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Access road to the Mackenzie King Estate in Gatineau Park, National Capital Region

Petition: No. 71

Issue(s): Biological diversity, environmental assessment, and transport

Petitioner(s): Citizens Concerned about Gatineau Park 

Date Received: 19 March 2003

Status: Completed

Summary: This petition concerns a proposal by the National Capital Commission (NCC) to construct a new access road to the Mackenzie King Estate in Gatineau Park in the National Capital Region. The coalition critiqued the environmental assessment conducted by the NCC and posed questions about environmental standards and processes applied by the Parks Canada Agency for similar proposed projects within a national park setting.  

Federal Departments Responsible for Reply: Parks Canada Agency

Petition

March 12, 2003

BY TELECOPIER
AND BY REGULAR MAIL

Ms. Johanne Gélinas
Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development
Office of the Auditor General of Canada
240 Sparks Street
Ottawa, ON K1A 0G6

Dear Ms. Gélinas:

Re: Proposal to Construct a New Access Road to the Mackenzie King Estate

I am a resident of Canada and legally represent a coalition of citizens concerned with the National Capital Commission's proposal to construct a new access road to the Mackenzie King Estate in Gatineau Park. This letter constitutes an environmental petition filed pursuant to Section 22 of the Auditor General Act. The following questions and requests for information are addressed to the Minister of Canadian Heritage who is responsible for Parks Canada Agency.

Background to this Environmental Problem

On January 23, 2003, the National Capital Commission ("NCC") approved the following submission:

That the NCC proceed with construction of an access road, at a total estimated capital cost of $1,200,000.00, subject to the following conditions:

The Council of the Municipality of Chelsea formally, by resolution of Council, indicates support for the proposal;

A satisfactory environmental assessment is prepared under the spirit of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and the mitigation measures are implemented; and Federal land use and design approval is granted and its conditions satisfied.

The access road is proposed to be constructed entirely within the Gatineau Park and will connect the Champlain Parkway to the main parking lot at the Mackenzie King Estate.

Summary of Environmental Concerns

The environmental concerns regarding the proposed road construction may be summarized as follows. Although the NCC has publicly undertaken to meet the requirements of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act ("CEAA") and has incorporated the CEAA's provisions into its own policies and procedures, with regard to this road project the NCC has failed to comply with even the most basic standards for environmental screening prescribed by Section 16(1) of the CEAA.

Specifically, although tangible steps towards the road's construction have been taken, and a fall 2003 time-frame for completion of the road has been publicly announced by the NCC:

  1. the NCC has yet to perform a substantive cumulative environmental effects assessment, or any analysis of the cumulative impact of the project in combination with other projects or activities;

  2. the NCC has not reasonably considered the "significance" of any potential cumulative or residual effects of the road project;

  3. there has been no systemic survey data gathered with respect to mammals or reptiles in the area where it is proposed that the road be built, or on adjacent lands;

  4. neither amphibian nor bird inventories have been conducted in accordance with acceptable standards for community surveys of these animal groups.

Contravention of NCC's Own Planning Process

Also of major concern is the fact that construction of the proposed road would directly contravene the 1990 Gatineau Park Master Plan wherein it is stated at page 125 that the NCC is to "ensure that no new roads are planned or built within the Park". Moreover, construction of the road will result in further fragmentation of the already fragmented Park-based ecosystems, a serious environmental problem which was given particular note in the Gatineau Park-Parkway Sector Plan (2000).

Need for the Proposed Road has not been Established

The NCC has not provided any documentation to substantiate the need for the road on the basis of traffic reduction, public safety concerns, or on any other basis.

NCC's Refusal to Respond to Requests for Information Regarding Project Funding

Finally, it is also of concern that, to date, the NCC has refused to reasonably respond to questions and access to information requests regarding the sources of funding for construction of the proposed access road. This information is critical to addressing the above-noted environmental concerns because if any portion of the $1.2 million cost of the project is funded by a federal authority such as Transport Canada, the Department of Finance, or Treasury Board, then the environmental assessment process under the CEAA will be triggered. Specifically, subsection 5(1) of the CEAA states:

5. An environmental assessment of a project is required before a federal authority exercises one of the following powers:

(1)(b) makes or authorizes payments or provides a guarantee for a loan or any other form of financial assistance to the proponent for the purpose of enabling the project to be carried out in whole or in part, except where the financial assistance is in the form of any reduction, avoidance, deferral, removal, refund, remission or other form of relief from the payment of any tax, duty, or impost imposed under any Act of Parliament, unless that financial assistance is provided for the purpose of enabling an individual project specifically named in the Act, regulation, or order that provides the relief to be carried out.

By letter dated February 27, 2003 addressed to Mr. Marcel Beaudry, NCC Chairperson, I specifically asked for confirmation as to the sources of funding for the proposed road's construction and, in particular, asked whether any of the approximately $1 million needed to fund the project was being provided by the Department of Finance, Transport Canada, the Department of Canadian Heritage, Treasury Board, or any other federal government department. The NCC has refused to respond to my request for this very relevant information.

Information regarding funding for the project has also been formally requested under the Access to Information Act and, despite the obvious fact that time is of the essence in relation to the request for disclosure of this information, the NCC has declined to respond to the request within the 30-day time-frame contemplated by the legislation.

Environmental Petition

Having regard to this contextual background, pursuant to Section 22 of the Auditor General Act, this petition is to request that you obtain from the Minister of Canadian Heritage, who is responsible for Parks Canada Agency, a response to the following questions.

