In October 2002 Prime Minister Jean Chretien’s wish list for 10 new national parks created an impression among many people that establishment of Manitoba’s new park was a sure thing, with only a few details to be worked out.
This is not the case, as there are major hurdles to be overcome. Nor do we know what kind of park will
emerge from the process now under way.
Parks Canada has a system plan for national parks that divides the
country into 39 natural regions on land, and 29 marine regions. The goal
is to represent each of these natural regions with at least one national
park or marine conservation area, thus protecting examples of all regions
of Canada for future generations. Only 25 land-based regions are
represented to date, leaving 14 more parks required to complete the
system. One of the unrepresented regions is the Manitoba Lowlands, an area
stretching from the Saskatchewan border near The Pas all the way to the
U.S. border, and including all of the Interlake.
The proposed park would cover an area of more than 3,000 square
kilometres in two sections, one north of Grand Rapids called the Limestone
Bay component, and one south of Grand Rapids called the Long Point
component. It contains some of the most spectacular landscapes in
Manitoba, including the vast sand beaches and sand dunes of the north
shore of Long Point on Lake Winnipeg, the towering red lichen-covered
cliffs of Sturgeon Gill, and the 21-kilometre-long Limestone Point, one of
the longest freshwater sand spits in Canada.
The area contains diverse and
abundant wildlife, and is the only place in North America where the ranges
of moose, deer, elk, caribou and wood bison overlap. The endangered piping
plover and 186 other species of birds have been identified.
The establishment of this park has been the subject of controversy for
more than 10 years. Indeed, the provincial government initially did not
even want a national park in the Grand Rapids area. Provincial government
support is essential because the province must transfer ownership of the
land to the federal government. Thus the new park will be Premier Gary
Doer’s legacy as well as ChrÃ©tien’s. Negotiations concerning the
establishment of the park are at a stage where money has to be put on the
table to make it happen. About $200 million during the next five years
will be needed to establish the 10 new parks and five new national marine
conservation areas. At least $20 million of that is needed for the park in
the Manitoba Lowlands. At the moment, Parks Canada only has the funds to
proceed with negotiations, but not enough for the actual establishment of
the park. Unless there is adequate funding in the upcoming federal budget,
the process is likely to fall apart, and ChrÃ©tien’s legacy will be one
more broken promise.
Even if the funding does materialize, that does not mean Manitobans,
and future generations, will get the park they deserve. There are as yet
no agreed boundaries for the proposed park, and the provincial government
is under strong pressure from mining and forestry interests to limit as
much as possible the amount of land transferred to the park. This could
result in a park that is not large enough to ensure its long-term
viability, and that is missing essential components to make it fully
representative of the Manitoba Lowlands.
For example, boundaries proposed by the two governments in 1998, and
still being considered, leave out critical woodland caribou habitat and
offer inadequate protection for watersheds of rivers and creeks flowing
into the north basin of Lake Winnipeg. Only the tiniest fragment of an
internationally significant area of karst landscape (sedimentary
limestone) is contained within the boundaries under discussion.
More than 200 caves can be found in the karst landscape, but not one is
slated for inclusion in the park. How can such a park be considered
representative? Parks Canada has made the provincial government aware of
the importance of including these areas, and the ball is now squarely in
First Nations who have a direct interest in a park within their
traditional territories are key to its establishment.
It is to the credit of Parks Canada that it will not proceed without
the support of those communities. For their part, the communities rightly
insist the forfeiting of some economic benefit flowing from resource
extraction must be more than offset by gains in tourism, park management
and protection of their traditional rights over the land. Approaching the
end of its first term, the Doer government has a very thin record in
protecting endangered spaces. The premier now has an opportunity to show
leadership in this area.
As for the prime minister, this is not his first foray into the world
of national parks. As minister of Indian and northern development in the
early 1970s, he oversaw the establishment of 10 new national parks. If he
is able to add another 10 parks to his record, he will, indeed, have left
a fitting legacy.