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Canada National Parks Act

Bill to Amend--Second Reading--Debate Continued

October 31, 2023

Hon. Karen Sorensen [ + ]

Honourable senators, I rise today to speak to Bill C-248, An Act to amend the Canada National Parks Act (Ojibway National Urban Park of Canada), proposed to become established in Windsor, Ontario.

As a resident of Banff, Alberta, a municipality located in Banff National Park — Canada’s first national park — you would be hard pressed to find a bigger fan of Canada’s national park system in this chamber. Having served for 17 years on the Town of Banff’s municipal council, with 11 of those years as the Mayor of Banff, you would also be hard pressed to find too many people in this country who better understand the relationship, the policies and the legislation at play when Parks Canada works in partnership with a municipality.

Before I delve into my concerns with this bill, I would like to start by congratulating the bill’s sponsors — Member of Parliament for Windsor West Brian Masse, and my Independent Senators Group colleague Senator Peter Boehm — on their advocacy for this park. Speaking with stakeholders in the Windsor region, I’ve heard how the introduction of this bill has expedited federal land transfers and other processes needed to make Ojibway national urban park a reality. I strongly and unequivocally support the creation of the Ojibway national urban park. It is fantastic that this government, under the watchful eye of Parks Canada, is on the path to creating national urban parks across Canada.

However, based on my understanding of the Canada National Parks Act, and my many years of experience working closely with Parks Canada to govern a municipality within a national park, I have reservations about this bill.

Firstly, it’s important to note that Parks Canada has already committed to creating Ojibway national urban park whether this bill passes or not.

Many of you will be familiar with Rouge National Urban Park in Toronto. Windsor is expected to be the next urban park created under Parks Canada’s National Urban Parks Program, and will inform the creation of other future national urban parks in Halifax, Montreal, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Edmonton and Victoria.

Parks Canada announced a positive decision on feasibility last spring, and then began the planning work to formally establish the park, planned for completion by summer 2025 or earlier.

The MP for Windsor West deserves credit for his work to keep this issue on the front burner, as well as for pushing to secure the transfer of crucial Ojibway Shores lands to Parks Canada, and for securing near unanimous all-party support from his parliamentary colleagues. But, at this stage, Bill C-248 is simply not needed to move this park forward.

The facts are that since this bill passed in the other place, new information has come to light. If you have not seen Bill C-248, I encourage you to have a look. The entire bill — all 14 pages and 32,600 characters — is longitude and latitude coordinates. That is what the bill is — coordinates that lay out where the Ojibway national urban park in Windsor will go, according to this bill.

If this bill is passed as is, these areas will immediately be placed under the control of Parks Canada. Once enshrined into legislation, these boundaries will be difficult to change. The problem is that some of these coordinates are incorrect.

When this bill was voted on in the other place, Parks Canada was working on the required studies of the proposed park lands. Since that time, Parks Canada has confirmed through a Natural Resources Canada survey that there are definitively 16 private parcels of land included in Bill C-248.

During a hearing of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development, Mr. Andrew Campbell, Senior Vice-President, Operations of Parks Canada Agency, explained the consequences of including private lands in a bill like this.

If these new boundaries, for example, encroached into someone’s backyard, the homeowner would have to ask permission from the Parks Canada field unit superintendent to make any changes to their property. The homeowner wouldn’t be able to install a doghouse or put out a mousetrap without permission from Parks Canada.

If this bill passes in its current form, the affected landowners will retain the title to their lands, but this title will be meaningless. The result could be court challenges and complex land transfers, which would result in more delays, uncertainty and outcomes that will delay the park becoming a reality.

Conversely, there are also lands that have been earmarked for this park that are not included within the boundaries of this bill. The area that Parks Canada is exploring for Ojibway national urban park could be two and a half times larger than the park created by Bill C-248.

I believe these boundary issues are serious enough that we cannot allow this bill to proceed. I don’t say this lightly, as I strongly believe in respecting the will of our elected colleagues, but when members of Parliament studied and voted on Bill C-248, they simply didn’t have access to the information that we do today. Errors like this are why the Senate was conceived to be a chamber of sober second thought.

The good news is, as I mentioned earlier, Ojibway national urban park will be created with or without this legislation. Parks Canada has been working steadily on this, which leads me to my second concern.

Bill C-248 does not lay out the necessary logistics that need to be put in place before a national urban park can be created, and Parks Canada needs more time to work these details out.

I know that the people of Windsor have been waiting for this park for a long time. The area is an ecological jewel that residents, civil society groups and elected officials at all levels of government have been fighting to protect and preserve. I understand why some may feel that this process is taking too long, but community support for the creation of the park is not the same as assurance that the technical specifications are correct; that all legal implications have been accounted for; and that all parties have been informed of their rights and responsibilities, and agree on how the park should be managed and maintained.

