Mr. Speaker, first of all, I would like to indicate that I will be sharing my time with the member for Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing.
The underlying impetus for this legislative tool to amend the Canada National Parks Act in order to create the Nááts’ihch’oh national park reserve is indicative of the environmental citizenship emerging in Canada. The very study of the bill before us today is indicative of the emergence of a discussion that is being held across the country and advanced by the media.
If we look at the media landscape and the evolution of thinking across Canada, it is not difficult to discern that people are mobilizing. In this case, it is happening at the opposite end of the country, but it is also happening in northern Quebec, where I am from, and New Brunswick.
Social and environmental considerations are front and centre, and it is highly likely that these issues, which people really identify with, will be included in some election platforms in 2015. October 2015 is quickly approaching, and some political parties are trying to do some damage control.
My colleagues mentioned that Canada had made commitments to protect biodiversity, fauna and flora. However, despite these commitments, UN rapporteurs have come to Canada over the past few years and our international environmental rating has gradually dropped.
Recently, Canada has been criticized with regard to its greenhouse gas emissions and environmental protection in general. Scathing reports have been published by various national and international authorities.
This government is preparing itself for the 2015 election and must therefore improve its image. As a result, in the bill before us, the government is being more open or, at the very least, has softened its previously strong stand that favoured investment, industry and economic prosperity above all else.
In 2014, the problem is that the government is pitting social and environmental imperatives against economic imperatives. As I have often said in the House, public involvement and environmental considerations should not be seen as a hindrance to economic expansion; rather, they should be a prerequisite to and an integral part of economic development. There is a way to strike a balance and to put such claims into perspective.
In this case, it seems that most people who are affected by the measures set out in the bill thought that the park would be bigger. When I examined the documentation related to this bill and the bill itself, I saw that consultations were held. Meetings were held with people in a remote region and public officials compiled their concerns and objectives.
However, what I noticed that everyone was saying, at least in the comments that were brought to my attention, was that they wanted the protected area to be bigger. Local residents, community stakeholders and people on the ground all indicated that they would have liked the protected area to be bigger, even though the mere fact that we have a bill before us today to create a park and a protected area shows that the government is being more open and has made some progress. Nevertheless, stakeholders indicated that more openness would have been appreciated and would have been beneficial in this case.
The area proposed for the national park reserve has long been recommended for conservation in land use processes by the aboriginal people of the Sahtu. Such conservation would also align with the Government of Canada’s commitment to conserve the greater Nahanni ecosystem and the ecological integrity of the area.
Despite these commitments, our country has a poor rating and a poor international and local reputation when it comes to protecting the environment and taking the public's concerns and wishes into account.
The upcoming election will be key, and there is a very good chance that these critical issues will come up during the 2015 election campaign.
Despite its commitments, the government agreed to the demands of the mining industry and excluded vital wildlife areas to allow for mining development in these areas. This information was also brought to my attention. Goodwill aside, and although the protections in this bill are non-negotiable, economic considerations and industrial lobbies had an influence here. The bill we are studying today was made to order, if I can say that, since some areas that are better for investment and natural resource extraction were excluded. Some consideration was given to protecting economic interests and the interests of industry on this land. Although there was some desire to protect resources, the government still chose to exclude certain areas that are more conducive to economic development.
With that in mind, there are some concerns with the size of the park, including the omission of vital caribou breeding grounds and lack of protection for source waters for the Nahanni River. I have been here for nearly four years, and we have seen how the government has gradually offloaded its environmental responsibilities. It has also offloaded the protections that are in place for resource conservation, biodiversity and ecology. The government has offloaded those protections to serve the goals of big industrial lobby groups.
That is also why we have been seeing a growing resistance and more citizen engagement right across the country. The public has had to make up the lost ground because the legal and government protections that should take precedence have all simply been removed from the political reality of 2015. The government is being open today because it knows that environmental, public and social considerations will be top priorities during the next election. The government is changing course, but only very slightly and a little too late. It is a fairly weak protection, but at least it shows some foresight.
To conclude, I would like to quote the words of Rocky Norwegian, president of the Tulita Renewable Resources Council who said:
We accept what is in front of you today in the hope that in the not too distant future the boundaries will be expanded to include more land.
Even stakeholders and those directly involved are aware of mounting opposition and the emergence of these concepts and considerations that, for far too long, were dismissed outright. In 2015, with climate change the way it is right now, people know that future governments are going to have to deal with the issue. If it is an NDP government, I can assure you that the size of this proposed park will be expanded and that environmental and wildlife considerations will be the top priority. The pendulum will swing back again in 2015. It would be commendable and welcomed by everyone.
I submit this respectfully.