Mr. Speaker, this government proposes to amend the governing legislation of the National Capital Commission, the National Capital Act. There have been a number of changes to the National Capital Act over the last 20 years, but they have not been as comprehensive as the package that has now been presented.
In 1988, the NCC's mandate and powers were broadened to include the organization of activities and events in the national capital region that would enrich Canada's cultural and social fabric. At the same time, the act was amended to state that the NCC headquarters must be located in the national capital region, as opposed to Ottawa, and to clarify provisions related to development projects.
The number of directors has also varied over the years and other changes have been made, some of which have been to align federal laws.
With this bill, important changes will be made, for the first time in at least 20 years, to some significant aspects of the NCC's enabling legislation, including governance, transparency, responsibilities and protection of the commission's property.
I would like to highlight the components of Bill that would increase the transparency of the NCC's activities.
These components of the bill are important because the NCC has been criticized in the past for making important decisions behind closed doors and not listening to the stakeholders concerned. The NCC is subject to considerable public scrutiny because its decisions and its actions affect so many people, sometimes directly in their backyard. The NCC responded positively to these critiques and became the first crown corporation to hold public annual general meetings. Despite the introduction of this annual opportunity for members of the public to voice their views on the NCC and its projects, criticism continued.
In the wake of a new leadership at the NCC and in order to address the issue of transparency and to improve outreach with citizens, the NCC announced, on its own accord, a series of measures to increase openness and transparency. Indeed, in the fall of 2007, the NCC began to hold board meetings open to the public except for those items that are sensitive such as human resources and legal issues. It also created an external ombudsman position that reports directly to the board of directors.
Since then, this new approach has been applied consistently. For example, the NCC recently announced a process to review its greenbelt master plan. Public consultations are a key component of this exercise. The NCC has already consulted the public on various projects, but it has now expanded significantly citizens' participation in the development of plans and projects.
While the NCC was dealing with these critics regarding transparency, the Government of Canada was moving forward with one of its priorities, which is to improve the way the government works. That initiative led to the adoption of the Federal Accountability Act, which received royal assent on December 12, 2006. For the NCC, this legislation meant that the positions of chairperson and chief executive officer would now be separated.
Making the decision makers of crown corporations more accessible to the public was also reflected in the Budget Implementation Act, 2009, which came into force on July 13 of last year. This act contains provisions relating to the governance of crown corporations. These amend the Financial Administration Act to require that parent crown corporations hold public meetings at least once every 15 months.
This government welcomes the initiatives adopted by the NCC to increase its openness to the public. However, we want to ensure that this commitment will remain now and into the future. This is why we propose amending the National Capital Act to obligate the NCC to hold at least four public board meetings each year. We recognize the need for the board to discuss some sensitive matters in camera, and members can see this is also reflected in the government's bill.
The National Capital Act has not been significantly amended in over 20 years. Considering that governance practices evolve over time, a review of the NCC and its enabling legislation provides an opportunity to modernize some governance elements included in the enactment.
In the spirit of the separation of the chair and the chief executive officer positions, the government proposes to remove the chief executive officer and his or her successors from the board of directors. The chair is the representative of the NCC's board of directors to outside parties and the leader of the board's discussions. This person is also the key link between the board and the minister responsible for the NCC.
The chief executive officer is the main link between the NCC's board of directors and managers. The government proposes to remove the chief executive officer from the board so as to strengthen both the board and the CEO's responsibility. The government keeps the power to appoint the chief executive officer, but it is clear that the CEO is accountable to the board regarding the NCC's management and performance. The board would then have one less member.
Another governance item included in the proposed amendments to the National Capital Act is the creation of a vice-chair. This is seen as a useful safeguard to have, should the chair be absent or unable to act, or should that office be vacant. One of the proposed amendments is to have the vice-chair designated from among the board members by the Governor in Council and to be compensated as a regular board member.
In keeping with updating the NCC's enabling legislation, the government also proposes to remove the general manager position. With the separation of the CEO and chair positions, the position of general manager is no longer relevant, especially since it has been vacant for more than 10 years.
Appointments below the level of chief executive officer would be the NCC's responsibility, and not that of the Governor in Council. These changes reflect the announcement made in the 2010 budget to reduce the number of appointments made by the Governor in Council, so as to improve governance and activities, while also strengthening the management of federal organizations, boards and crown corporations.
The recruitment of qualified and experienced board members is essential to the good functioning of the board and the NCC. Many crown corporations provide appropriate remuneration to their board members for the time they spend in meetings. The NCC presently does not have the authority to compensate its members, except for travel or related expenditures. Therefore, one of the proposals this government puts forward is to allow the Governor in Council to grant appropriate remuneration to all of the board members.
As everyone can see, I am supporting this legislation because this government believes that the proposed amendments to the National Capital Act would provide the NCC with a modernized enabling statute that reflects good governance practices in the 21st century. It would also provide the basis for ensuring that the NCC continues to be nimble and responsible to the public.
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak on this very important bill. Certainly, the National Capital Commission is charged with creating a capital that all Canadians can be proud of, as the member has recently stated. During the previous session of Parliament, we heard many members speaking in the House about the great assets we have in the national capital region that all Canadians, including those who come to visit, should be aware of. It is important to protect them for the future generations of Canadians so that the Ottawa region can stand as the capital region of Canada and so that all Canadians can, indeed, be proud of it.
