Hon. Joseph A. Day (Leader of the Senate Liberals):
Minister, thank you very much for being here. My question relates to Parks Canada.
This year marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Fundy Trail. In my province of New Brunswick, we’re particularly proud of the magnificent Fundy Trail which leads into Fundy National Park. The trail is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We can boast of the beauty of Fundy National Park with some of the highest tides in the world.
Most recently, the park hosted a series of outings where Canadians swam with salmon in the Bay of Fundy, snorkelling with a team of biologists to learn more about the Atlantic salmon population. That is certainly an area that we need a lot of further information in relation to.
My question relates more to Parks Canada. For our one hundred fiftieth anniversary, you indicated an increase in the number of visitors because admission was free this year. What have we learned about the impact of the additional people to our parks? Canadians love our outdoors and our parks. What initiatives do you plan to make parks more accessible for them?
Hon. Catherine McKenna, P.C., M.P., Minister of Environment and Climate Change: Thank you very much, senator.
I had the opportunity to visit Fundy National Park with my kids. I didn’t have the chance to swim with salmon. As a swimmer, that is a great disappointment to me, but I did see the incredible research Parks Canada is doing with a local indigenous community, looking at innovative ways to bring back salmon.
It’s amazing to see what our parks’ biologists do. I am very committed to science and promoting the great people we have at Parks Canada. I hope everyone has made it to some of our national parks this year. They are still free for the rest of the year.
In terms of what we’ve learned, I think we’re still learning from the experience this year. It really has been incredible to see how many people got out to our national parks, but I think we need to make it easier.
I was excited to work with Senator Eggleton on the expansion of Rouge National Urban Park. There are parks which are easily accessible for Canadians; some are much harder. There is a park bus that provides free transport for anyone from downtown Toronto up to the Rouge Park. There are initiatives like that that make it easier, especially for low-income Canadians who have less opportunity to get to parks. Rouge Park is great because it’s one hour by public transit, but I think we need to make parks more accessible.
Starting next year parks will be free for children under 18 years old and new Canadians. We’re working with Citizenship and Immigration Canada where, as part of a citizenship package, immigrants would receive a park pass and get information about parks as an encouragement to go. We want to make sure we have new Canadians.
We’re learning more about how people visit parks. Often Canadians are going for a day. They aren’t going for long trips to the parks. We need to make sure that they’re accessible for day trips.
There are some parks that we’ve seen high visitation which has potentially impacted the park. In those parks, protecting ecological integrity is the priority. We need to be making sure we do everything to protect them. Overall it was an incredible story.
We’re also looking at the economic numbers. It’s really important we talk about parks; not just about gate fees, but about the benefits to local communities. We know local communities have benefited significantly from the number of tourists going through them to access parks. There’s a lot more we can be doing.
My focus again is on the environment and economy and how to support small businesses. Sometimes they have indigenous experiences in parks. We have local artists. There’s a lot more we can do in partnerships so we can really ensure there’s a maximum benefit for communities around the parks.