June 22, 2015

Canada National Parks Act

Bill to Amend—Second Reading

Hon. Dennis Glen Patterson moved second reading of Bill C-72, An Act to amend the Canada National Parks Act.

He said: Honourable senators, I rise to speak in favour of Bill C-72, the Qausuittuq National Park of Canada Act, and to voice my support for the creation of Canada’s forty-fifth national park on Bathurst Island in my home territory of Nunavut.

This newest addition to our world-class national park system is located in Canada’s western High Arctic. At just over 11,000 square kilometres, it is our country’s eleventh largest national park, slightly larger than Alberta’s Jasper National Park.

The park includes the northwestern part of Bathurst Island, several of the Governor General Islands and several smaller islands west and north of Bathurst Island. To the south is Polar Bear Pass National Wildlife Area, and to the north is Seymour Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary. The Inuit community of Resolute Bay lies about 200 kilometres to the southeast.

This new national park is result of a collaborative relationship between Parks Canada and Inuit. The name of the park was chosen through a community contest held in Resolute Bay. Qausuittuq means “place where the sun doesn’t rise” in Inuktitut and, in this region, the sun stays below the horizon for several months in the winter at this latitude.

The park contains a landscape of rolling hills and plateaus, with elevations of up to 400 metres. There are striking bluffs overlooking the sea, as well as small lakes, wetlands and lowlands. Surrounded by the sea, the park includes two large marine inlets, underlain by sedentary rock, the surface showing the evidence of glaciation, with eskers, moraines and raised beaches.

At 76 degrees north latitude, Qausuittuq National Park is found in one of the oldest and driest regions in the world. Some call it a polar desert. Annual precipitation is less than 130 millimetres. The park is a series of Arctic islands, surrounded by a frozen sea for much of the year, sitting on the edge of human occupation.

Despite these desert-like conditions, there is vegetation, such as purple saxifrage, which is Nunavut’s territorial flower; dwarf willow; sedges; grasses; lichens; and mosses. All this provides precious food sources for wildlife and the park area supports a surprising richness of wildlife species, including polar bears, Arctic wolves, Arctic foxes, muskoxen and caribou. There are numerous types of birds, such as snowy owls, snow geese, king eiders, jaegers, red knots and other gulls and shore birds. Qausuittuq’s marine waters have ringed seals, bearded seals, walruses, bowhead whales, beluga whales and narwhals.

In short, honourable senators, for several months of the year, Qausuittuq comes alive with vegetation and wildlife. It is this oasis in the midst of a polar desert that merits its protection under the Canada National Parks Act. The land, its vegetation and wildlife have sustained the residents of the tiny community of Resolute Bay since their relocation from northern Quebec in the 1950s. They view the national park as a key means to protect the endangered Peary caribou of the area — caribou which were important to the community’s early survival.

Allow me to quote a community elder who told the following to Parks Canada in 2010:

It was early September 1953 when we were deposited at what is now the community of Resolute. It was cold and dark compared to our home in Hudson Bay. We had no idea how we would survive. We did not know what animals were there. Somehow we made it through our first winter living on seal and polar bear. We desperately missed caribou meat. In March of the second winter, 5 or 6 hunters managed to get the equipment to travel to Bathurst Island. Our escort family from Pond Inlet told us there might be caribou and how to get there. The hunters came back in about a week carrying 8 caribou! I was a child then, but remember how great it tasted and how excited the adults were. Ever since we called it “the place where you hunt caribou.” Those caribou saved our lives in more ways than one. Now it is our turn to protect them.

Honourable senators, in passing Bill C-72, we will help the elders and the residents of Resolute Bay protect the Peary caribou. Qausuittuq will protect travel routes, calving grounds and wintering grounds for Peary caribou, a population that was listed as endangered under Canada’s Species at Risk Act in 2011.

Bathurst Island is also considered a very significant area for muskoxen in the Queen Elizabeth Islands. Archaeological studies have found evidence of human use on Bathurst Island, dating back 4,500 years. Pre-Dorset, Dorset and Thule cultures were present in the area. Within Qausuittuq national park, there are several archeological sites relating to the late Dorset culture, circa 500 to 1,200 A.D. While Bathurst Island was inhabited from time to time over the past millennia, the area of the park was the least inhabited part of the island.

The incredible discovery in 2014 related to Sir John Franklin’s ships, including the identification of the HMS Erebus and the recovery of the ship’s bell, was a significant scientific and historical accomplishment. The Parks Canada-led discovery of the HMS Erebus has captivated Canadians and the entire world, while serving to highlight Canada’s Arctic sovereignty and our respect for Aboriginal people’s traditional knowledge.

Qausuittuq has a connection to the ill-fated Franklin. There is a cairn in Qausuittuq built by one of the search parties for Sir John Franklin’s ships, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, and their crews that disappeared in 1845. I’ve had the privilege of being there. It is almost 1,000 kilometres from where the wreck of the HMS Erebus was found last year.

While this wild, High Arctic national park is located in a remote corner of the world, I can assure that it is quite accessible from the community of Resolute. Local Inuit can provide guiding and outfitting services for the adventurous explorer, arranging access by chartered aircraft, boat, snowmobile or dog team.