Doing this right takes time, and the unintended consequences of cutting corners could be dire. Considering the National Urban Parks Program was really only launched in 2021, Parks Canada has already made significant progress in making Ojibway national urban park a reality.

Parks Canada is on a measured, yet timely, path — as they need to be — to ensure full consultation, review of legal implications and education to the municipality and surrounding communities.

While Bill C-248 reflects the desire of the Windsor community for an urban park, it doesn’t lay out who will be responsible for garbage pickup, road maintenance and security in the park. It also doesn’t enshrine co-management, job creation or other rights for local Indigenous communities, whom Parks Canada has committed to working with collaboratively.

If you look at the stand-alone legislation that created Canada’s first national urban park, Rouge National Urban Park in the Greater Toronto Area, it spells out very clearly who has authority to make regulations regarding the park, what activities are prohibited within the park, and how pollution is to be addressed, and requires the minister to create and regularly review the park management plan. Bill C-248, once again, is only coordinates.

At this stage, Parks Canada needs more time to negotiate with local governments and other stakeholders on how this park will be managed, as well as to ensure that consultation with Indigenous rights holders meets Canada’s obligations under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

That brings me to my main concern with this bill. It is important to understand that Ojibway national urban park is not a one-off. It is part of a tremendous movement to create a network with a shared vision of conserving nature, connecting people and advancing reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. Its creation through a process led by Parks Canada, fully collaborative with Indigenous governments, partners and stakeholders sets a strong precedent for the program as a whole.

A unilateral federal process in this particular park in Windsor may complicate matters for other provinces in the National Urban Parks Program. Each urban park will have different needs, and Parks Canada is committed to a multi-jurisdictional model to support the most appropriate management structure for each park.

Bill C-248, by contrast, will force Parks Canada to create Ojibway national urban park under the Canada National Parks Act rather than their National Urban Parks Program.

Why is this a problem? A national urban park needs to be much more flexible than a national park in order to meet the needs of each particular location. By contrast, the Canada National Parks Act legislation applies equally to all national parks across this country and is prescriptive on a whole host of issues and requirements.

I served three terms as mayor of a town within a national park. I know first-hand how rigid the Canada National Parks Act is and how time-consuming and challenging it was to have to go through the federal government any time the town needed to develop infrastructure or repair a water line.

In the case of Banff, when the park came before the municipality — where the entire town was within park boundaries — that was necessary. But Ojibway national urban park will exist within a complex urban environment with multiple adjacent jurisdictions, which will make basic activities very challenging under the Canada National Parks Act.

If Parks Canada were to acquire full management of the park lands under Bill C-248, the City of Windsor may need to seek permission from Parks Canada to access lands or undertake activities on park lands, including for essential public infrastructure work, such as fixing water-main breaks.

The Canada National Parks Act is not the most appropriate framework to use for a park in an urban area. This was the reason that Rouge National Urban Park was created under its own unique legislation. Managing Ojibway as a national park under the Canada National Parks Act will be much more complex than it needs to be.

Supporters of this bill argue that the Canada National Parks Act provides stronger environmental protections. But Parks Canada has extensive experience protecting and managing lands that are not under the Canada National Parks Act, using other existing federal and provincial legislation and regulations.

National marine conservation areas are created under the Canada National Marine Conservation Areas Act because the national park legislation would not have been appropriate. Similarly, Rouge National Urban Park was created under the Rouge National Urban Park Act, not the Canada National Parks Act.

For subsequent urban parks, the agency’s current plan is to create them through policy, not legislation. This approach will ensure a high standard of conservation while still allowing for the flexibility needed in an urban environment.

Parks Canada administers some of the greatest national examples of Canada’s natural and cultural heritage and is responsible for maintaining their ecological and commemorative integrity for future generations.

The agency is responsible for operations under multiple pieces of federal legislation and protects over 470,000 square kilometres of Canada’s terrestrial, marine and freshwater ecosystems. It administers over 200 natural and cultural heritage places, many through collaborative management with Indigenous peoples.

Parks Canada’s network of 171 national historic sites, 47 national parks, 5 national marine conservation areas and 1 national urban park is the envy of the world. I encourage us to let the expertise of Parks Canada continue to lead here.

I look forward to studying this bill further at the Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources Committee. I hope my fellow committee members will take their time to consider these issues carefully.

I just don’t believe the committee will have the capacity to correct the boundaries and clarify the management structure. At the highest level, I believe Bill C-248 proposes the wrong tool and the wrong process and creates risks both for the Government of Canada and local stakeholders.

