3.3 National Parks

Algonquin Park - photo by James Schwartz via Flickr

Every Prime Minister of Canada for the last twenty years has committed to the completion of the national parks system and the creation of Marine Protected Areas sufficient to protect marine ecosystems − except the current Prime Minister. Key ecological areas are under assault. Unless government acts soon, areas like the South Okanagan (Canada’s only area of true desert) in British Columbia, the wilderness in Labrador, or the Flathead region in southeast British Columbia, will no longer be available for protection. They will be lost due to development pressures.

The UNESCO World Heritage Committee has warned Canada that we are allowing dangerous erosion of existing parks that are designated as World Heritage Sites, particularly Banff, Jasper, Kootenay, and Yoho National Parks, as well as several provincial reserves. The UNESCO Committee pointed to the risk of “adverse impacts of the operation of the Cheviot mine on the integrity” of Jasper, in particular.

UNESCO also warned that Canada was not doing enough to ensure that “various mining, mineral, oil and gas explorations activities” around Nahanni National Park, located in the southwest corner of the Northwest Territories, not be allowed to erode the ecological integrity of the park. Only 10% of Canada’s landscape has been protected.

Yet, the Harper administration will boast of its record on national parks. The following is from the Conservative Party website:

Since 2006, the Government has taken significant action to protect our natural areas, including taking steps to add more than 160,000 square kilometres to the Canadian federal parks and marine conservation system – a more than 58-per-cent increase… (Accessed December, 2015).

It is true that new parks, especially in the far north, have added huge tracts of lands to the parks. But like a Trojan horse, within this gift is the destruction of the standards of ecological integrity that are necessary to maintain national parks – our highest order of conservation and protection.

The most serious blow to the integrity of our national park system was the 2013 Sable Island National Park Act. This iconic Nova Scotia island is famous for its dunes and wild ponies. The Green Party was the only party to oppose the legislation that allowed for seismic testing inside the park and directional oil and gas drilling under it. The legislation for Sable Island National Park places the Canada-Nova Scotia Off-Shore Petroleum Board (CNSOPB) as the key regulator. The CNSOPB only has to inform Parks Canada about oil and gas activities inside the park – not even consult in advance.

Similarly, the legislation to create Canada’s first ‘urban park’ in the Rouge Valley eroded the concept of ecological integrity. Conservationists who worked over decades to protect this area within the boundaries of Metro Toronto were horrified that the federal parks plan is weaker than what was in place before – and covers less area than previous plans for Rouge Park status. Green Party amendments to ensure the legislation protected the concept of ‘ecological integrity’ were defeated by Conservatives in committee.

At the same time, the boundaries on a new national park adjacent to Nahanni, the Nááts’ihch’oh National Park Reserve, were approved leaving out key and critical areas. The new park is 4 895 square kilometres, but omits key habitat for woodland caribou, grizzlies, Dall’s sheep, and mountain goats. The areas excluded from the park plan are those with mineral potential. According to Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society: “…this park boundary does not reflect the extensive scientific evidence of what’s needed to protect the Nahanni watershed, nor does it take into account the overwhelming public support for protecting the entire Nahanni headwaters expressed during the public consultation on the proposed park.”

The attack by stealth on our national parks system is also occurring through moves to privatize activities inside existing parks. With the 10% budget cuts to Parks Canada in 2012, pressure has built to generate cash flow. The slippery slope started with the ice walkway within Jasper. This iconic national park, recognized with IUCN World Heritage status, now has a privately run, for-profit, structure. Brewster Travel Canada, a U.S.-based company, was allowed – over huge protest – to build a 400-metre skywalk and glass-floored observation deck suspended from a cliff face over the Columbia Icefields.

Parks Canada claimed such developments would not set any new precedents, but now the Conservatives are supporting a bid from a private sector hotel to open new accommodations inside Jasper. The proposal for an actual hotel was rejected in summer 2014. Parks Canada approved ‘tent cabin’ style private sector accommodations inside the park on the shores of Maligne Lake. The development will threaten key sensitive habitat for the highly endangered Maligne woodland caribou herd.