In addition to the great natural assets we enjoy in this region, namely Gatineau Park, which the member spoke of, the greenbelt and the river shorelines, the National Capital Commission has enhanced our nation's capital over the past century through a number of different and varied projects.
This includes a network of incredible parkways, as well as more than 180 kilometres of recreational pathways that allow residents and visitors to this region to travel by bike, foot or rollerblade across the region while enjoying the beauty of the national capital area. Indeed, yesterday I had an opportunity, as I came back from my riding, to rollerblade around the region and go down to Hog's Back some 20 kilometres. There were many Canadians enjoying that opportunity all day, in fact.
Leading up to 2008-09, the National Capital Commission received an annual average of approximately $23 million in capital appropriations and $74 million in operating appropriations. Recognizing the importance of maintaining the significant infrastructure under the NCC's stewardship, this government granted additional ongoing funding to the NCC, so that it does not have to rely on selling its properties, which it appears took place in the past, in order to maintain its assets. This government wants these assets to be maintained for the people of Canada for future generations.
In budget 2007, this government confirmed an increase of $15 million, including $10 million for the NCC's capital budget. This is good news indeed for the people of Canada and the people in this region. This new funding, which was first received by the NCC in fiscal year 2008-09, allows it to maintain its assets, which is obviously very important so that they are not depleted, with appropriate life cycle management to ensure their long-term sustainability and continuing enjoyment for all Canadians.
In addition, the National Capital Commission will allocate a portion of this additional funding to implement any changes to its responsibilities that would result from the amendments that are currently proposed for the National Capital Act. In response to the difficult economic situation, which all Canadians and certainly most of the world is aware of, this government presented Canada's economic action plan, which has kept Canada busy and kept people working.
This has also provided additional generation of economic activity in all regions of the country. It is no different here in the national capital region. It is no exception.
That is why this government has invested nearly $48 million through this plan in order to continue the maintenance and rehabilitation of a number of NCC's assets, which have quite frankly been run down to quite an extent and are really beyond what is necessary in order to keep this area beautiful and pristine.
Ottawa is well known for the Rideau Canal, which my friend has indicated is the longest skating rink in the world. People from Winnipeg would disagree with that, but notwithstanding that, it has been designated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization as part of our world heritage. It is very important. The Rideau Canal is renowned for its winter transformation. Many of us in the House and many Canadians have had the opportunity to skate on the Rideau Canal and it is very enjoyable.
The NCC offers skaters many facilities to utilize and to make their experience on the canal even more enjoyable. However, the existing service buildings date from the early 1970s and they are well beyond their life cycle. One can imagine how they are. Mr. Speaker, I am sure you have had the opportunity of going down there, putting your skates on and enjoying those buildings, but they are certainly beyond their life cycle. As a result of this government's financial commitment, these will be replaced by new buildings with lower maintenance costs, universal accessibility, which is very important, and more functional layouts. That is good news as well.
The U.S. embassy, of course, is situated near the intersection of Sussex and Rideau Streets. This particular area receives a lot of pedestrian and vehicle traffic, especially given its proximity to Parliament Hill, the office and residential buildings, and of course Byward Market which most visitors to this area enjoy.
Since this area is part of our Confederation Boulevard for which the NCC is ultimately responsible, it is participating in a rehabilitation project, which is managed by the city of Ottawa. Funds from the economic action plan will enable the replacement of the security barriers along the perimeter of the U.S. embassy by bollards which will improve the flow of traffic and allow the installation of a bicycle lane. Of course, this is a bottleneck for many of the people who come from Quebec across the Alexandra Bridge.
This government is also investing in the rehabilitation of Carbide Mill Masonry on Victoria Island which is quite depleted. The mill was built in 1899, and is designated and recognized as a heritage building by the Federal Heritage Buildings Review Office. This is an important historic monument for the people of Canada, as well. This work done on this mill will improve the stability of the building to meet federal heritage conservation imperatives.
When we think about green space in the national capital region, Gatineau Park and the greenbelt come to mind; however, the NCC also owns and maintains many other parks across the region, including Confederation Park, Major's Hill Park in the core area, as well as Rockcliffe Park, Vincent Massey Park and Hog's Back Park, just to name a few of which are under its mandate.
In some cases, the existing infrastructure actually dates back, believe this or not, to the 1950s or 1960s. With this economic stimulus funding by this Conservative government, existing public and concession buildings will be rehabilitated. This will allow upgrades to mechanical and electrical systems, and meet accessibility requirements again. It is again good news for the people of Canada.
As per the 1996 greenbelt master plan, the proposed 56-kilometre greenbelt recreational pathway is designated to provide a continuous and varied recreational and educational experience along the complete length of the greenbelt. The greenbelt is very important to the people of Canada. We have the lowest density of population in the world, which means we get to enjoy the outdoors much more than most nations. It is really good news.
Now from Shirleys Bay in the west to Green's Creek in the east, this has been promised for some period of time, and to date a total of 23 kilometres has been completed. The next section that will be completed with Canada's economic action plan is a 10-kilometre section through the Pine Grove sector of the greenbelt. That is, again, good news.
In addition, the recreational pathway between Britannia and Carling Avenue will be rehabilitated, and the recreational pathway along the Aviation Parkway corridor will be extended by two kilometres. This helps people get to work. It helps people enjoy the area. It helps all Canadians enjoy this great area when they come to visit. I would encourage all of my constituents and all constituents across Canada to enjoy what is theirs, and that is the Ottawa capital region.