Again, I wholeheartedly support the creation of Ojibway urban national park. Parks Canada is following a tried-and-true process of collaboration with local and provincial governments, Indigenous rights holders and other federal departments to develop and manage this park, and their work is bearing fruit at a rapid rate.

Thank you, hiy hiy.

Honourable senators, I too rise today to speak to Bill C-248, An Act to amend the Canada National Parks Act (Ojibway National Urban Park of Canada), and I want to begin by thanking my colleague Senator Peter Boehm for sponsoring this bill and my colleague Senator Karen Sorensen for her clear and incisive speech outlining some of the things that make this particular bill, as drafted, somewhat challenging.

I’m speaking today not just as an Alberta senator but as a citizen of the beautiful river city of Edmonton.

Edmonton is home to the largest urban park in Canada. The North Saskatchewan River Valley park system runs through one end of Edmonton to another, west to east. It is a remarkable legacy and tribute to Edmonton city planners who began, more than a century ago, to assemble and preserve a wild and magical green belt on either side of the river bank.

In 1907, Edmonton hired Canada’s very first landscape architect, Frederick Todd, to write a report on the city’s park planning. Todd had actually worked with Frederick Law Olmsted, the creator of New York’s Central Park and Montreal’s Mount Royal Park.

“Every advantage should be taken of the great natural beauty of . . . the river valley and ravines,” Todd wrote. He envisioned what he called a “necklace of parks” up and down the valley, reserving land at the top of the bank so people could enjoy the views. And so, between 1907 and 1931, the city made over a hundred land acquisitions to preserve the valley.

Today, the park system includes more than 7,300 hectares — that’s 18,000 acres. It is made up of more than 30 provincial and municipal parks that stretch from the town of Devon west of Edmonton to Fort Saskatchewan to the east, and the latest jewel in the necklace is the Northeast River Valley Park, a new 77‑hectare park which opened just this summer.

The parks are connected by more than 160 kilometres of walking, cycling and hiking trails, and linked north to south by a series of dramatic and beautiful pedestrian bridges and one sweetly absurd, slightly dysfunctional funicular.

The river valley parks are where Edmontonians go to walk their dogs, to paddle their canoes, to clear their heads, to hold their festivals. The river valley park system is where you’ll find our Edmonton Valley Zoo, our Fort Edmonton Park living history museum, our Muttart Conservatory botanical gardens.

Edmonton’s river valley park system is a credit to truly visionary urban planning. It preserves and protects a stunning wilderness in the heart of the city, a ribbon of green that serves every day to remind us that our city was built on First Nations land, because this river valley was a traditional gathering place for the Cree, the Blackfoot, the Salteaux, the Nakoda Sioux and the Métis down through centuries and long before the first European explorers and fur traders and settlers ever arrived.

Just this year, the city opened kihcihkaw askî-Sacred Land, a sacred space in southwest Edmonton where Indigenous groups can host spiritual ceremonies, sweats and talking circles and grow traditional medicinal herbs.

Why am I telling you all this, given that I’m not actually on salary for Edmonton’s tourism office? Well, given how remarkable our linear park is, it’s no surprise that many in Edmonton and in Edmonton City Hall are keenly interested in exploring the idea of turning our North Saskatchewan River Valley into an urban national park, one we can share with all Canadians.

Though the idea is not without its detractors, we’re sort of “tire kicking” at the moment, trying to figure out how things might work. Alberta is already home to many “conventional” national parks — Banff, Jasper, Waterton Lakes, Elk Island and Wood Buffalo. We are familiar with the protections that such parks enjoy, and we know that such a model probably wouldn’t work for an urban national park, one that runs right through the heart of a city of a million people. In order for truly urban national parks to work, we need to find a model that meets the needs of the cities where those parks exist.

I completely support the aspirations of the City of Windsor to have an urban national park, but if we are going to make such a project work for Windsor — and if we want it to serve as a model or template for other urban parks going forward — we have to get this bill right. We have to make sure that the bill is actually fit for purpose and will do what it means to do.

Senator Sorensen has already explained her misgivings with the bill. She tells us that not only does this bill amend the wrong piece of legislation, it lays out coordinates that are inaccurate and do not reflect the actual plans for Ojibway national urban park.

The thing is, given the way the bill is written, it’s difficult to know how to proceed. Allow me the liberty, if you will, of reading the opening page and first few lines of the bill. It starts simply, and then gets a little more baroque:

Part 5 of Schedule 1 to the Canada National Parks Act is amended by adding the following after the description of Georgian Bay Islands National Park of Canada:

(4) Ojibway National Urban Park of Canada

In the Province of Ontario, all those parcels of land more particularly described as follows:

(a) Commencing at a point intersecting the western boundary of Ward 1 of the City of Windsor at latitude 42º16’33.440” north and longitude 83º05’56.684” west;

Thence southeasterly in a straight line to a point at latitude 42º16’32.689” north and longitude 83º05’53.736” west;

And so on. That’s it. The text of the bill is a list of coordinates.

