Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-18, an act to amend the Rouge National Urban Park Act, the Parks Canada Agency Act and the Canada National Parks Act.
We will support this bill at second reading because we generally support its fundamental principles. We have a few amendments to put forward in committee. However, in general, this bill is in line with what we requested.
This bill will remedy mistakes made in the past by the Conservatives, who haphazardly introduced a bill without consulting their provincial colleagues, in particular their Ontario colleagues, and without adequate consultation of environmental groups. This earned the ire and indignation of these groups and of the province. However, it did result in the creation of the Rouge Park, but it was not enough to allow us to address our needs and create a national urban park worthy of its designation.
As I said, Bill C-18 seeks to amend the Rouge National Urban Park Act, which was passed by the Conservatives during the last Parliament. Unfortunately, they did not set the bar very high when it comes to creating parks. On the contrary, they lowered the bar. These amendments will ensure that the preservation or reestablishment of ecological integrity by protecting natural resources and ecological processes will be the minister's priority in all aspects of park management.
This was one of the problems. At the time, the Conservatives explained their failure by saying that the creation of an urban national park was new territory. They felt that because this was out of the ordinary they did not need to focus on ecological integrity and therefore lowered the bar for conservation.
Of course, both environmental groups and the NDP said that this did not make sense, that we should rather invest in order to maintain strong, robust regulations on ecological integrity. This should have been one of the top criteria. Concessions to urban realities could be made later, but the ecological integrity criterion needed to be front and centre.
The other change that Bill C-18 makes is that it adds approximately 1,669 hectares of federal land to the Rouge National Urban Park. This will make it possible to have a collection of useful land with ecological integrity and a viable ecosystem, which is how it should have been from the start. Unfortunately, since the Conservatives could not seem to agree on a solid bill, they did not manage to obtain the land that was already protected and that belonged to the Province of Ontario at the time.
Finally, Bill C-18 also changes the boundaries of Wood Buffalo National Park in Alberta. This change will reduce the area of the park by 37 square kilometres in order to create the Garden River Indian Reserve. As such, the bill fulfills the promise that was made to the Little Red River Cree Nation, which is a very good thing.
The NDP wishes that the government would protect more land by creating more national parks using sound environmental legislation. We hope that the Rouge National Urban Park will be the first in a series of national parks in urban settings across Canada.
In fact, my NDP colleague from Alberta asked our Liberal colleagues a question about that in question period. She just got back from a mission to Marrakesh for the international conference on climate change, COP22. I know that she did an excellent job there representing Canada and the NDP's positions on addressing climate change.
All the work that needs to be done to protect and uphold first nations' rights is of course essential, so it is extremely important that we consult first nations.
The member said very little about how she plans to improve the situation. Unfortunately, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act was amended in 2012. I was a member of the environment committee at the time, where I witnessed what I would call the gutting of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.
That legislation used to require adequate consultation, or at least more consultation than what is required today. It was sacrificed and handed over to the National Energy Board, which has expertise when it comes to energy, but not really when it comes to protecting the environment. We cannot ask the fox to guard the henhouse; it makes no sense. That is basically what happened. The government of the day put the fox in charge of the henhouse, as the NEB was asked to protect the environment. Well, that is not how it works.
During the election campaign, the Liberals promised to reform the environmental assessment process and said that no more major projects would go through under the old Conservative process, a process they condemned then as they do now. For now, however, major projects are still being assessed according to the old Conservative process. Unfortunately, that promise was not kept.
That is why my Alberta colleague asked the government to keep that promise and ensure that our environmental assessments are worthy of the name. They were better when we had the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, and they can be made even stronger and tougher.
Unfortunately, I do not know what is going on, but the Liberals are taking their sweet time on this issue. It is really awful because major projects, such as TransMontaigne Product Services LLC and energy east, are currently under review. People all over Quebec and in other parts of Canada are very worried about this, and they do not have much faith in the current process.
We asked for a rigorous, independent, science-based assessment, and we asked the government to start the energy east pipeline assessment over using a credible process. Unfortunately, the National Energy Board is assessing the project, and it has no intention of starting over. This is appalling.
That is why my colleague asked that question in the House today. We need a rigorous environmental assessment process for major projects, something we currently do not have.
We believe that the bill on the Rouge National Urban Park should give a clearer priority to ecological health and integrity, something the current bill does, so that we can focus on conservation.
We also need to think about all of the activities that could affect the park. Such activities are bound to take place there since, as has been mentioned, it is an urban park. My Conservative colleagues used that as an excuse not to focus on conservation.
