Statement made on 17 June 2009 by Senator Grant Mitchell
Hon. Grant Mitchell:
Honourable senators, I would like to support this bill in principle at second reading. This is, in many ways, a remarkable achievement. It is the product of literally years and years of negotiations and consultations based upon the dreams of peoples who inhabit this area in the North.
The consultation process is worthy of note and emphasis. It certainly included the Aboriginal First Nations people in the North, most notably the Dehcho First Nations and other groups as well. It involved, clearly and obviously, the diligent work of Parks Canada throughout this long period of negotiation. The process also included the Sahtu, Dene and Metis settlement area peoples. It was based as well upon extensive public consultations which were, in their first round, centered on local communities. The second round was much more national in scope.
The fundamental premise of the relationship of this kind of policy initiative to the needs, desires and dreams of people most directly affected has been, I believe, fulfilled very adequately with great care and caution.
The upshot of the policy decision is to create, as my colleague Senator Di Nino has indicated, what can properly be described as a huge national park area. It will be, in its depth and breadth, ranked alongside internationally renowned national parks such as Banff, Yellowstone and the Serengeti. It will preserve the features of this remarkably beautiful area — specifically its ecosystem and the many important species of animals that inhabit that area — for the people who are indigenous to that area. It also has huge appeal and importance for the many Canadians who use this kind of area for recreational pleasure. It also has huge implications for international communities who value this kind of area for their recreational and tourist pleasure.
This newly expanded park will provide protection for the habitat and ranges of about 500 grizzly bears, more grizzly bears than in Banff National Park and Jasper National Park combined.
It will also protect the habitat of two herds of the northern mountain woodland caribou, including migration routes and calving, rutting and wintering grounds. It will protect the habitat for alpine species, including Dall sheep and mountain goats. It will include important trumpeter swan nesting areas and it has entire bull trout stream systems. As an Albertan, I have to underline how important the bull trout is because it is Alberta's official provincial fish. We have shared it with the North.
It is also important to note that in addition to the areas of habitat and range of animals that it will include, this new boundary of the Nahanni National Park Reserve will include some of the highest mountain ranges and some of the largest ice falls in the Northwest Territories. It will protect many of the tributaries to the South Nahanni River; and, importantly, it encompasses the entire watersheds of the Caribou River, Clearwater Creek, Cathedral Creek, Rapid Kettle River, Meilleur River, Irving Creek, Ram River and many more.
The enlarged park will also protect the internationally significant Nahanni North Karst Area, featuring spectacular canyons, caves, underground rivers, sinkholes, isolated rock towers and many other landforms created by the erosion and dissolution of limestone in that area.
I could go on but I know time is pressing. Not to repeat the comments of my colleague, Senator Di Nino, I would simply like to underline that this is a remarkable area of the world and of Canada. It is a gift from Canada, in some sense, to the world.
I want to place the caveat that we will be discussing matters in more detail with the minister tomorrow, but pending the outcome of those discussions, this park is a remarkable gift to Canadians. In size, it is now six times larger than it originally was. It meets a great deal of input and desire on the part of many people to have this park and this area of the country preserved.
I had an interesting conversation today with a long-standing associate of mine, Harvey Locke, who is very active in the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Association. He has spent the last seven years of his life doing almost nothing else but working on this park to bring this proposal to fruition today.
I spoke to him earlier today and he was very deeply moved about the decision that was made in the other place and that potentially we will make here in this house. He was very moved at a deep level and not just because it is the culmination of years of work. — I could sense in his voice and from what I know about him that his reaction reflects the deep relationship Canadians have with wildlife, with ecosystems, with the outdoors of our country.
I think there are times when we all too easily take that for granted. We forget how important our wildlife and surroundings are to us — the magnitude of the beauty, the depth of the beauty, the remarkable and wonderful nature that Canadians enjoy. This park is a very important step in capturing that nature and in preserving one of the most important and significantly beautiful areas of this country for Canadians. It is the meeting place of that deep fundamental characteristic of what we are as Canadians.