Speech of the Minister of Canadian Heritage, Sheila Copps, on the occasion of the release of the Report of the Panel on the Ecological Integrity of Canada's National Parks

First, I would like to introduce to you a very special guest who has been working all his life for the protection of the environment: Mr. Gavin Henderson, who was the founder of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society.

I understand that there are some students here from Colonel By. Could they stand up please, and say hello?

This is not just for Gavin, and not just for the students of Colonel By, but this is for their grandchildren. And that's pretty awesome, when you think about it. You know, in politics, most of what we do is going for the next six months or maybe the next two years or possibly until the next election; there aren't a lot of things that you can do that are for life and for beyond life.

And I think that it is very important that in the Year 2000, we are here to take positive actions for Year 3000. And it is Henry Lickers who is the only one present here, with his knowledge of Canada's history, to really recognize this. But I think that what we're doing today is about that.

At the start of this Government's mandate, I set three goals for helping to build Canada: first, Canadian content; second, cultural diversity; and third, the future of Canada's national parks. We have accomplished a great deal on the first two. And today we are in a position to move full speed ahead on the third.

This is a first-rate report on the management of Canada's national parks. This report serves the national interest, this report serves the future, and this report will not be gathering dust. The Prime Minister cares deeply about Canada's national parks, and just this past weekend he stated publicly that he wants me to be tough in protecting them.

I would like to thank Jacques Gérin, Pamela Wright, Stephen Woodley, Paul Wilkinson, Juri Peepre, Thomas Nudds, Henry Lickers, Michael Hough, Louise Hermanutz, Stephanie Cairns and Louis Bélanger for their fine work. This report is a blueprint for the future of Parks Canada.

The Panel gives us one generation to turn around Canada's national parks. But we can't wait that long. We must make ecological integrity the centrepiece of every decision we make for the future of Canada's national parks. We must create and strengthen partnerships with Aboriginal peoples, with outlying communities, with provincial and municipal partners, and with Canadians at large. We will renew Parks Canada.

Let me discuss what we've done, what we will do immediately, and what we intend to forecast for the long-term. In order that we not miss any important deadlines, I asked Monsieur Gérin for advice throughout the past 15 months, and have followed that advice. Last fall's Speech from the Throne committed to the establishment of new national parks. Last month's Budget modified the Income Tax Act to encourage the gift of ecologically sensitive lands

The Canada National Parks Act, which I introduced on March 1, makes ecological integrity the first priority of the legislation. The new legislation would formally establish eight new national parks and reserves and as the Panel recommended to me, streamline the process for establishment of national parks and set legislated caps on development.

This is what we will do immediately. I'm directing Parks Canada to set aside wilderness areas in Yoho, Kootenay, Jasper and Banff National Parks by June 30th of this year. We will develop a national science strategy, and formal connections with universities and other science-based agencies. We will develop a charter for the agency. We will establish an Executive Director of Ecological Integrity. We will develop and implement a national staff training and orientation program on ecological integrity. We will advance park values more actively. And I will seek to put aside political differences in order to help our national parks.

In that regard, I want to say that I briefed Premier Ralph Klein that this report was coming, and I briefed him on my basic approach to it. I believe that Premier Klein shares my passion for Canada's national parks. And I also want to thank Ontario's Premier Mike Harris for incorporating extensive study of Canada's national parks into Ontario's grade nine curriculum, and I invite other provinces to use that as an example.

Future Canadians deserve the opportunity to experience a natural place. Canada's national parks contain more than 70 percent of our nation's fresh water vascular plant species, and over 80 percent of our vertebrate animal species. And yet, as the Panel points out, our parks also contain more than 100 abandoned gravel pits, and thousands of animals are killed every year through our actions.

The Panel pays respect to the historic commercial uses of the park, and I concur. There will, however, from this day forward, be no new ski hills, no new golf courses. Only recreational activities which are inherently related to the nature of national parks will be allowed.

Ecological integrity will be the priority.We will begin to allow natural processes to occur naturally in parks, unless human beings or infrastructures are put at risk, or if they have inappropriate consequences on other resources. And this will be done shortly. We will work to implement the principle of human use without abuse. Combined with ecological integrity, that is the lens through which we will examine the report on Outlying Commercial Accommodations, which will be released shortly.

I am directing the Chief Executive Officer of Parks Canada to develop a clear interpretation strategy for communicating with people in urban centres and with young Canadians.

We are joined today by students from Colonel By high school who have undertaken to reintroduce native plant species to the school, and to provide a paper recycling service for all school classes and office areas, and lead battery recycling. What we are speaking about today is about them and their future.

I'm further asking Parks Canada to find ways of implementing all of the Panel's recommendations, if humanly and legally possible. I have faith in the employees of Parks Canada who, as the Panel pointed out, want to do the very best they can. Please understand what I'm saying. I'm not just saying we will analyze the recommendations, I'm saying we will implement them in dialogue with partners.

By the end of this year I will hold a national advisory roundtable on our parks, and I will ask the Chief Executive Officer of Parks Canada to report at that time to the roundtable on all the progress made on the Panel's recommendations. For my part, I have begun consultations with my Cabinet colleagues on the steps that may be required, by way of future Cabinet decisions, to bring the Panel's report fully to life.

As the Haida say, "We do not inherit this land from our ancestors. We borrow it from our children." Canadians love our national parks. They are a vital part of the soul of our nation. As somebody said to the Panel: they are the green spaces of our mind.

We will revitalize Canada's national parks. That is our responsibility to future generations, and we will fulfil that responsibility. And I believe that the work that has been done by the Panel gives us the blueprint we need to begin today in returning our parks to the level of ecological integrity that we inherited from our ancestors. Thank you.