Nevertheless, we can focus on conservation and study other activities that could potentially occur in the park because it is in an urban setting. For example, it makes sense for there to be agriculture and other similar activities that can also be subject to a strict environmental assessment. That goes without saying.
We also need a science-based management plan. In order to do that, the government needs to have the courage to review the Canada Environmental Assessment Act, as I mentioned before. It is not right that the National Energy Board is assessing major projects. That makes no sense.
Finally, there is a need for solid public and parliamentary oversight mechanisms.
These issues will be assessed by the Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development. I know that my colleague from Alberta sits on this committee and she will ensure that these provisions are assessed and given comprehensive consideration. I would also like to mention that my other colleague with an interest in parks has also done a very thorough job on this file in order to ensure that conservation and ecological integrity are front and centre in this bill.
The New Democrats have been pushing for a long time for the Rouge National Urban Park to have the same legal protection as other national parks in Canada. We want the bill to establish a solid template for the creation of other national parks in urban settings.
We applaud the efforts made by people, all communities, environmental organizations, people living in the community around the Rouge National Park, and the Friends of Rouge National Urban Park. These people worked very hard for decades to ensure the creation of this very unique park. It will be the first national urban park in Canada.
Efforts are required to ensure everything goes well, however. I still remember very clearly how much work was done on this file by our former NDP colleague Rathika Sitsabaiesan, who was not reelected but is still working very hard. She introduced Bill C-696 to correct the flaws in the Conservative's bill on the Rouge national park. She worked very hard to correct the situation.
As the House can see, the NDP does not sit idly by. When we saw that this bill would neither make the park big enough nor ensure adequate conservation, we immediately introduced a private member's bill. That is how the NDP works. We are a collaborative party. We are a party that wants to make progress. We come up with solutions to problems.
That is what we want to keep doing in committee when this bill gets there. We have suggestions for improving and fine-turning this bill. I hope the Liberals will agree to work on improving it.
I am happy that the Liberals are correcting, in some way, the Conservatives’ mistakes in the Rouge National Urban Park bill. On the other hand, we have not heard much from them on the establishment of new national parks. In addition, we are not meeting our target for creating either land or marine protected areas.
I would like to talk about a very important marine protected area that has been at the project stage for almost 20 years. It is the St. Lawrence estuary marine protected area where the beluga whale’s critical habitat is located. Belugas are not just a threatened species, because they now have species-at-risk status.
On May 14, 2016, the Liberal government published the project to determine the beluga whale’s critical habitat in the Canada Gazette. If memory serves, the government has about 90 days after that to issue a ministerial order designating and protecting a critical habitat.
Today is November 24. More than 90 days have passed since May 14, and yet, we are still waiting.
When will we have regulation determining the beluga whale’s critical habitat in the St. Lawrence?
Why are we not adding to that a project to establish marine protected areas in the St. Lawrence estuary? We have been waiting for 20 years. We do not want to end up with more problems such as those we faced when the Conservatives wanted to build an oil terminal right in the beluga nursery. It made no sense. In fact, the scientists all knew that and said so. Nevertheless, it was allowed to go ahead.
Our election platform stated that in the first six months of an NDP mandate, we would launch a very detailed project, in conjunction with the province of Quebec, to establish a marine protected area for the beluga whale. This is an important development that we want to see. I hope that the Liberal government will go ahead with it. In any case, it needs to get with the program concerning the ministerial order on the beluga’s critical habitat; the deadline of May 14, 2016, has long since passed.
To summarize, the NDP is willing to work with the Liberals, and also with the Conservatives if they agree to change their attitude, to improve Bill C-18 . It is already a very good bill, but it could be improved by doing what environmental groups are calling on us to do, which is to ensure that the Rouge park enjoys the same legal protection as other national parks.
In addition, we want to have the opportunity to propose a few amendments to make the bill stronger so that the framework it creates can serve as an template for the establishment of other national urban parks. We hope there will be others.
With regard to the Rouge National Urban Park, we want to give clear priority to environmental health and integrity as well as conservation.
We are aware that other activities are integral parts of the park, and we want them to be included, and to be subjected to thorough environmental assessments. We also want there to be a science-based management plan. Furthermore, we want the Liberals to present to us a short-term and long-term plan for the establishment of a new urban park, new national parks and marine protected areas.
If the recommendations of the 2017 Green Budget Coalition were accepted, we would have six national parks established by 2020, if memory serves. That would enable us to reach our targets, or at least come close.
Right now, the Liberals need to read the recommendations of the 2017 Green Budget Coalition. They contain many good ideas for achieving our conservation goals. Unfortunately, we are a long way from doing so at the moment.