Questions for the Minister of Canadian Heritage Responsible for Parks Canada Agency

Whereas the Minister of Canadian Heritage has worked hard to ensure that Canadian National Parks cap their development and place ecological integrity as the first priority in federal park management, and has embodied this intention in the new Canada National Parks Act, 2001;

Whereas the Director of Gatineau Park has publicly stated that Gatineau Park is run to the same standards as a National Park (Ottawa Citizen, 1997);

Whereas the NCC has made a public commitment to comply with "the spirit" of the CEAA, and has expressly integrated the CEAA's provisions into its policies and procedures; and

Whereas the Minister of Canadian Heritage is responsible for both Parks Canada Agency and for the NCC, a federal Crown corporation under the National Capital Act which manages Gatineau Park:

  1. What environmental standards and processes would be applied by Parks Canada Agency if a road similar to the Mackenzie King Estate access road proposed to be built by the NCC were proposed to be built within one of Canada's National Parks?

  2. More specifically, would Parks Canada Agency permit construction of a road to proceed in a National Park in circumstances where the Master Plan for that particular National Park expressly precluded the planning or building of new roads?

  3. Does the NCC's public commitment to comply with "the spirit" of the CEAA compel the NCC to comply in form and substance with the CEAA in a manner consistent with the formal adherence to the CEAA required of Parks Canada? If so, in respect of the proposed access road, will the Minister insist that the NCC conduct an environmental assessment in accordance with the requirements of section 16(1) of the CEAA?

  4. If the NCC fails to conduct a proper environmental assessment in compliance with "the spirit" of the CEAA, and with its own policies and procedures which incorporate the provisions of the CEAA by reference, will the Minister take immediate steps to stop construction of the proposed access road to the Mackenzie King estate?

  5. Does the government intend to introduce legislative and regulatory amendments designating Gatineau Park a "national park" as defined in Section 2 of the Canada National Parks Act?

  6. If not, then why is the government opposed to conferring national park status on Gatineau Park and how does the government intend to ensure that the historical and ecological integrity of Gatineau Park are legally protected?

Conclusion

Although the petition process specifies a 120-day time-frame for the Minister's response to the questions posed, given that time is of the essence in this matter, we request that you implement whatever measures are available to compel the Minister to respond on an expedited basis.

We appreciate your assistance in this matter and look forward to hearing from you as soon as possible with regard to the next step in the petition process.

Yours very truly,

[Original signed by Denise Workun]

Denise Workun
Nelligan O'Brien Payne
Lawyers/Patent and Trade-Mark Agents
Ottawa Office
66 Slater, Suite 1900
Ottawa, Ontario K1P 5H1
Tel.: (613) 238-8080
Fax: (613) 238-2098
E-mail: denise.workun@nelligan.ca
Web site: www.nelligan.ca

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Minister's Response: Parks Canada Agency

August 8, 2003

Ms. Denise Workun
Nelligan O'Brien Payne
1900 - 66 Slater Street
Ottawa, Ontario
K1P 5H1

Dear Ms. Workun:

Ms. Johanne Gélinas, Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, has forwarded a copy of your correspondence and supporting documentation of March 12 and May 20, 2003, comprising Environmental petition #71, under section 22 of the Auditor General Act, to me, as Minister responsible for Parks Canada. This petition, submitted on behalf of the Citizens Concerned About Gatineau Park coalition, raises questions regarding the proposed construction of an access road to the Mackenzie King Estate in Gatineau Park, Gatineau, Quebec.

I am pleased to enclose the response to items raised in your petition that relate specifically to Parks Canada.

Please accept my best wishes.

Yours sincerely,

[Original signed by Sheila Copps, Minister of Canadian Heritage]

Sheila Copps



PARKS CANADA RESPONSE TO ENVIRONMENTAL PETITION NO. 71

UNDER SECTION 22 OF THE AUDITOR GENERAL ACT

CONCERNING THE PROPOSED ACCESS ROAD TO MACKENZIE KING ESTATE,

GATINEAU PARK, QUEBEC

Question 1

What environmental standards and processes would be applied by Parks Canada Agency if a road similar to the Mackenzie King Estate access road proposed to be built by the NCC were proposed to be built within one of Canada's National Parks?

Question 2

More specifically, would Parks Canada Agency permit construction of a road to proceed in a National Park in circumstances where the Master Plan for that particular National Park expressly precluded the planning or building of new roads?

Answer

There are unique challenges to the management of each national park of Canada. Parks Canada must apply the full requirements of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act to all construction. In addition, road construction must, as its primary function, serve park purposes and must have been approved under the park management plan.

Supplementary Question 1

Does the government intend to introduce legislative and regulatory amendments designating Gatineau Park a "national park" as defined in Section 2 of the Canada National Parks Act?

Supplementary Question 2

If not, then why is the government opposed to conferring national park status on Gatineau Park and how does the government intend to ensure that the historical and ecological integrity of Gatineau Park are legally protected?

Answer

The determination of where new national parks will be established is guided by the National Parks System Plan, which was designed to ensure that each of Canada's 39 natural regions would eventually be represented by at least one national park. Currently, 26 natural regions, each of which has distinctive vegetation and physiography (the appearance of the land), are represented by 40 national parks.

The region that includes Gatineau Park is already represented by Pukaskwa and La Mauricie national parks of Canada. Parks Canada current efforts are focussed on creating national parks in the 13 regions that are currently unrepresented in Canada's national park system.