We are making very important investments across this country through Canada's economic plan, and this is no different. That is why we are making these investments. After years and years of Liberal neglect, this government is coming forward with a plan to invest back in the people of Canada and the quality of life even here in the capital region.
Another important project will be the development of Gatineau Park entrances. They are difficult to find. This will not only improve the visibility of the official entrance points, but will also ensure better traffic management in Gatineau Park. Entrance points will also help to reinforce the park's identity and convey conservation-related messages, as will the new rehabilitations be more efficient, more environmental, more green, the things that Canadians have told us they want out of this government and future governments.
There are many other projects that are being carried out and funded by the government, by the people of Canada. I have outlined some of the projects that we will undertake in the coming months to improve and implement the NCC's mandate to develop and preserve the national capital region, which is the important part here. This should be a non-partisan issue. We should move forward with this good news for the people of Canada.
In closing, I want to emphasize the importance to modernize the National Capital Act. I hope that every party, including the Liberal members who quite frankly left it in neglect for years, will support it as well.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to address Bill . I am going to refer to my speech of June 18 of last year on Bill , which was the first legislation introduced by the Conservatives, in June 2009.
But first, I want to inform hon. members that I issued a press release on March 19, to put some pressure on the Conservatives and to condemn the effects of last December's prorogation.
I was wondering what had happened to the urgent need to pass Bill , which seemed so important to the and the .
Indeed, in June 2009, the said that, should an election were held in the fall of 2009, the bill would be quickly reintroduced. The previous month, he had stated that he wanted to “proceed quickly”. In December 2009, he added that he was disappointed because the bill had yet to be adopted. Did he want us to pass this legislation without any debate? We were now at the end of March, in the spring, and the bill had not yet been introduced. After exerting pressure to have all the parties reach a consensus, there was still nothing happening. That is when I declared that the whole thing was just pure hypocrisy.
I also made reference to the amendments proposed by the Liberal Party at committee stage. I simply believe that the Conservatives are not prepared to accept amendments. They want their bill to be approved without any debate. They want rubber-stamping.
That is what I wanted to say on this point.
I am now going to respond to the comments that the parliamentary secretary just made, namely that the minister consulted all the parties. It is absolutely true that I attended a meeting. However, as regards the ideas that we put forward, the minister took them under advisement, if I may use that expression, even though he is not a judge. He told us that he would think about our suggestions. Not one of them was accepted. And I will go even further. To my great surprise, the Conservatives did not accept the amendments that had been voted on and approved by the committee during the review of Bill , and they did not include them in their new legislation. This is the second point I wanted to make.
I will now begin by revisiting Bill , which is the original legislation. One can see how much time was lost because of last December's prorogation. Had it not been for that unfortunate prorogation, this bill could surely have already gone through third reading stage in the House.
I was saying that Bill uses almost the exact wording of Bill , which was being studied in committee last fall.
This is what we had to say last year about Bill .
First, we had questions about changes to the governance of the National Capital Commission and Gatineau Park.
At the time, we planned to support Bill in principle, so it could be referred to committee for further study. That continues to be our position.
The national capital is the symbol of our country. It is important to ensure that it communicates this vision to visitors from around the world. The national capital region is one of the most beautiful in the world and we are very proud of it.
To oversee the national capital region, legislators established the National Capital Commission. This organization works well and the employees who support it care about the development of our region. I would like to thank them for their dedication and loyalty. Having said this, I believe that it is appropriate to maintain transparency at the NCC and to continue improving it as much as possible. An open and transparent society is a reflection of Canadian values.
This update reflects the current political reality. People want to participate in discussions about their living environment. The decisions made have a great impact on them. It is also a question of principle.
Therefore we have questions about the administrative changes proposed for the NCC.
I should point out that the NCC is an independent corporation whose mission, according to its website, is to:
“prepare plans for and assist in the development, conservation and improvement of the National Capital Region in order that the nature and character of the seat of the Government of Canada may be in accordance with its national significance; and”
“organize, sponsor or promote such public activities and events in the National Capital Region as will enrich the cultural and social fabric of Canada”.
Generally speaking, the NCC's job is to develop the National Capital Region's lands and to promote our region. Bill , which is now Bill , follows up on recommendations from the ad hoc committee chaired by Gilles Paquet in 2006.
Bill specifically amends the National Capital Act to:
(a) modify the governance structure of the National Capital Commission and increase its transparency;
(b) clarify the National Capital Commission’s responsibilities, including those regarding planning and sound environmental stewardship;
(c) establish the boundaries of Gatineau Park;
(d) enhance the National Capital Commission’s regulation-making powers;
(e) remove the requirement that the National Capital Commission seek Governor in Council approval for real estate transactions; and
(f) harmonize that Act with the civil law regime of Quebec.
This enactment also amends the Official Residences Act to clarify the National Capital Commission’s responsibilities regarding official residences. As well, it makes consequential amendments to other Acts.
That last point is absolutely right.
I would now like to comment on the part of Bill that deals with Gatineau Park. Together with the green belt on the Ontario side, Gatineau Park on the Quebec side is one of the jewels in the crown of Canada's capital. Born of the Greber plan, they purify the air in Canada's capital. Today we have some serious questions about the boundaries of Gatineau Park. They need to be made very clear.
