Mr. Speaker, I want to advise the previous speaker that the hon. member for Saanich—Gulf Islands, herself a proud Nova Scotian, did not malign any one individual. She mentioned the very serious concerns about the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board, which I myself have very serious concerns about as well.
I want to start off today by thanking the government for entering into discussions to ensure that Sable Island possibly could be a preservation site and conservation site for as long as this planet exists.
I just want to understand a couple of things. This is the same government that had massive cuts to Parks Canada. This is the same government that we hear speech after speech from the Conservatives talking about how great this legislation is, how great it would be for Sable Island, yet what do they do? They invoke time allocation on this debate. Sable Island was there long before any of us were here. Hopefully, Sable Island will be there for many years after we are gone. Therefore, moving time allocation on important legislation like this is unconscionable. I would truly love for someone over there to explain to the Canadian people why they felt it necessary to invoke time allocation, unless they plan to prorogue Parliament very soon and thus they know that this bill would end up dead.
I am in favour of turning Sable Island into a national park reserve. However, like my hon. colleague for Halifax, I have some concerns that need to be addressed. That is why the NDP will be supporting that this legislation go to committee. We do not have much trust in that side, but we hope and trust that my colleague from Halifax will be able to invite any and all witnesses that her party wishes to bring forward, that the Liberal Party would be able to do the same, and that the Green Party could make submissions as well, to ensure that every single person who has reason to be concerned about Sable Island in the future would have the right to say so. We are talking about the Mi'kmaq, the first nations, the provinces, the oil and gas sector, the conservationists and the fishermen. All these people need to be heard.
It is too bad the Conservatives could not make a national park out of the Senate. That would be great. Lots of people could go and visit that room and the $92 million that is spent on the Senate could go to preserve Sable Island and all of the other parks we have in Canada and maybe even create a few more. Then those senators could be added to the Species at Risk Act. That would be a wonderful thing.
Here is the problem. I have heard these great Conservatives say time and time again that Sable Island would be preserved for future generations to come. That is wrong. I wish the Conservatives would get that out of their heads. Sable Island is not for human beings. It is not for people.
Farley Mowat, who is a great World War II veteran, a conservationist and a fantastic author, said time and time again, and my colleague, the member from the Green Party knows this well because we were together when he said it, “We, as humans, have an obligation to ensure to protect our environment. We have an obligation to protect 'the others'.” What he meant by “the others” were things like bugs, snakes, horses, plants, birds and seals. The other species that inhabit this earth deserve to have their place as well.
Sable Island is not like Banff National Park. It is not like Kluane in the Yukon. It is not like South Moresby. It is not like Nahanni. It is not like Kejimkujik. It is not like any other park out there where humans can go and interact and have fun and enjoy the beautiful parts of Canada that are absolutely gorgeous. Sable Island is so fragile and so special that we should limit, with the most extreme caution, the number of people who actually go to that island.
My colleague from South Shore—St. Margaret's bragged about the fact he has been there dozens of times. He has been there two dozen times and I say he has been there 23 times too often. I have had the opportunity to go to Sable Island. I can assure members that it is a spiritual experience. It is beautiful. However, I felt guilty being there. I felt that I should not have been there. The reality is that with those horses, the plants and the birds, it is absolutely outstanding.
There are reasons why some people are very concerned about the bill and are very concerned about the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board.
I remember very clearly, as a private citizen, in 1995, attending a meeting at the Waverley fire hall in Waverley, Nova Scotia, which is now in my riding. The Sable gas people were there and the petroleum boards were all there. They had maps of the ocean, which had a dark black mark on Sable Island. It was blacked out. The first question I asked was why it was blacked out. They said, “That's Sable Island. We have no intention of touching it, ever. We are leaving it alone. It's too fragile”.
I understand the need for oil and gas exploration. I drive a car, I have a house that burns oil and I fly back and forth all the time. I understand that. I was so proud of the fact that these experts were saying that Sable Island was going to be left alone, with a mile buffer around it. I felt really good about that.
However, we were betrayed by the gas and oil sector. We were betrayed by other people. In fact, they did do seismic testing on that island. I remember it very well how—I cannot say what I want to say—upset I was that we were lied to at these meetings. These were professional people, and they lied to us. They said they would never do seismic testing on Sable Island, and they did.
