Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on behalf of the minister and on behalf on my colleague, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Environment and member for Beauharnois—Salaberry, who is working elsewhere today.
It is interesting to have the opportunity to speak to Bill C-28, when we know quite well that an extremely important round table is being held today, whose purpose is to make every effort to ensure that the first nations can control their development even more efficiently in the future.
As you know, in cooperation with the provincial governments, the Canadian government is trying to expedite the implementation of a series of agreements that will enable the first nations to take control of their own development, to make their own strategic choices and to have a greater ability to respond to the extremely important needs of each of their communities. Already, 14 agreements have been signed and 70 are being negotiated throughout the country.
Today, it is an honour to have the opportunity to address Bill C-28, which amends the Canada National Parks Act. It is obviously a privilege for me because of the context, as I just pointed out, of the withdrawal of lands from Pacific Rim National Park Reserve of Canada and Riding Mountain National Park of Canada for the purposes of Indian reserves.
My speech is addressed to all my colleagues in Parliament and all Canadians, and will focus on the Government of Canada's commitment in the recent throne speech to improving the quality of life of aboriginal Canadians. I believe that, if the quality of life of our aboriginal fellow citizens improves, the quality of life of all Canadians improves as a result. This is the purpose of Bill C-28. Several agreements have been signed already and several dozen more will be signed in coming months.
I would also like to remind my colleagues that this bill will not create a precedent for other national parks. These are unique circumstances we must collectively consider. The changes relating to the withdrawal of lands are for the purpose of improving the housing shortage on the Esowista reserve of the Tla-o-qui-aht first nation. In the case of the Riding Mountain National Park, they will correct an error in the wording of the legal description of the ceded lands, in compliance with a specific land claim.
As for the Esowista reserve, when Pacific Rim National Park Reserve was created in 1970, it completely surrounded the seven-hectare parcel of land occupied by the Esowista reserve of the Tla-o-qui-aht first nation since 1889. At the time, Esowista was changing from a seasonal fishing camp to a permanent residential community.
The Government of Canada recognized that a larger site would eventually be required to meet the needs of the Esowista community. Over the years, population growth strained the capacity of the Esowista Reserve and problems with water quality and sewage disposal emerged.
As a result of negotiations between the Tla-o-qui-aht first nation, Parks Canada, and Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, the Canada National Parks Act will be amended to remove 86.4 hectares of land from Pacific Rim National Park Reserve to expand the Esowista Indian Reserve.
The withdrawal of this land will address acute overcrowding in Esowista, allow infrastructure improvements to remedy sewage disposal and water quality concerns, and support the development of a model community that will exist in harmony with the national park reserve. This land represents less than 1% of the park’s total land base.
Withdrawing this land from the territory now occupied by the park will only slightly impact the ecological integrity of the park and will allow us to meet the needs of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation.
With respect to Riding Mountain National Park and Reserve No. 61A of the Ojibway Keeseekoowenin First Nation, in 1896, a parcel of land on the north shore of Clear Lake in Manitoba was allocated for the establishment of a reserve named “Reserve No. 61A” for use by the Ojibway Keeseekoowenin First Nation as a fishing camp.
The site in question was located inside a Dominion timber reserve. In 1929, when Riding Mountain National Park was created, it took in most of the Dominion timber reserve and of Indian Reserve No. 61A. The Ojibway Keeseekoowenin First Nation was relocated to another site outside the national park. In 1994, an agreement for the settlement of the specific land claim was signed between the Ojibway Keeseekoowenin and Canada and Reserve No. 61A was restored. In 2000, most of the lands in question were removed from the Riding Mountain site when the Canada National Parks Act was enacted. However, because of a mistake made during the preparation of the official instrument removing the lands in question, a five-hectare tract of land was omitted and remained within the park's boundaries.
Therefore, the Canada National Parks Act will be amended in order to restore Reserve No. 61A of the Ojibway Keeseekoowenin nation in its entirety, and in order to correct the mistake made at the time.
Removing 86.4 hectares from Pacific Rim National Park Reserve will not unduly detract from the objectives of ecological integrity for the park because the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation has promised to cooperate with Parks Canada to ensure long term protection for the natural and cultural resources of the lands in the park surrounding the Esowista reserve.
These lands represent less than 1% of the total land area of the park reserve.
The environmental assessment concluded that very little old growth forest would be lost since a good portion of the area that would be affected by the development of Esowista had already been logged before becoming a national park reserve. There will be no direct impact on the unique or rare habitats or on the peat bogs or other types of wetlands. Other sites with high natural values will not be greatly affected. There will be no indirect impact on the species designated by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Species in Canada and no significant negative impact on the land use by the community, and whatever impact there is will be maintained at an acceptable level thanks to proven technologies and good land management strategies.
The Tla-o-qui-aht first nation and the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs have committed to use the land in a way that would respect the ecological integrity of the park. Also, several measures will be taken to help promote the sustainable development of the park.
The management of the lands to be withdrawn from the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve will be based on the guidelines for model communities developed by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.
Parks Canada will review the master plan for the site and then submit it for approval to the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs. Also, each individual project will be subject to an assessment pursuant to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.
To provide proper protection to the lands adjacent to the park, a $2.5 million mitigation fund will be provided to Parks Canada by the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs.
It is expected that this money will be used over 10 years to monitor the impact of community use, conduct related research and implement the required mitigation measures.
The projects include the monitoring of wildlife movements, to prevent conflict between wildlife and humans; and conduct research on possible mitigation measures, such as wildlife enclosures, as well as community education programs.
Concerning the five hectares to be withdrawn from Riding Mountain Park, this is a requirement from the 1994 specific land claim agreement. I can reassure Canadians that this amendment to the Canada National Parks Act has no environmental impact.
What is important in this kind of agreement is public support. Concerning this reference, consultations on these initiatives indicate wide public support.
Several stakeholders have expressed their support for the withdrawal of land from Pacific Rim Park. Among these are the first nations involved, first nations provincial groups, local, regional and provincial levels of government, as well as non-government environmental organizations, for example, Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, the Western Canada Wilderness Committee, the Friends of Clayoquot Sound and the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society.
All parties concerned view Esowista as a unique situation, and support the need to make sure that members of the community stay together, and to provide lands for residential and similar purposes.
I thank them for their support and I can reassure Canadians that the withdrawal of lands will be closely monitored to ensure the ecological integrity of the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve of Canada.
As far as Mount Riding is concerned, a public advisory body on the implementation of the park master plan is made up of about 25 groups of stakeholders.
Since 1998, information on the return of these lands to the First Nation Ojibway Keeseekoowenin has been provided on a regular basis and the advisory body has been in favour of these activities.
One of the priorities in Parks Canada's recent ministerial plans has been to strengthen relations with native communities.
Strong community relations are the basis for a wide range of formal and informal agreements that can advance our common interests. The bill reflects this priority.
I am confident that this transfer of park lands will help meet the needs of treaty negotiations and will create a better working climate with both native communities.
I would like to warmly salute the Government of British Columbia for its support of this initiative regarding the expansion of Esowista. This collaboration is key to the withdrawal of lands from Pacific Rim and their transfer to the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs for the needs of Indian reserves.
I urge every member of the House to join me in supporting Bill C-28 so we can keep our commitments and improve the quality of life of aboriginal Canadians.