On page 13 of the bill, the description of the Gatineau Park boundaries reads as follows:
The boundaries of Gatineau Park are within the registration divisions of Hull, Gatineau and Pontiac, Province of Quebec, are located in the municipalities of Chelsea, La Pêche, Pontiac and the City of Gatineau, and form part of the cadastres of the Township of Aldfield, the Township of Eardley, the Township of Hull, the Township of Masham, the Township of Onslow and the Cadastre du Québec.
I will not read the description of the lots that follows the list I just read. There are pages upon pages of numbers that mean very little to people like us. However, it establishes the park's boundaries.
But let us be clear, when we look at this bill, it is obvious that the matter needs to be thoroughly studied. The description of the boundaries I am talking about runs from page 12 through page 34. It is a very detailed description. So we will need briefings, maps, engineers, and even a GPS to make sure that everything that needs to be included or excluded is properly delineated and identified. We therefore feel this requires a far more thorough examination in committee. We need to clarify its functions and accessibility and set the boundaries.
We were not given a detailed map of Gatineau Park when this was studied in committee. Instead, we were given a map on a piece of paper that was 8½ x 11 or 8½ x 14. It was very odd. Gatineau Park is massive. It is bigger than some European countries and, despite that, when we were studying Bill in committee, we did not receive a map that clearly showed its boundaries. I will say it again, we believe that this issue needs to be studied more closely in committee.
There are many reasons why I do not think that Gatineau Park should necessarily become a national park, but basically it is because there are portions of land inside and around the park that belong to the government of Quebec.
I think that any protection afforded the park should not include prohibiting citizens from having access and engaging in activities there, and the vast majority of residents and visitors would agree. However, there should be some limits set. Some sections of the park, but not all, are open to the public for recreation and physical activity. That is what is so unique about Gatineau Park.
Highway developments in recent years have improved access for residents to the western part of the city of Gatineau and to the park. Like the greenbelt in Ottawa, Gatineau Park is an ecological treasure, but it must also be able to grow and adapt to the human environment. There must be a balance between the two.
Protecting the park is essential. To do so, we have to know its physical boundaries and put protective mechanisms in place.
Some are disappointed that , now Bill , does not go far enough, but others are happy to begin the discussion. That is the gist of the message I want to deliver today. We must vote in favour of the bill so that it can be studied in depth in committee.
In the course of that process, however, we will have to pay attention to certain concepts included in the bill so that they are fully understood and defined, including concepts such as national interest land mass and the ecological integrity of the park.
The bill raises other questions. Could the NCC continue to charge or increase user fees? Also, is there a possibility of privatizing the park or certain parts of it? In addition, this bill raises the issue of public transit in the national capital region. This whole issue and its local and regional impact must be studied.
The use and disposition of properties in the park must also be very clear, so as to cause prejudice to no one.
That is what we said in the House on Bill or, should I say, Bill .
Now I want to focus on an amendment to the bill that we felt to be crucial, and that is the amendment on the greenbelt.
The Liberal members from the National Capital Region, the member for , the member for and myself, are calling for better protection of the greenbelt. There are no serious regulations protecting the greenbelt. Together, the City of Ottawa and the NCC can do whatever they want with this land. We believe this green space must be protected from developers. The greenbelt is a sensitive area that is part of our region's green heritage, and I want to emphasize this concept of green heritage.
The member for , the member for and I as Liberal members of Parliament in the national capital region have good reason to call for enhanced protection of the greenbelt. There are, as a matter of fact, no major regulations protecting this area. Together the City of Ottawa and the NCC could do what they like with it.
We believe this green space must be protected from developers. The greenbelt is a sensitive area that is part of our region's green heritage, and I would like to emphasize this concept of green heritage.
The national capital region has something that sets it apart from other national capitals: green space in its core. This space is the result of a planning process that dates back many years, to the time of the Gréber plan which I mentioned earlier. But more and more, our green space is facing increased pressure and is being sized up for other purposes.
The national capital region has something that sets it apart from other national capitals: green space in the core. This space is the result of a planning process that dates back many years, to the time of the Gréber plan which I mentioned earlier. But more and more, our green space is facing increased pressure and is being sized up for other purposes.
Given that the greenbelt is completely unprotected, we firmly believe it must be given the same safeguards as Gatineau Park. This type of protection is flexible enough to allow for land exchanges and road access, but would limit residential, commercial and industrial development and, as in the case of Gatineau Park, it would protect the area's ecological integrity.
Given that the greenbelt is completely unprotected, we firmly believe it must be given the same safeguards as Gatineau Park. This type of protection is flexible enough to allow for land exchanges and road access, but would limit residential, commercial and industrial development and, as in the case of Gatineau Park, it would protect the area's ecological integrity.
We want this protection not only for this generation, but also for future generations. We are the trustees and custodians of our region's heritage, and it is our duty to protect the greenbelt. We must also protect it to keep our national capital a green, accessible region on a human scale, because that is what makes the capital unique.
The greenbelt gives great pleasure to tourists, who are a major driver of the regional economy. It also creates many jobs and helps diversify employment so that the region's economic development does not depend solely on Canada's public service.
Although the NCC has begun revising its master plan, we do not feel we should wait for its recommendations. We must not wait for the Conservatives to destroy our greenbelt. We have to develop the tools to protect it immediately. Legislators are elected to make decisions, and we must show leadership and protect the greenbelt. The way to protect it is through Bill .
We in the Liberal Party want to protect our greenbelt right away.
Let us protect the greenbelt immediately.