My very serious concern is that if we do not do this bill right, if we do not put in the concrete measures to ensure we never allow seismic testing on the island ever again, I will not have a good night's sleep, assured that those horses, those birds, those plants and other species that inhabit that island are able to do what they do in God's wonder, to do what they have done for hundreds of years and, hopefully, for hundreds years more.
That island is not for people. The island is for the others. I wish everyone in this Parliament and across Canada would get that into their heads. This is too fragile an ecosystem and it needs to be, as best we can, left alone.
I appreciate the Minister of the Environment and the parliamentary secretary indicating that, yes, in some certain cases, in emergencies, oil and gas workers or people who find themselves in serious trouble could go to the island for rescue, because it is the graveyard of the Atlantic. I understand that, and under strict controls and under strict protocols that is something I think we can all accept. I appreciate that fact.
However, we need assurances from the Minister of the Environment and the government that when this bill gets second reading there will be no shenanigans at that committee, that there will be no time allocation, that there will be no rushing into in camera, as every committee here in this House does. We need to ensure that this is a public forum for all Canadians who are concerned about this precious jewel in the Atlantic and ensure that we do exactly what we are saying here today; that is that we protect the integrity of Sable Island for many years to come.
At the same time, the government has made massive cuts to Parks Canada. We have never heard anything, yet, about funding this. We would like to see where the dollars are going to come from, where the money is coming from. One of the ideas the member for Halifax indicated, and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment also indicated, is a historical and interpretive centre in Halifax. Who is going to pay for that? Where is the money going to come from? What is it going to look like? We cannot have everybody going out to Sable Island to see it. It would be much better to have that interpretive centre in the community of Halifax or another community; I am not really particularly concerned about that. I just want to ensure that the dollars will be there to ensure that all Canadians, in fact, all world visitors who come to the area, will get to know that 290 kilometres from the east coast lies one of the most beautiful places on the planet.
It is important that we get it right. That is why the NDP, led by our critic from Halifax, has indicated our support for this legislation to second reading.
However, if we see a lot of games being played there, there is no guarantee that support will come afterwards. My colleague from Halifax has said very clearly that she so desperately wants to work with the parliamentary secretary, so desperately wants to work with the Minister of the Environment, and with the Conservative government, in order to ensure we get the legislation right.
That is uncommon in this place. Normally, anything the Conservatives do would just shut it down. Anything we say, they shut us down. This is an opportunity, in a bi-partisan manner, to work co-operatively together and get it right. I am not sure why the Minister of the Environment or the Prime Minister would not want to pursue that and show Canadians that, yes, Parliament can work together as it has on many other issues.
I was here when the protection of the Sable Island gully was there. In fact, I was quite proud of that because that was where the northern bottlenose whale lived. They offered limited protection to that area. It is a beautiful gully just off of Sable Island. It is absolutely gorgeous. I have never been to the bottom of it, but everything I have seen of it and the species that live under those waters is unbelievable. The Liberal government at the time worked co-operatively to get that done.
We need to ensure that the resources for our Coast Guard, Parks Canada and Environment Canada are there to ensure the integrity of this legislation is matched not only in words but in dollars as well. That is what we need to discuss at the committee stage as well.
We have been betrayed before. Not by the Conservative government, though, I will give it credit for that. It was not in power. We were betrayed by the provincial and federal governments at that time.
I can assure the House that there are a lot of environmental groups out there. I know the Ecology Action Centre and Mr. Mark Butler, one of the great environmentalists we have on the east coast, are very concerned about this legislation. Our colleague from Saanich—Gulf Islands indicated the concerns of allowing the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board any kind of management say on anything regarding this Island.
Those are serious questions that need to be asked. I am not saying that someone is right or someone is wrong, but let us get the experts in. Let us get the people in at the committee stage in an unhurried manner, where we can take our time and do it right. If we do that, we can truly leave a legacy not just for people, but for the others with which we share this beautiful planet. That is the beauty of Parliament, when we can work together and achieve something that is greater than ourselves.
I will give the government credit. I used to live in Yukon near Nahanni, which is absolutely gorgeous. When that size increased, I was shouting from the rooftops. I thought that was absolutely wonderful. I remember our colleague, Svend Robinson, was arrested defending South Moresby. Look at it now. It is one of the most beautiful and enchanting areas on the planet on the Queen Charlotte Islands. He risked everything to ensure that happened.
We want to ensure that people do not have to protest in the streets of Halifax to ensure the protection of Sable Island. It simply does not have to happen. We can work in a co-operative manner and get it done.
