Author and academic Andrew Cohen is to be commended for advocating creation of a national park in the Gatineau Hills.
Writing about creation of the Rouge Valley National Park in the April 24th Ottawa Citizen, he says national parks are touchstones of democracy which provide educational and recreational benefits to the public and that more of them are needed.
Arguing for expansion of natural spaces throughout Canada, Mr. Cohen makes a bold proposal: “We should,” he says “[...] create a national park in the Gatineau Hills, where they are foolishly cutting down old-growth trees and building houses.”
Praiseworthy as it is, Mr. Cohen’s proposal is virtually unworkable, for a variety of reasons.
First, it would require expropriation of all private lands inside the park – section 5(1)(a) of the National Parks Act says Parks Canada must own all land inside park boundaries.
Second, federal government policy and legislation prohibit the federal government from expropriating to create parks. In fact, federal expropriations to create parks are a thing of the past. Today, the process for creating national parks stipulates the province must expropriate the lands before handing them over to the federal government . Imagine the upheaval were the Quebec government to expropriate lands at Meech and Kingsmere Lakes for a Gatineau National Park. The Rhodesians would be out with their pitchfords and tar buckets …
So, that’s not happening anytime soon …
Third, whether it be in the press, or in its long-term plans, Parks Canada has repeatedly said it wants nothing to do with Gatineau Park.
And if the government still insisted on creating a Gatineau National Park despite all these hurdles, its only option would be to balkanize park territory by tracing a boundary around private lands – as was done for Newfoundland’s Gros Morne Park. Doing this would further limit public access to key sites such as Meech and Kingsmere Lakes.
Fortunately, creating a “people’s park” in the Gatineau Hills remains possible. The proposal made by NDP MP Nycole Turmel would do this by amending the National Capital Act to allow Gatineau Park to be managed in accordance with the philosophy of our national parks.
Ms. Turmel’s plan would mandate conservation and ecological integrity as top management priorities for Gatineau Park; enshrine its boundaries in legislation; respect Quebec’s territorial integrity; eliminate private property; and dedicate the park to future generations.
That’s precisely the recipe provided by Canada’s National Parks Act.
Unfortunately, in the absence of such protection, the NCC has removed 8 sq. km from Gatineau Park and allowed construction of 123 new houses inside it since 1992 – along with a new superstore, coffee shops, gas station, fire hall, hospital, crematorium, municipal pumping station and five new roads.
Mr. Cohen also deserves applause for saying that Canada’s national parks’ are as much about people as they are about conservation – that’s a key point rejected by many ecologists and the people running Gatineau Park.
Now if he could only write a full column on turning Gatineau Park into a real “peoples’ park.” As an expert on the political, social and cultural organization of Ottawa, I’m certain his contribution would prompt enlightened debate on the issue.
Read Professor Cohen’s column at: http://www.ottawacitizen.com/opinion/columnists/Expanding+Canada+empire+opportunity/6504938/story.html
 See “Constitutional Problems Related to Creation and Administration of Canada’s National Parks,” in J.Owen Saunders, Managing Federal Resources in a Federal State, Carswell, 1986, p. 215.