Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to address the House on the occasion of the third reading of Bill C-28.
Canada has the distinction of having established the first national park system in the world. Over the decades, this system has grown to 41 national parks and reserves, preserving for future generations almost 265,000 square kilometres of lands and waters, and there are plans to add an additional 100,000 square kilometres through the creation of eight more national parks. This legacy is possible because aboriginal people have worked with us to create many of these new national parks.
The creation and management of national parks is a delicate balance between preserving ecologically significant areas of importance to wildlife and meeting economic and social needs of communities, including those of aboriginal people. Parks Canada has increasingly worked in partnership with aboriginal people and communities to achieve these mutually supportive goals.
Bill C-28 is an important part of that effort, a bill which strives to provide for the aboriginal people of Esowista while working to maintain the ecological integrity of a national park whose focus is the preservation of the northern temperate rainforest, one of the earth's truly magnificent ecosystems.
The Government of Canada is committed to working with aboriginal people and other Canadians and stakeholders to protect other examples of our precious natural heritage through the creation of new national parks and national marine conservation areas.
In October 2002, the government announced an action plan to substantially complete Canada's system of national parks by creating 10 new parks over the next five years. This will expand the system by almost 50%, with the total area spanning nearly the size of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Five new national marine conservation areas will also be created.
Canada is blessed with exceptional natural treasures. We owe it to Canadians and to the world to protect these lands and waters.
This action plan calls on Parks Canada to work with all of our partners, the provinces and territories, aboriginal and rural communities, industry, and environmental groups and others, to complete this effort.
In March 2003, a little more than a year ago, the government allocated $144 million over five years and $29 million annually thereafter toward this effort.
This action plan has already produced two new national parks. The new Gulf Islands National Park Reserve of Canada protects 33 square kilometres of ecologically rare land in the southern Gulf Islands of British Columbia.
At over 20,000 square kilometres, Ukkusiksalik National Park of Canada protects virtually an entire watershed close to the Arctic circle in Nunavut. This park is the product of an agreement between the Government of Canada and the Inuit of Nunavut, forged over several decades of hard work, all focused on protecting land, water, caribou and polar bear for present and future generations.
Specific sites for more national parks have been selected in other natural regions across Canada: the southern Okanagan; lower Similkameen in interior British Columbia; Labrador's Torngat Mountains and Mealy Mountains; Manitoba's lowland boreal forests; Bathurst Island in Nunavut; and the east arm of Great Slave Lake in the Northwest Territories. Sites for the two remaining national parks are being identified by Parks Canada.
The government is also working with partners to establish five new national marine conservation areas, adding an estimated 15,000 square kilometres to the system. This will be a major step forward for global conservation of marine habitat. Canada has the world's longest coastline and 7% of its fresh water.
These national marine conservation areas will be located in ecologically unrepresented marine regions. Four sites have been identified, including Gwaii Haanas off British Columbia's Queen Charlotte Islands, western Lake Superior, British Columbia's southern Strait of Georgia and the waters off Îles de la Madeleine. A site for the remaining national marine conservation area has yet to be finalized.
In addition, the government will accelerate its actions over the next five years to improve the ecological integrity of Canada's 41 existing national parks. This will implement the action plan arising from the panel on the ecological integrity of Canada's national parks, whose report was endorsed by the government in April 2000, four years ago. Parks Canada, in order to achieve its mandate to protect ecological integrity, will have to work closely with aboriginal people and communities to ensure that we work toward common conservation goals.
Nowhere will this be more important than in the area of Pacific Rim National Park Reserve and the Esowista Indian reserve. Bill C-28 reflects our common goals of protecting the park while meeting the economic and social needs of the reserve's aboriginal people.
Bill C-28 reconciles the aspirations of Canadians for this national park and the aspirations of aboriginal people for their reserve. In the broader context, the government's action plan is the most ambitious action plan to expand and protect national parks and national marine conservation areas in over 100 years, since Banff National Park, Canada's first, was established way back in 1885.
It is a plan that requires the support of aboriginal people to achieve and I look forward to that day.
I urge the members of the House of Commons to give speedy passage to Bill C-28.