Gatineau Park won’t ben­e­fit from bill: critic

Group co-chair says MP wrong about ef­fect of leg­is­la­tion

Ottawa Citizen - - CITY - BY JOANNE CHIANELLO

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.”

JULIE OLIVER, THE OT­TAWA CIT­I­ZEN

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.

JOHN MA­JOR, THE OT­TAWA CIT­I­ZEN

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