Are there, as Senator Sorensen suggests, mistakes in what is included and what is not? Could we competently make amendments if some of these detailed coordinates are even slightly off?

It is somewhat peculiar. If you read Schedule 1 of the Canada National Parks Act, you’ll see no other park described in quite this way. The other park descriptions include such things as landmarks and street names. They describe the boundaries of the park using coordinates from time to time, but also describing — sometimes quite lyrically — the land the park contains.

The enabling legislation which created the first urban national park, Rouge Urban National Park in the Greater Toronto Area, is also quite different. It specifically lays out everything from explaining what activities are and aren’t allowed in the park, who is responsible for picking up the garbage and putting out fires and how traditional Indigenous rights to hunt and harvest will be respected. It is detailed legislation, quite different from the text of Bill C-248.

Again, I want to stress that I am a proponent of national parks and proud that Alberta is home to so many of them. I am enthusiastic about of the idea of urban national parks, and I think the North Saskatchewan River Valley could well be an ideal location to create one. And while I’ve never been to Windsor, the research I’ve done suggests the Ojibway Prairie Complex will be another outstanding site.

As Senator Boehm explained to us last June, the proposed park would contain about 364 hectares of land that is already publicly owned, including Ojibway Park, Spring Garden Natural Area, Black Oak Heritage Park, Tallgrass Prairie Heritage Park, Ojibway Prairie Provincial Nature Reserve and Ojibway Shores.

That last parcel, Ojibway Shores, is a 13-hectare green space which represents the only remaining undeveloped natural shoreline in the entire Windsor-Detroit area. That small parcel alone is home, as Senator Boehm told us, to 130 endangered species.

Yet, I worry that this act might accidentally undercut the autonomy of the City of Windsor, the Town of LaSalle and their citizens. Parks Canada and the City of Windsor have already signed a statement of collaboration announcing their intent to work together on the potential designation of the park, and this bill might supersede that.

Then there is a new issue, one I only learned about this morning when I spoke with Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens. First, Mayor Dilkens told me how essential the drafting of this bill had been to getting the whole discussion off the ground. He was full of praise for MP Brian Masse, its sponsor. Brian Masse’s bill was invaluable at the beginning of the process, he told me, and without the impetus of the bill, as he explained to me, the port authority might not have turned over the riverfront land that it controlled to Parks Canada.

Brian Masse’s bill had the most impact it could just by tabling it, Mayor Dilkens told me. But now, the mayor said, the coordinates of the bill are no longer correct, and there is a happy reason for that. The Town of LaSalle, a bedroom community south of Windsor, now wants to include some of its lands within the park boundaries, and the bill, as drafted, does not include those municipal lands. We need to be absolutely certain that we are not inadvertently creating a situation where municipal leaders might find themselves cut out of the conversation.

Mayor Dilkens raised another concern to me. Right now, there is no charge to access any of those lands for the residents of Windsor. He remains concerned that if we make this land a national park, there may be a fee required to enter the lands, and that he opposes.

In June, Senator Boehm informed the chamber that Parks Canada was working with the Caldwell First Nation and the Walpole Island First Nation on co-management agreements in which both those nations were interested. When I spoke to Brian Masse last week, he told me that the Caldwell First Nation has endorsed Bill C-248, but the Walpole Island First Nation has not, at least not as yet.

This makes it more essential that we do not rush to approve a bill that might, however unintentionally, short circuit some part of those sensitive negotiations and frustrate the rights of all the First Nations involved to free, prior and informed consent.

Finally, as Senator Sorensen explained, Bill C-248 doesn’t explain who would pay for what. This puzzles me a tad. A private member’s bill, as I understand it, can’t effectively commit the federal government to spend money, at least not directly. Yet, this bill was approved in the other place, with a decision made there that it didn’t violate the protocols for a private member’s bill. Still, given how much it costs to manage and maintain a national park, I think that’s something we need to consider, too. What will this act end up costing the public purse not just in the short-term but in perpetuity?

I understand the natural frustration that the people of Windsor and the surrounding First Nations feel with the seemingly glacial pace at which plans for this long-awaited park are moving. It certainly seems that the bill has indeed worked its magic as a bit of a goad to get things going, but I hope that once this bill heads off to committee, senators will dig into the issues together to ensure that we don’t end up with unintended consequences that could prejudice urban national parks themselves.

Thank you, hiy hiy.

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