I will offer some advice for the minister, though. There are a lot more protected marine areas that we need to have in our country and I am proud to hear him say Lancaster Sound. I am proud to see the areas of the Bay St. Lawrence and also on the west coast. I have had the opportunity to live in British Columbia and Yukon and now in Nova Scotia.
This is truly an absolutely gorgeous country. When we are connected in this regard, it is amazing what terrestrial and aquatic areas we have to enjoy in many cases. However, there are certain areas of the country which, in my personal view, should be left alone. Sable Island is one of them.
I give top credit to Zoe Lucas. She is only about 5'2" or 5'3", but she is dynamite. She knows more about Sable than the House collectively will ever get to learn. She is amazing, but she is one person. We need to ensure that it is not just her, because one day she may not be with us. She has worked in the preservation, acknowledgement and awareness of Sable Island. She has brought that to many people in Canada and around the world to ensure the integrity of that beautiful island.
The minister knows as he has been there. He understands the spiritual nature of that place. The last thing we need to see is hundreds of people showing up, taking pictures of horses and running around trying to pet them, stepping on their grounds and grass and everything else.
I have another concern. When I was on the fisheries committee for many years, we had a very serious issue with grey seals. Sable Island is the home of many grey seals. Their population has exploded.
One thing that we in the NDP will never accept is the cull of a wild species, where people shoot and kill the animals and they sink to the bottom and become crab or lobster bait. That is unacceptable. However, we will support a harvest of seals as long as the seals are utilized, whether turned into animal feed or other product. We would not allow an opportunity to go and kill 20,000 or 30,000 seals and then let them sink to the bottom. That does not make this country look very good internationally. However, if we utilize that seal product in a proper humane harvest, that would be good husbandry of the species, and would also protect the integrity of the island.
The minister probably knows that when that many seals congregate on a shifting sandbar like that, it can cause havoc and a lot of damage. We want to ensure that the grey seals do not overrun the island and cause even greater damage. We want to control the species in a manner that is not only humane but offers economic opportunities for some fishermen, and utilizes the seal to its maximum potential. To just go out and kill a whole bunch of them and let them sink to the bottom is not the proper thing to do, and it is also very un-Canadian.
Therefore, we need to know this from the minister, and hopefully we will learn this at committee: If indeed there is a time to harvest some of these seals to reduce the numbers, would the Sable Island park reserve allow limited hunting of those seals in that particular area? If it does, would it be done from the land or from boats? Having that many fishermen tramping all over the island could not be a good thing.
These are the types of things, in terms of strict protocols, that we would need to address to ensure that this legislation is done correctly. We are very proud of the fact that the federal government and the great Province of Nova Scotia and its wonderful NDP government are working collaboratively on many of these issues. However, we still do not have all the answers we are looking for. My colleague from Halifax has done yeoman's work in this regard. I can assure members that when this gets to committee, she will be like a pit bull on a bone to ensure that this legislation is exactly what it should be.
The reality is that she is the only member of Parliament of the 308 of us who has Sable Island in her riding, and that is a wonderful thing. Not many people get to say that. I know I do not. I am surprised she has not changed the name of her riding to Halifax—Sable Island. I do have McNabs Island, by the way. If members ever get a chance they should come down and see McNabs Island. It is absolutely beautiful. It is the same with Lawlor Island, but people are not allowed to go on that one.
The reality is that these are jewels in the Halifax area and off the coast of Nova Scotia that are absolutely gorgeous. I invite my colleague over there from Kitchener to come on down and I will give him a personal tour of McNabs Island and the other island. However, I will not give him a tour of Sable Island. I would encourage him to leave it alone. We will have an interpretive centre, which hopefully the federal government will pay for, and we will walk him through that. In fact, my colleague from Halifax will walk him through it as well, and tell him all that he needs to know. However, we just encourage him with the greatest of respect not to go on the island, because that many people on the island, even if it is strictly controlled, could have unforeseen consequences.
We want to ensure that the bill is done correctly. We want to work in a co-operative manner with the government. We do not like time allocation on this bill, and I would hope that maybe the Minister of the Environment could stand in his place and ask why the Conservatives moved time allocation on this very sensitive legislation.
I hope that, with our colleague from Halifax and the great NDP working with the Conservatives and our Liberal colleagues and Green Party colleagues, we will ensure that we get the right legislation to ensure perpetuity for Sable Island park reserve now and in the future.