Here are the main amendments we made to Bill , which we will also put forward for Bill C-20: ensure that 25% of all jobs—not square metres—in all federal organizations in the national capital region are located in Quebec and 75% in Ontario by establishing job hubs in each province; maintain the ecological integrity of NCC properties in Gatineau Park and Ottawa's greenbelt; have the National Capital Commission maintain, build and renovate any existing and future bridge across the Ottawa River in the national capital region; have the House of Commons and the Senate approve the NCC's master plan.
In conclusion, we would like to see changes in the NCC's responsibilities, the inclusion of greenbelt protection similar to the protection for Gatineau Park and the approval of the NCC's master plan by both houses of Parliament.
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill , An Act to amend the National Capital Act and other Acts. The Bloc Québécois has some serious concerns about this bill. We welcome it, but we have some concerns.
When it comes to protecting the environment, our focus is on Gatineau Park. The park, which has an area of 350 km2, is federal land managed by the National Capital Commission. Unlike other national and provincial parks in Canada and Quebec, Gatineau Park is not protected by legislation and has no official status. As such, the park is subject to the whims and decisions of the organization responsible for running it, in this case the National Capital Commission, which, according to its powers under the legislation, can sell land, which includes land on Quebec soil.
A number of environmental groups and citizens' groups are calling for better protection of Gatineau Park, for example, by including a section in the act to give the park official legal status, to clarify its purpose, and to ensure its ecological integrity.
Some of the groups calling for this include the Ottawa valley chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, as well as the Gatineau Park Protection Committee.
The Bloc recognizes how important it is to protect and conserve natural settings. We believe that we must protect Gatineau Park from property development, clarify the purpose of the park and ensure that it is around for future generations.
Respecting Quebec's jurisdictions and the integrity of Quebec's territory, are both very important, and I must point out that in 2006, the House of Commons unanimously recognized the Quebec nation. In short, “nation” is the community to which we belong, the group with which we identify, and within which we debate and decide how our society is to be organized.
And because a nation is the special place where political decisions can be made, recognizing a nation means recognizing a political entity with legitimate political rights and aspirations.
By recognizing the Quebec nation, the House of Commons recognized the right of Quebeckers to control the social, economic and cultural development of Quebec themselves.
By stating that the Quebec nation is composed of all residents of Quebec, regardless of their origin or mother tongue or the region where they live, the federal government recognized that the Quebec nation has a clear geographic base made up of all, I repeat, all of the territory of Quebec.
In short, recognizing the Quebec nation also means recognition of the legitimacy of Quebec's repeated demands that Quebeckers should have the powers and resources needed in order to develop their own society.
To date, Canada has not yet acted on that recognition and continues to behave as if it were composed of a single nation.
However, the minister currently responsible for the National Capital Commission, the hon. member for and , has abided by the Allaire report and the Charlottetown accord. Although they do little to satisfy the aspirations of Quebeckers, those two documents were clear about the need for Quebec to have full control over the development of its municipal and regional tourism.
I would like to quote the document entitled A Quebec free to choose dated January 1991 published by the Quebec Liberal Party:
It [Quebec] must also have complete control over regional development. Finally, in terms of sectoral policies, it must repatriate exclusive control over agriculture, energy, the environment, natural resources and tourism.
Regarding the Charlottetown accord of 1992, points 32 and 35 read as follows:
Exclusive provincial jurisdiction over tourism should be recognized and clarified through an explicit constitutional amendment and the negotiation of federal-provincial agreements.
35. Municipal and Urban Affairs
Exclusive provincial jurisdiction over municipal and urban affairs should be recognized and clarified through an explicit constitutional amendment and the negotiation of federal-provincial agreements.
This is from the 1992 Charlottetown accord.
It is particularly interesting to note that the minister responsible for the NCC, the hon. member for Pontiac and , is part of a government that came to the other national capital and solemnly promised to respect the Government of Quebec's jurisdictions.
I would like to quote the current . This is from a speech he gave in Quebec City on December 19, 2005, during the election campaign:
We will recognize provincial autonomy, as well as the special cultural and institutional responsibilities of the Quebec government. We will respect federal and provincial jurisdictions, as defined by the Canadian Constitution.
Now he must act accordingly.
Based on the fact that the current government has promised to respect Quebec's jurisdictions, the Bloc Québécois expects all activities of the National Capital Commission concerning Quebec to be subject to the approval of the Government of Quebec.
The governments of Quebec have always considered territorial integrity to be inviolable. The federal government, through the National Capital Commission, has gobbled up land in Quebec to the point where the NCC is now the largest land owner in the Outaouais. The NCC owns more than 470 km2 of land, or 10% of the land in Gatineau and Ottawa combined. On the Quebec side, the NCC owns most of Gatineau Park.
On May 18, 2010, the local press informed us that the City of Gatineau had to first negotiate the repurchase of land with the NCC before installing a standard cycling lane on a section of road in the Hull sector.
The message is clear.
Although the federal government and the National Capital Commission consider the Outaouais and the Ontario side as a single entity, we consider Gatineau and Ottawa to have their own identity and interests. The National Capital Commission must recognize that the Government of Quebec and the City of Gatineau, on the Quebec side, are better positioned to meet the needs of their citizens.
The Bloc Québécois believes that the federal government and its agent, the National Capital Commission, have the obligation to respect the integrity of Quebec's territory, both in terms of the land mass and the exercise of power.