Meanwhile hot springs in the Rocky Mountain Parks are also slated for privatization. Miette Hot Springs in Jasper National Park, Banff Upper Hot Springs in Banff National Park, and Radium Hot Springs in Kootenay National Park have already been approved to be run by private operators.

In Cape Breton Island National Park, Parks Canada is accepting bids to privatize its famous golf course at the Keltic Lodge in Ingonish. But, in what must be the most bizarre of any plan to erode national park values, opposition is building to a private sector monumental sculpture.

The privatization of a chunk of Cape Breton Highlands National Park was approved in secret by the Harper cabinet with no public consultation. One hectare of the most spectacular part of the Cabot Trail drive through Cape Breton Highlands National Park has been given – at apparently no cost – to Toronto businessman Tony Trigiani. On this hectare, Trigiani will place an enormous statue and parking for about 300 vehicles. The statue, Mother Canada, a Virgin Mary-like icon, is intended to commemorate the war dead of Vimy Ridge. A statue at Vimy called Mother Canada shows a grief-stricken mother. The proposed Cape Breton statue, six-times bigger than the French inspiration, is proposed to stand 24 metres (79 feet). Not bent over in grief, this giantess will be standing arms outstretched in a fully erect stance. She will be poised at one of the most scenic spots on the Cabot Trail. Such a project has absolutely no place inside a national park. The proposal has divided the community. It already has support from the Harper cabinet, but no other options to boost tourism in the area were ever presented.

The progress on Marine Protected Areas is even worse. While Canada has protected 1% of its marine areas, Australia has protected 7.5%.

Yet, Canadians do care. Polls reveal that 90% of Canadians consider time spent in natural areas as children very important; 85% participate regularly in nature-related activities; 98% view nature as essential to human survival.

We are committed to reversing the dangerous recent moves of the Harper administration undermining fundamental principles of ecological integrity in our national parks and devaluing park protection, with firm and unwavering action to protect existing parks and expand our terrestrial and marine park systems. We must rapidly establish ‘no-take’ marine parks as a last chance to save our vast tracts of critically-threatened and over-fished coastlines.

Green Party MPs will:

  • Restore funding to Parks Canada to ensure science can be conducted in our national parks;
  • Amend the Sable Island National Park Act to remove the authorities of the Canada-Nova Scotia Off-shore Petroleum Board and re-affirm that industrial activities have no place in our national parks;
  • Enforce previous policies that precluded private sector and privatized for-profit activities within national parks;
  • Re-commit to the completion of the national parks system that consists of a representative network of Canada’s terrestrial and marine ecosystems, setting a target date of 2030 with emphasis on:
    • Fast-tracking the establishment of ‘no-take’ marine protected areas: consultation with fisheries communities and sectors is essential, drawing on experience from New Zealand and elsewhere where ‘no-take’ areas have actually improved the economically viable fisheries;
    • Extending, in partnership with provinces, territories, and Aboriginal peoples, Canada’s network of land, freshwater, and marine protected areas and linking them up with provincial and territorial protected areas wherever possible, and establishing compatible-use buffer zones around national parks for the maintenance of natural biological diversity and ecosystem health;
    • Providing Parks Canada with the funding necessary to protect the ecological integrity of Canada’s national parks.
  • And to achieve our international biodiversity commitments:
    • Ensure federal funding to meet our Aichi targets – protecting 17% of our land and inland waters and 10% of our coastal areas by 2020;
    • Establish a National Parks Completion Budget of $500 million annually to meet the goal of completing our National Parks and Marine Protected Areas Systems by 2030;
    • Implement the recommendations of conservation scientists for effective action to preserve:
      1. Critically threatened habitats;
      2. Keystone species, endangered species, and species of commercial or cultural value, especially those of value to First Nations communities;
      3. Habitats specifically threatened by climate change;
      4. Continuous interconnected tracts of habitat for wide-range migrating species sufficient to maintain viable populations.
  • Advocate the purchase of private land, where necessary, to help protect critical habitats, especially of endangered species;
  • Increase monitoring and protection efforts, including an increase in the number of park rangers and guides with interpretation skills to educate Canadians and visitors on the vast beauty and value of our national parks;
  • Work with provincial and territorial governments to end all trophy hunting in Canada while supporting subsistence hunting by Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians of wild animals that are not threatened or endangered.