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Bill S-15, Expansion and Conservation of Canada’s National Parks Act


Hon. Michael L. MacDonald moved second reading of Bill S-15, An Act to amend the Canada National Parks Act and the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Resources Accord Implementation Act and to make consequential amendments to the Canada Shipping Act, 2001.

He said: Honourable senators, I am pleased to rise today to express my support for Bill S-15, the Expansion and Conservation of Canada's National Parks Act.

In the 2011 Speech from the Throne, the Government of Canada made a commitment to create significant new protected areas. The bill before honourable senators is an important step to fulfill that commitment. It will amend Schedule 2 of the Canada National Parks Act to add the description of Sable Island National Park Reserve of Canada as Canada's forty-third national park. This initiative has garnered a high level of support in Nova Scotia, including by the Mi'kmaq. In fact, we are establishing Sable Island as a national park reserve out of respect for the ongoing negotiations under the Made-in-Nova Scotia Process. A national park reserve enjoys the same protections that a national park does while respecting assertions of First Nation rights.

Honourable senators, Sable Island is a unique sandbar island in the Atlantic Ocean. It is 42 kilometres long and 1.3 kilometres across at its widest point. It is home to some 190 plant species, including 20 that have restricted distribution elsewhere, and it is perhaps best known for its herd of about 450 wild horses — one of the few herds in the world that remains entirely unmanaged.

It was the future of those horses that sparked the first efforts to conserve Sable Island, which culminate with this legislation. In reaction to plans in 1960 to remove the wild horses from Sable Island, schoolchildren from across Canada came to their defence as they wrote to the government of the day urging protection of the horses. In 1961, the government of the Right Honourable John George Diefenbaker passed regulations protecting the horses, planting the seeds for the long-term protection of this unique and fabled landscape.

Honourable senators, 50 years later, this chamber can help complete the work started by hundreds of schoolchildren decades ago by passing legislation to permanently protect Sable Island as part of Canada's world-class national parks system.

Honourable senators, some 350 shipwrecks have been documented off the coast of Sable Island, and this has earned it the nickname of the "graveyard of the Atlantic."

In the past, the island was home to lifesaving stations, lighthouses and shelters for shipwreck victims. Today, it houses a facility for scientific research and monitoring activities, such as the collection of weather forecasting data and wildlife research.

Honourable senators, Sable Island is located in one of the largest offshore hydrocarbon basins in North America. The governments of Canada and Nova Scotia have agreed to prohibit drilling and to limit other petroleum-related activities on the island and out to one nautical mile at low tide from the island. Industry will still be able to access Sable Island to monitor several abandoned wellheads from the 1970s, to undertake non-intrusive exploration work if authorized by the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board and in consultation with Parks Canada and in the case of an emergency when workers need to be taken off platforms for shelter on the island. Parts of this bill amend the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Resources Accord Implementation Act to this effect.

Holders of exploration licences that include parts of Sable Island have contributed to the historic consensus to protect this remarkable island by amending their licences to prevent drilling on the island and within the buffer zone of one nautical mile.

Honourable senators, among the steps to create a national park reserve on Sable Island, control of the island will be transferred from the Canadian Coast Guard to Parks Canada. With the collaboration of the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, this bill also amends the Canada Shipping Act, 2001 to remove reference to Sable Island. The Sable Island Regulations will be revoked, and instead the island will be subject to the regulatory regime under the Canada National Parks Act.

The Government of Canada is proud to introduce this bill to give Sable Island the highest level of environmental protection in the country for the benefit, education and enjoyment of current and future generations of Canadians.

Honourable senators, this bill also addresses issues at the other end of the country, matters affecting the needs of two of Canada's oldest national parks, Yoho and Jasper national parks. The provisions affecting Yoho National Park make minor changes to the descriptions of the commercial zones for the community of Field, British Columbia, located within Yoho National Park of Canada.

Honourable senators, these zoning modifications are well within the legislated commercial growth limit for Field. They reflect public consultations carried out and respond to concerns of business operators and residents of the community. They are important to the economic viability of the community of Field, British Columbia.

I would now like to address the amendments that affect Jasper National Park, specifically the ski area at Marmot Basin, within the boundaries of the park itself.

The operator wishes to improve the ski experience in order to remain competitive with other, new and expanded ski operations in the region and stay financially viable. The operator has presented Parks Canada with an opportunity to achieve a significant environmental gain in the process.

Development of ski areas within a national park is strictly controlled by legislation, by ski area guidelines, by site-specific guidelines and by leases and licences of occupation. Changes to the size and configuration of the ski area boundaries require an amendment to the Canada National Parks Act.

The growth limits in the site guidelines for the Marmot Basin Ski Area are based on a design capacity of 6,500 skiers per day, but the existing commercial space can serve fewer than 3,300 skiers. There is a need for additional facilities and services, and they must be developed in a strategic manner to achieve a better ski experience and to respect conservation imperatives.

The Ski Area Management Guidelines allow areas to add new ski terrain only through an exchange that results in substantial environmental gain to the ecological integrity of the national park, and this, honourable senators, is what is proposed in the bill before us.

Marmot Basin Ski Area would remove from its lease 118 hectares of ecologically sensitive land in the Whistler Creek Valley. The area is an important habitat for woodland caribou — which is listed under the Species at Risk Act — as well as a habitat for sensitive species such as grizzly bear, wolverines and lynx.

In exchange, the ski area would receive 60 hectares of comparatively less environmentally sensitive habitats for the new ski trails and beginner runs.

This is a win-win situation for the ski hill and Jasper National Park, resulting in a net increase of 56 hectares of wilderness area to the park and the protection from future development of 118 hectares of prime woodland caribou habitat.

Honourable senators, this bill protects sensitive ecosystems while creating greater certainty in the land use. It maintains Parks Canada's authority to achieve management objectives, while giving the operator the possibility to make business decisions with confidence. This proposal has undergone extensive consultation and is supported by Parks Canada policy and environmental assessment.

The current government is committed to ensuring that Canada's national parks provide visitors with inspiring experiences and meaningful opportunities to build connections to all of these places, while protecting them for future generations.

I hope honourable senators will join me, the Government of Canada and the Government of Nova Scotia in supporting this bill.