Gatineau Park won’t benefit from bill: critic
Group co-chair says MP wrong about effect of legislation
Federal legislation that would for the first time legally recognize the boundaries of the Gatineau Park is a step closer to reality, although at least one activist believes the bill does not go far enough to protect the park.
Bill C-20, officially an “act to amend the National Capital Act and other Acts” (or, more colloquially, “An Action Plan for the National Capital Commission”) was approved at committee this past week. It’s expected to clear the House of Commons before the Christmas break.
Among other things, the bill defines Gatineau Park’s boundaries and stipulates that land can be sold — or added to — only by an order of the Governor in Council (which is basically the federal cabinet), instead of by the NCC.
Ottawa-Centre MP Paul Dewar says in a statement that he “ won” even further protection of the Gatineau Park by proposing an amendment that “future changes to the park’s boundaries cannot happen without the knowledge and oversight of Parliament.”
What this amounts to is a requirement for any orders in council that propose changing the park borders to be presented to Parliament for 30 days when the House of Commons is sitting, or 160 days if it isn’t.
According to Dewar, this would ensure that parliamentarians — and by extension, the public — would have time to review the changes.
But Jean-Paul Murray said that Dewar is merely “playing with words. To say that Parliament has oversight? It absolutely does not. It’s just a procedural thing.”
The co-chair of the Gatineau Park Protection Committee said that even if parliamentarians have problems with boundary amendments being proposed by an order in council, they will have no authority to change it.
“This bill is not a net benefit for Gatineau Park or Canadians,” said Murray. “I’m hoping the Senate will amend it and send it back to the House.”
Bill C-20 also calls for the Greenbelt to be protected by legislation. The NCC has up to five years to define what the official boundaries of the Greenbelt are.
The question of protecting Gatineau Park in legislation has had something of a tortured history for several years. In 2005, then-NDP MP Ed Broadbent introduced a private member’s bill on the issue. Dewar reintroduced it in 2006.
In 2009, the Conservative government introduced its own bill regarding the NCC and Gatineau Park, but that bill died when Parliament was prorogued at the end of December for two months. Then in April, Ottawa West-- Nepean MP John Baird — then the minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Communities and responsible for the NCC — reintroduced the bill yet again,
In his statement, Dewar takes credit for “ improvements” to the bill.
The changes to the bill include mandatory public consultation during the deliberations of the NCC’s 50-year master plan, which is revisited once every decade, as well as directing the NCC to buy any private property that comes up for sale for fair market value. (Owners would not be obliged to sell to the NCC.)
Dewar also fought for the NCC to be mandated to “manage its real property in accordance with the principles of responsible environmental stewardship” and “give due regard to the maintenance of the ecological integrity” of Gatineau Park.
Even Murray agreed the latter point was a plus.
But he is also the most vocal among critics who were looking for the park to be designated a national park, “ which is the gold standard for the protection of natural areas,” said Murray. Indeed, previous bills by Broadbent and Dewar called for Gatineau Park to be designated a national park, or at least have similar legal protections as national parks, where boundaries can be changed only by an act of Parliament.
The government has said it decided not to go the national park route because there are about 300 private properties grandfathered in Gatineau Park and negotiating a change in status with that many landowners would be too complicated and time-consuming.
Anyway, proponents argue, Bill C-20 gives almost as much protection as national park status would.
Not surprisingly, Murray disagrees.
“ The NCC is unaccountable and unelected and gets to make decisions on an very important land mass held for national capital purposes,” he said.
“This bill is not a net benefit for Gatineau Park or Canadians. I’m hoping the Senate will amend it and send it back to the House.”
Above, Jean-Paul Murray, a member of the Gatineau Park Protection Committee, says that Paul Dewar, right, and the NDP have reneged on their promise to amend Bill C-20 to protect Gatineau Park.