It’s a place that one should experience to feel the High Arctic sun and wind, and to witness the 360 degree horizons and the animals that are able to make their lives there. This time of the year, it is blessed with 24-hour daylight.

To visit Canada’s newest national park is to escape from the ordinary — to experience an unworldly land and a powerful sense of timeless isolation. Spring and summer are the two seasons during which visitors will be particularly attracted to Qausuittuq national park. Visitors will have a variety of opportunities to experience the park, including camping and travelling the traditional Inuit way, supported by Inuit guides.

In spring, snow and sea ice allow for access by snowmobile or dog team from Resolute. In summer, a short flight from Resolute will bring visitors to the park, where they can hike across the tundra and camp under the midnight sun. Cruise ship passengers will also be welcome to visit the park.

Honourable senators, the development of this park will be a partnership between Parks Canada and the Inuit of Resolute. The nature of this partnership has been negotiated and defined within an Inuit impact and benefit agreement signed by the Minister of the Environment, the minister responsible for Parks Canada and the president of the Qikiqtani Inuit Association in January of this year.

Qausuittuq national park will have a cooperative management committee and Parks Canada will work with Inuit in Resolute and in the Qikiqtani region of Nunavut to ensure this new national park will bring social and economic benefits to Inuit, while providing park visitors with enjoyable and enriching experiences that include learning about Inuit culture.

The creation of the Qausuittuq national park is yet another significant accomplishment of our government in protecting our natural heritage for future generations. Since 2006, our government has expanded the network of protected areas through a six-fold increase of Nahanni National Park Reserve and the creation of Sable Island National Park Reserve; Nááts’ihch’oh National Park Reserve; Gwaii Haanas National Marine Conservation Area Reserve and Haida Heritage Site; and the proposed Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area.

In closing, I urge honourable senators to support the passage of Bill C-72. Qujannamiik.

(1450)

Hon. George Baker: Would the honourable senator take a question?

Senator Patterson: Of course.

Senator Baker: This bill was passed by the House of Commons. I congratulate the member for giving a complete account of what is in the bill because, as the senator knows, it passed the House of Commons, deemed to have been read the second time, deemed to have been sent to the committee, deemed to have been reported from the committee with no amendments and deemed to have been read a third time. We need to have something on the record about what the law is that we’re passing.

I notice that the bill says “(5)” and it’s an addition to Schedule 1 of the Canada National Parks Act being amended. Schedule 1 lists all the provinces and territories in Canada and the number of national parks. This, I presume, would be the number 5 national park in Nunavut. I’m pretty sure of that because I recall when number 4 was added, so this would be number 5.

Sometimes in those large areas covered by national parks there is a conflict with the local communities in that they are restricted in various ways by the establishment of a national park. Could the senator assure the Senate that there is no dispute that he is aware of with the local population in the designation of this very fine area that he has described as a national park, that this is being done in harmony with those who live within the boundaries of the national park, and they are happy with the possible restrictions that are placed upon them regarding hunting and so forth?

Senator Patterson: I thank the honourable senator for the question. I’m pleased to tell him that, indeed, this national park was created within the terms of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement, which provides for the creation of national parks but also includes a provision that requires the successful conclusion of Inuit Impact and Benefit Agreements.

The Inuit of the Baffin region and the Qikiqtani Inuit Association were fully involved in the negotiation and successful conclusion of an Inuit Impact and Benefit Agreement. I think I can fairly say there was no opposition to the creation of this park. It was negotiated in full partnership with the Inuit of the Baffin region, the Qikiqtani region and especially the adjacent area of Resolute Bay.

Hon. Joan Fraser (Deputy Leader of the Opposition): I would like to thank Senator Patterson for the informative speech on this bill. He has had the very great privilege of visiting this territory. I have not. Face it, most of us have not and never will, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t support preserving it. On the contrary, we all know how fragile the Arctic is and how much it is in need of preservation.

I venture to guess that tourism is not yet massive industry at Qausuittuq, but with climate change it’s likely to increase. The need to ensure that it is properly done is even greater in the High Arctic than in the rest of the country because of the enormous fragility of the terrain.

This is a huge territory. The bill says it is approximately 11,008 square kilometres. That’s a lot of land and it’s very harsh land. Senator Patterson talked about the Arctic desert. Temperatures average -32 degrees in January and only 5 degrees in July. The miracle is that in this harsh terrain, people have lived for coming on 5,000 years, have made their mark and have survived.

I would love one day to visit the cairn Senator Patterson referred to that was erected by people searching for Sir John Franklin and his crew. I suspect I won’t, but I’m glad to know it’s there and it’s protected.

I think it’s important for all of us to support the creation of national parks like this, but I also think it’s important for the Environment Committee to have a chance to look at this bill and find out if there is any little thing about it that might need a bit of adjustment.

The bill seems straightforward to me, and the important thing is that, as Senator Patterson has said, it was agreed upon by the local people.

I hope it will bring them much pleasure, much profit, much comfort, but in the meantime I do think we should refer this bill to committee as soon as possible, and I would therefore support doing so now.

The Hon. the Speaker: Are honourable senators ready for the question?

Hon. Senators: Question.

The Hon. the Speaker: Is it your pleasure, honourable senators, to adopt the motion?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

(Motion agreed to and bill read second time.)

Bill C-72 – Qausuittuq National Park