Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak at third reading of Bill C-27, the Canada national parks act.
This is the final stage in the House of Commons legislative process where members of parliament can speak on the bill before it leaves this House to go to the other place. This may be the last time that the House of Commons reviews the national parks act for many years. I believe that for parliamentarians our national parks should be above politics. They are a trust for this and future generations of Canadians.
As stated by the parliamentary secretary, a high degree of co-operation existed during the legislative review by the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage. I would like to state our appreciation for the outstanding levels of co-operation during the committee hearings and the support of Parks Canada personnel throughout the legislative process. I also wish to acknowledge the chair of the standing committee.
It was very important to overcome several shortcomings in the legislation. A good example of where Bill C-27 was strengthened by the committee working together right from the very start was on the definition of ecological integrity. Many members were surprised to find that there was no definition for the mandate of Parks Canada on ecological integrity.
Most opposition parties put forward a definition found in the ecological integrity panel report and the government put forward its own definition of ecological integrity. It was a definition that could have been construed or interpreted as simplified or weak. The committee members from both sides of the House, with the assistance of Parks Canada and experts, were able to hammer out a suitable compromise on a proper and adequate definition. The final agreed upon definition reads as follows:
“Ecological integrity” means, with respect to a park, a condition that is determined to be characteristic of its natural region and likely to persist, including abiotic components and the composition and abundance of native species and biological communities, rates of change and supporting processes.
This is quite a definition. There is a reason why I raised the example of co-operation that transcends political boundaries. The respect for Canada's wilderness treasures has led to a stronger bill than the version that was first tabled in the House. The ecological panel spent several years identifying and describing the risks that parks face. “Parks are not islands” was the panel's rallying cry.
There were other areas in the bill where improvements were made and others where improvements were not made at all. My colleagues have raised the necessity for improving community consultations, which I will address in a moment.
For now I will speak on proposed clause 8(3) which was defeated and which I hope the other place will discuss. The report stage Motion No. 3 proposed by the NDP would have addressed the concerns put forward by the Canadian Nature Federation and some committee members. Those concerns were that many of the threats to Canada's national parks are from developments and land use decisions external to the national park boundaries.
Indeed as the ecological panel stated, parks are not islands.
There is a growing appreciation and need for Parks Canada to work with adjacent landowners and decision makers to try and ensure the complementary management of national parks and adjacent lands.
Parks Canada must be able to provide its information and knowledge of greater park ecosystems to any authority or body, environmental assessment panels, et cetera, to ensure that the decisions account for their possible impact on these nationally significant landscapes.
Parliament is ultimately responsible for the national parks act, for ensuring that the national parks are passed on unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations. It is our duty as parliamentarians to do our best to protect this country and our citizens.
Twice now, in 1988 and today, parliament has directed the minister and Parks Canada to make the restoration and maintenance of ecological integrity of Canada's national parks the first priority in all management decisions. If these goals that parliament has set out are to be met, then the men and women who manage our national parks must be confident in the fact that parliament fully expects them to participate in the decision making processes that are reasonably expected to affect the ecological integrity of national parks.
The NDP motion would have assisted in this noble effort which is of great importance to all Canadians. The amendment sought to provide park managers with the assurance that while they may have no jurisdiction over land use decisions outside the parks, we do expect them to provide the best information and advice to those land use processes reviewing developments outside those parks.
Only by participating in such forums can we expect Parks Canada and other landowners to work co-operatively to achieve the conservation of the parks landscape both inside and outside the boundaries in such a way that native species survive and human aspirations and benefits from the natural places are realized.
The improvements to the bill are substantial and no bill is perfect. However, we are disappointed that the government voted against the amendment.
Another amendment we would like to see in the future is the Bill C-27 definition of ecological integrity included in the Parks Canada Agency Act. This would provide absolute clarity in the agency's mandate. When parliament debated the agency act in the first session of the 36th Parliament, there was no definition of ecological integrity, although the term can be found in this bill now. Let us clarify it in both acts.
Of particular note for future discussion was a proposed amendment for clarifying “no net negative environmental impact” as part of the governor in council regulations and powers in relation to development. This was a written witness submission that followed the somewhat hurried committee hearings, a point to provide assurance to developers and communities that this expression would apply evenly and fairly, to ensure the heritage minister's commitment to no net negative environmental impact was not misunderstood by any cabinet minister in the future, especially if it is related to a new park for example in Atlantic Canada or in the northern regions.
I would like to thank the parliamentary secretary and Parks Canada staff for a particular improvement made to Bill C-27 during the committee stage. Witnesses and my colleague the member for Yukon raised specific concerns on the traditional and sacred gathering of objects and materials in national parks. The committee made a specific change for clarification in clause 25 to avoid a misunderstanding of the definition of trafficking in the bill, for example, to avoid traditional bartering of medicinal herbs as being defined as a crime.
The committee also struck down an attempt to limit the debate on the parks amendments to three hours. The NDP and most members of parliament are against time allocation and limitations on free speech and debate. Committee members agreed and the limitation on debate, a dangerous precedent for other legislation in this House, was defeated in committee.
