Political legacies at stake

February 1, 2003

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 Chrétien’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 Chrétien’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
    Doer’s court.

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.

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