Reserve, so out of those 44,000 square kilometres as it currently is, there is a settlement. It is the Garden River Indian Reserve, and it is 37 square kilometres. This settlement was always a seasonal site, and when logging developed, it became an area that was occupied more or less permanently. It related really to the logging, but the Little Red River Cree were there, so the park was created.
There was a treaty signed, Treaty 8. This where we have to be very careful with the commitments the government makes, and then the subsequent creation of parks. Treaty 8 made some very significant commitments to the indigenous people of the area, in terms of their ability to hunt, to fish, and to use the land. Then all of sudden, in 1922, we created a park and really impeded the commitments that we made, through Treaty 8, back in 1899.
My previous colleague talked about Parks Canada and when Parks Canada has a mandate and how it impacts what was an existing right on that land, in a very negative way. I think he is raising some very good alarm bells because there have been real concerns. Since the park was created in 1922, there have been some violations in terms of that 1899 agreement.
We have to be careful; we have to look at pre-existing use. When we create parks, we have a mandate that is given to Parks Canada and that can sometimes create real challenges.
There have been negotiations going on for many decades. I know that when we were government, we were committed to trying to resolve this issue. The work that the Liberal government has continued to do is to try and resolve this issue with the Red River Cree. It is actually excising a piece of the land from within the southwest part of the park, near Peace River, which will be the Garden River settlement area. I would like to note this is not part of a land claim settlement; it is just really acknowledging some existing occupation that has been more or less permanent for a number of years. We support that component of the legislation. We think settling long-standing issues is important. That is important as we stand here today to debate the Rouge National Urban Park, but we also recognize that this agreement is creating a settlement of some long-standing issues in another important park in Canada.
I talked a bit about how this leads us to where we are now. The Rouge Park is the main focus of the legislation and, as we understand, the former minister of the environment spoke this morning about how reluctant the provincial Liberal government of the day had been been in terms of working and wanting enormous amounts of money for the park and, also, how neglected the lands have actually been.
We have, I think, legitimate concerns, both from the former speaker and from our experience with the Wood Buffalo National Park. When we put language in that really impedes our ability to do the things that are right, in the future, farmers are concerned. Out of today's debate, I hope that the government is listening and will accept some modest amendments to this legislation that I think will do much better in the long term, in terms of what we are doing and where we are going.