The federal government's law and policies should be amended to ensure that: first, the federal government and its agencies cannot dispossess Quebec of its land; second, all National Capital Commission activities, decisions and development projects on Quebec territory are to be approved by the Government of Quebec in advance
In the same vein, but on a different matter—necessary amendments to Bill C-20 to respect Quebec's territorial integrity and jurisdictions—there is the very important point of the national interest land mass.
Bill C-20 would introduce the concept of “national interest land mass”, which would allow the National Capital Commission to designate any land, such as Gatineau Park and other land in and around Gatineau, as being part of that land mass and prescribe the process for acquiring it.
Clause 10.2 states:
If criteria and process are prescribed under paragraph 10.3(a), the Commission may designate all or a portion of any real property or immovables as part of the National Interest Land Mass or revoke such a designation, as the case may be.
Clause 10.3 reads as follows:
With the Governor in Council’s approval, the Commission may make regulations
(a) setting out the criteria and the process respecting the designation of all or a portion of any real property or immovable as part of the National Interest Land Mass and the revocation of such a designation; and
(b) prescribing in relation to public lands that are designated as part of the National Interest Land Mass or classes of those lands — in addition to any requirements under the Federal Real Property and Federal Immovables Act — the process by which those lands or classes of them may be acquired by the Commission or by which the administration of them may be transferred to the Commission, and any terms and conditions of such an acquisition or transfer.
This concept raises a number of concerns, especially among elected officials of the Government of Quebec, who have written about them to their federal counterparts. In an October 30, 2009 letter to the , who is the minister for the Quebec City region, Quebec's Canadian intergovernmental affairs minister, Claude Béchard, shared this concern:
This new tool, due to the NCC's increased presence on the Quebec side of the Outaouais region, further complicates the Government of Quebec's exercise of its jurisdiction with respect to land use planning.
This concept of national interest land mass has been cause for concern to the Government of Quebec since 2007, when on the occasion of the release of the report, “The National Capital Commission: Charting a New Course”, Benoît Pelletier, then the minister responsible for intergovernmental affairs and the Outaouais region, had written to the hon. member for , the current Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of State for the National Capital Commission, to express his apprehension.
Thus, the Government of Quebec was already protesting in 2007. I will read an excerpt from the letter from Quebec's Minister Pelletier to the federal minister, the hon. member for Pontiac:
Moreover, despite noting that the Canadian Constitution gives the provinces jurisdiction for land-use planning, the report nevertheless promotes a new idea, that of the “National Interest Land Mass” (NILM): land in the NCC portfolio that is deemed essential to the long-term viability of Canada's Capital Region. This is a remarkably nebulous concept. It could potentially entail a risk of encroachment on Quebec's territorial jurisdiction in the Outaouais, given that a number of important components of the NILM, including the Gatineau Park and other parcels of land in the Greenbelt, are located in Quebec. Such an expansion of the NCC's prerogatives is an extremely disquieting prospect.
As far as transportation development in the Outaouais region is concerned, the section on the National Capital Commission's mandate introduces a new provision in the commission's mission, which may cause problems. The bill proposes that the commission:
(a) prepare plans for and assist in the development, conservation and improvement of the National Capital Region, including in relation to transportation in that region, in order that the nature and character of the seat of the Government of Canada may be in accordance with its national significance;
The Bloc Québécois believes it is clear that developing land within Quebec's boundaries is within the purview of the Quebec government, both in the federal capital region and elsewhere. The same goes for transportation.
The Bloc Québécois believes that until Quebec has full power, the federal government's laws and policies should be amended to ensure that all National Capital Commission activities, decisions and development projects within Quebec's boundaries should be subject to the prior approval of the Government of Quebec.
Just like the “national interest land mass”, the transportation issue could “further complicate the Government of Quebec's exercise of its jurisdiction with respect to land use planning”.
In a letter dated October 16, 2007, Minister Pelletier wrote the following to the member for , the Minister responsible for the National Capital Commission:
In the past, the Government of Quebec repeatedly condemned the NCC's methods in the Outaouais region and the impact of its decisions, most often made without consultation following a closed-door process utterly lacking in transparency. The relationship between the Government of Quebec and the NCC is tense, as illustrated by the fact that important road infrastructure agreements signed in 1972 and 1985 were not completed until 2007.
That was a letter from the Government of Quebec to the federal government on the subject.
The Bloc Québécois believes that in general, under legislative power sharing provisions, road development and maintenance, along with public transportation, fall under Quebec's jurisdiction. That is no secret.
Land use planning is and must remain under Quebec's jurisdiction, even in border areas like the Outaouais region.
I would now like to turn to consultation with the Government of Quebec. The letter refers to “the NCC's methods in the Outaouais region and the impact of its decisions, most often made without consultation following a closed-door process utterly lacking in transparency”. Minister Pelletier was writing on behalf of Quebec's National Assembly and the Government of Quebec about Quebec's position on the National Capital Commission's role in the Outaouais.
The recurring problems in relations between the National Capital Commission and the Government of Quebec mainly stem from the fact that the federal government has given this organization too much power. The National Capital Commission regularly oversteps certain boundaries that we feel properly belong in the Quebec government's jurisdiction.
Bill proposes some amendments that illustrate this perfectly.
Now I would like to talk about the master plan. This bill would require the National Capital Commission to outline its broad objectives in a master plan once every 10 years, which seems reasonable to us.