My colleagues, this point brings me to a constant concern for this bill. As elected officials it is our duty to represent our constituents, our ridings and the majority views that these special places in Canada hold.
As stated by my colleagues, the recognition of parks communities was an important issue throughout the debate and hearings for the national parks act which led to this bill.
Prince Albert National Park is located in the Churchill River constituency. The community of Waskesiu in turn is located in the park, one of seven identified parks communities in Canada. Representatives are elected by the communities to participate in the Parks Canada process.
We acknowledge that the government in clause 12 of the bill drew attention to and recognizes the representatives of parks communities. This is an important step forward but the efforts should not have been limited there. At no time in the future should the important contributions that the residents, Canadian citizens, play in Canada parks development, maintenance and future direction be ignored.
In Waskesiu an elected community representative committee consists of people like Shelley Funk, Peter Strassen and Hervé Langlois working with Parks Canada constantly. There is a great working relationship with Parks Canada, especially with Superintendent Bill Fisher. Our office appreciates his hands-on and progressive approach, and his honesty and sincerity which are a reflection on Parks Canada's history and professional standards that Canadians have grown to expect and treasure. The degree of respect held by committee members, Shelley, Peter and Hervé in Waskesiu, should be considered no differently.
Tom Lee, the CEO of Parks Canada, stated on May 30:
First of all I would like to state before the committee because Waskesiu does have concerns and they have written me that this is a terrific organization to work with, they're supportive of the park, they're valued. We want to see that relationship maintained and we think they're important, we know they're important.
The NDP acknowledges that an effort was made by the reference in clause 12 but still maintains that the government could have gone further in recognizing parks communities. We do not state that more municipal power authorities were necessary, but more fair and just acknowledgement was required. Removing Jasper and leaving Banff in the bill was a political issue at best.
Community buy-in and participation in the new direction of saving our parks and not just limiting operations to a cost recovery Disneyland theme park approach is an absolute necessity. Parks communities such as Waskesiu have come a long way in recent years, overcoming distrust and shock at the degree of cutbacks inflicted during the government's slash and dash deficit years in the mid-1990s.
We have come a long way since my friend Cec Allen played on the shores of Kingsmere as a child, and watched as a decision from Ottawa removed the summer shacks that local residents enjoyed just because Ottawa's perception was that they were not pretty or aesthetic.
Jasper representatives described an emergency response vehicle ordered via the cookie-cutter approach in Ottawa that did not fit into the fire hall. That put people's lives at risk and Parks Canada and the community to shame. Communities are there daily and should be respected and heard. Then these blunders would not appear. There would be a smooth transition of community decisions and recommendations and parks delivery of the recommendations if they meet the appropriate standards.
Community participation could have been better defined. This was the government's political decision, and we were disappointed that it did not materialize.
Perhaps the most important point about the bill that Canadians would like to know is, where do we fit in now? Will access be closed to humans? Will recreation be stopped? I would like to state for the record, no. All this is about accessibility. Our population and international visitors will continue to enjoy our parks, perhaps in different ways, at different times and in different locations as parks grow in the country to offset seasonal peaks and breeding times.
Mr. Gérin, the panel chairperson, said that stopping visitor use was not the point at all. Better visitor use is needed. More education and interpretation is needed. A better respect for our natural treasures and the fragile nature of our parks must be taught and distributed.
The increase in aboriginal participation is welcome across the country and throughout the parks system. It is a welcome initiative for aboriginal communities to see parks take an open stance in delivering and preserving the natural heritage.
Although the government defeated our reference to traditional aboriginal ecological knowledge, the reference is found in other pieces of legislation in Canada. It could be brought in later. This is an important contribution that the original peoples and elders make to understanding our nature and national parks and is a key component for the future of our national parks.
I thank the heritage minister for the foresight and vision demonstrated by her support for the aboriginal secretariat for Parks Canada. Speaking of vision, I recognize that one reason for the new and improved parks act was to expedite the completion of Canada's national park system based on an eco-region approach. Of 39 eco-regions 14 remain unprotected. This is a repeated red book promise. The improved legislative capacity of Bill C-27 will help this process.
I thank the governor general for her specific mention of completing Canada's parks system in the throne speech. I know she shares the concern of the heritage minister and the Prime Minister that this legacy for our children and future generations be completed as soon as possible in this new century.
The NDP shared its surprise when the finance minister neglected to provide any money to fulfil this promise. It was an awakening when in the budget speech Parks Canada was totally missed. With the passing of this act perhaps the finance minister can provide a Christmas present for all Canadians this year by putting the 100 million dollars plus identified as necessary for this noble goal that the NGOs, parks communities and Canadians have called on, especially Parks Canada personnel who need these resources.
At the same time as there is sufficient funding to maintain let alone restore our national parks, our national wilderness treasures deserve respect, not neglect. That is another debate for another day, a day when there are the values Canadians can hold true.
We value our national parks. The national parks are hereby dedicated to the people of Canada for their benefit, education and enjoyment, subject to the act and regulations. The parks shall be maintained and made use of so as to leave them unimpaired for the future enjoyment of generations to come.
With those noble words that are a part of Bill C-27, we lend our support to the bill. We hope that Canadians will enjoy the national parks this summer and for future generations.