What seems less reasonable is that the National Capital Commission can do this without consulting provincial governments or the public, including those who live in the areas affected by these broad objectives.
The Bloc Québécois believes that the people and governments directly implicated, especially the Government of Quebec, are best suited to identify what they truly need.
From these statements, it is obvious that the Bloc Québécois will study this bill again very closely, and we hope that this time the amendments we propose will be adopted, if anyone expects the Bloc Québécois to vote in favour of this bill.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today to speak to what is now Bill , which started as Bill last year.
I listened to a number of very good speeches today and some very interesting questions. The discussion appears to be around the creation of the National Capital Commission in 1959. Before the National Capital Commission was created, we have to go back in 1899 when the Government of Canada established the Ottawa Improvement Commission, which was designed to beautify the city, including work on parks and the lands along the Ottawa River.
Unfortunately, a series of incidents occurred in the early 20th century, which had an impact on the region. We all know about the great fire of 1900 and another fire in 1916, which destroyed Centre Block of the Parliament Buildings. Centre Block was rebuilt and successive governments at that point realized how important it was to build a strong capital region and a centre that people from across the country would be attracted to. One of the comments I constantly hear from my constituents is they really enjoy coming to Ottawa for all the historical buildings and the museums. The green space in Ottawa is always mentioned in a positive light across the country.
It is important to establish very strong laws governing development in a capital region. Winnipeg, for example, allowed development to proceed on an old railway yard at the Forks 20 years ago. Originally, certainly during the Filmon Conservative years, the NDP was in opposition and did a very effective job of trying to minimize the amount of development in the Forks area. We wanted people to participate in recreation in the area. There was a walkway along the river. The river, by the way, is the longest skating rink in the free world, which has been well established over and over again.
Nevertheless, there was a concern that we in the opposition had about a greater amount of development. There are always development pressures for commercial opportunities. Because the current opposition in Manitoba is very development-oriented and basically rubber stamps anything the city wants to do, there is no pressure to hold back development.
Compared to 10 years ago, the place has become cluttered with too many things. The human rights museum is being built on that land now and there is hardly a parking lot left. There is a hotel there now and parking lots have been built. This is not what a lot of people thought it should turn out to be some 20 years ago. I believe it is very important for people in Ottawa to get this right and make certain that we keep a handle on any sort of commercial development and actions that would reduce the green space and lead to development that really should not be allowed.
The Bloc member who just spoke expressed a concern, which was also mentioned in last year's debate on this very point, that a high percentage of the development was on one side of the river and a smaller part of the development was on the other. I understand there is tension for development, but on the other side of the coin, there are many people who want those pristine areas of the environment left the way they are and do not want developments that are not done in an orderly fashion.
Some improvements would be brought about by this bill. I guess my only frustration is we cannot seem to get this bill, or a lot of other bills, through the House for no other reason than the , now on two successive occasions, has prorogued the House and forced us to start all over over. Here we are back at square one with this bill. I think some of us are losing track of some of these numbers. It started out as Bill last year and now we are dealing with it as Bill .
We are aware that when we get the bill to committee, which is bound to happen fairly soon, there will be an opportunity for the Bloc member's questions to be answered, hopefully to his satisfaction, and for some changes to be made at committee. The whole process will start over.
For any members who have been unable to get their amendments passed in last year's cycle of this bill, I have good news for them. They are going to have a new chance to get witnesses before the committee. They are going to have a new chance to survey their constituents, send out some letters, make some phone calls, get them involved and active in this file and, hopefully, get them to influence the committee into making the changes they see as being important to the improvement and betterment of this act.
The NDP supported the legislation even last year. We see some positive things that would come about because of the bill. However, the fact is the government started on this whole process back in April 2006. We are already four years into the process. I think we may be a lot older and greyer at the rate the government moves before we get the legislation passed.
This goes for a whole lot of other bills. We are talking about the whole government agenda that has to be reintroduced every time the government decides it wants to recalibrate or it gets fearful and afraid of its shadow and prorogues the House. We hope the government will not do that again. I think by now it probably more or less has learned its lesson. I will make a prediction and go out on a limb and say that I do not expect we will see another prorogation of the House any time soon. I hope I am not wrong. Maybe I should not put much in the way of bets on that point. However, I really think it has learned its lesson and will not do it again.
I have said many times that I believe strongly in minority governments. They can work. It worked with Bill Davis. It worked with Gary Filmon. It is working in England right now. There is no reason why Parliament has to be so acrimonious. Other than the transport committee, some of the committees are falling into a lot of acrimony right now. We saw it in the House today. Maybe it is just the hot weather. However, I suspect this is an ongoing problem. We have to learn to work this out. Otherwise, we will find ourselves very shortly into another $300 million election, which I can assure members will produce the same results. The government will not get any better result than what it has right now. It should wake up and realize that it has had four years already and it may have another four years doing the same thing. However, if it keeps doing the same thing, it is not going to get results. That is what the government wants to show at the end of the game. Any government that gets into this wants to show results.
Look at what happened in the 1960s, from 1962 to 1968, under Mike Pearson. We had a period of a minority government where we brought in a new national flag, we unified the armed forces, we dealt with pensions and the medicare bill. Imagine the huge initiatives that the Pearson government brought in after coming out of four years of a Diefenbaker majority government. The Liberals came in as a minority government and survived a couple of elections. Obviously there was a different mix of people in that environment. That government managed to survive from 1962 to 1968 and dealt with some very contentious issues.
Anybody who lived through that period knows how contentious changing the flag was. It was extremely contentious, yet they got the job done, and they got the job done with the unification of the armed forces. Why they would do that in a minority government, I do not know, but they did it and they got the job done. As my colleague just mentioned, the pensions and the medicare issues were brought up during that time too.
Thus, there is all sorts of evidence to say that minority governments can work. They work in other countries. As a matter of fact, we do not need a majority to get things done. That is the arguments that governments make, but we have seen government after government not only squandering their majorities but also getting themselves into trouble. Majorities are actually not to their benefit. If backbenchers think they are obscure now, wait till they get into a majority government situation. I have been there a couple of times and when we are in a majority situation, it is not a happy time for a lot of the members. This is the members' best time to get their ideas out, to get their ideas up in caucus, and have some influence on their government. That is what they should be doing and they should be working with the intention of making this place work.
In April 2006, the minister responsible for the National Capital Act launched a review to assess the current relevance of the NCC. As I indicated, the commission had been around since 1959, so clearly there were some changes to be made.
We have heard some of the other members talk about the way it was, because when I first looked at the bill last year, I wondered why the government wanted to make these changes after all of this time. If the commission was working so well from 1959, what was the big reason for burning political capital on something like this? However, one of the things we saw was that the National Capital Commission held private meetings; it did not have meetings open to the public. Changing this is one of the positive things that this particular legislation is about to do.
Once again, the government proposed changes and looked for stakeholder input. It wanted to make certain there was a certain amount of feedback. When the minister launched the review, the purpose basically was to assess the continuing relevance of the National Capital Commission and its activities and level of funding. The independent review panel invited a broad range of stakeholders and interested parties to express their views, in addition to a number of individual participants, including from federal departments and agencies.
I might point out at this juncture that it has been mentioned by others in this House that the members of the commission are not just people from the Ottawa area. This is a National Capital Commission; there are people on the board, as there should be, from other parts of Canada.
Other levels of government were also consulted, foreign institutions, parliamentarians, and local and not-for-profit organizations. In this connection, the Bloc member brought up the whole issue of whether or not Quebec was consulted on this bill. I find it hard to believe that it could not have been at some point in the process, but I take the previous member at his word. Once again, as I indicated, he has opportunities to deal with that issue now and to get whatever input into the bill he wants from his local residents, or from the Government of Quebec, because once again, we are just looking now at getting the bill to committee.
The panel released its report in December 2006, and made a number of recommendations concerning the governance of the commission and its activities and funding. I believe a total of 31 recommendations were made and the government, to its credit, has actually taken some action on some of these.
If I recall the speech by my hon. colleague, the member for , who has been very involved and very strong on the bill over the last couple of years and who actually had his own bill before the House, he complimented the government and said he had worked very well with the , and he certainly gave the government high marks and credit for that. He said in his speech that he believed in giving the government credit where credit was due. In fact, in working on this particular bill, it was a very positive experience for the member for Ottawa Centre, and he did accept that the government was doing the right thing.
In its backgrounder, the government points out that it has taken several steps consistent with the review panel's recommendation. There was an annual $15 million increase in funding for the National Capital Commission. That was announced in budget 2007. In keeping with the Federal Accountability Act, which received royal assent on December 12, 2006, it separated the chairperson and chief executive officer positions as separate entities.
As well, in September 2008, the Governor in Council approved the acquisition by the NCC of private properties in Gatineau Park. There was some question about what the true size of the park was. I believe one of the Liberal members indicated there was no way of telling how big the park was, yet a Bloc member had it down to the nearest centimetre. Clearly, these two members ought to get together and determine what the actual size of the park is, because we have two divergent opinions on that point.
As I indicated before, the board had private meetings. That is clearly something that has gone the way of dinosaur now. Organizations are being forced through public pressure to open up. We do not have to go any further than the current experiences that all members of the House have in dealing with issues where the public wants to know what is happening. Once again, the board meetings were private and now they will be public. The board will now have to have at least four meetings a year. These will have to be open to the public and there is a requirement that if members need to go in camera, it is logical that their meetings be held in camera if necessary—but only if necessary.
Another really important point is the following. I think I asked a question about this last year, and the member for has also talked it. The National Capital Commission is required to submit a 50-year master plan for the National Capital Region at least every 10 years, including its principles and objectives for approval by the Governor in Council and for tabling in Parliament. That is an extremely important proposition for the National Capital Commission to follow, because this requires it to look ahead and not just to do things on a day-by-day, next-day, next-month basis. Certainly, in terms of any type of commercial activity, this requires it to take the long-term view of that commercial activity. So the whole idea of submitting a plan for the area is something that I think must have been borrowed from someone else, as I do not know if it is original to the board.
I just happened to be in Louisiana a couple of weeks ago at a conference, where we had a briefing on the oil spill. That area is an example of where there is extreme environmental damage and absolutely no plan, no plan at all. They were drilling in huge depths with no previous experience at those depths, and no one seemed to be in charge of the ship. That is hardly a direct comparison, but it still shows us that when we start developing or spending money on development we should have some sort of a plan where we are going. We should not be allowing unfettered, free enterprise development here and allow people to simply develop in any way the almighty dollar tells them they should develop. That is really important.
I really applaud the government for taking the initiative here and doing something that will benefit the national capital region and will, in fact, benefit Canadians as a whole.