Renewal of Gatineau Park Master Plan a Sham
Renewal of the Gatineau Park Master Plan, which got underway in October 2017, is an exercise in smoke and mirrors. Based on its record, I can say the NCC has no intention of respecting its next plan, just as it has ignored the core principles of the last four ones (1952, 1980, 1990 and 2005).
A park is essentially three things: 1) boundaries; 2) land mass; 3) land management.
On all three counts, the NCC has failed awfully and it gets a capital F for failure.
The NCC changed Gatineau Park’s boundaries behind closed doors in 1998; every official document on the issue confirms a new legislative instrument is required to set those boundaries. Trouble is: there is no new legislative instrument for these “rationalized” boundaries. That means the Meech Creek Valley is not within Gatineau Park’s only legal boundaries (set by order in council in 1960), and that the Wakefield Crematorium, Tim Horton’s, Subway, Giant Tiger, Community Centre, etc., remain within Gatineau Park. As a result of this so-called boundary rationalization, the park has lost 8 km2 of its territory.
The NCC’s 2005 Master Plan failed appallingly by claiming that “17% [of Gatineau Park] is owned by the Province of Québec and is managed by the NCC under the terms of an existing agreement” (p. 75). However, that claim is absolutely, totally, completely, unimaginably false. Control and management of the 12,500 acres in question were transferred to the NCC in 1973 through a signed agreement and reciprocal federal and provincial orders in council. A copy of the agreement may be viewed on the Gatineau Park Protection Committee’s Web site.
According to Section 3.4.3 of the Federal Real Property Act guidelines, transfer of control and management is transfer of ownership. That Act governs the NCC's land transactions, but the NCC doesn't seem to know that. So what the NCC is saying—sucking and blowing at the same time—is that it has management and control of those 12,500 acres, while Quebec retains ownership. But that's legally, morally, philosphically, logically and politically impossible. Most recently, in May 2017, the NCC repeated this misrepresentation on page 2 of its Plan for Canada’s Capital 2017–2067.
This designates policies that govern land use inside a park’s boundaries. Every park master plan since 1952 has underlined that private properties must be removed from Gatineau Park eventually, through purchase or expropriation when necessary. Trouble is:
1) Since 1992, 132 new houses have been built in the park;
2) Since 2010, when I started counting, the NCC has failed to purchase the 20 or so houses that have been for sale in the Meech Lake and Kingsmere area;
3) Since release of its last master plan in 2005, the NCC has allowed construction of 11 new houses along Meech Lake…
I note with a great deal of nausea that the 2010 Conservation Plan clearly underlines that 40% of all Gatineau Park visitorship is concentrated at Meech Lake… That's about 1.1 million visits a year, or an average of 9,955 people per day! If we are to believe NCC visitorship figures...
So, by allowing construction of 11 new houses at Meech Lake since 2006, the NCC is setting itself up for failure and creating conditions for a head-on collision between private land owners and the public.
The carbuncle is about to burst.
Failures of the 2005 Master Plan
As further evidence that the NCC has no intention of implementing its next park master plan: the 2005 master plan stipulated that motor boats would no longer be allowed on park lakes by 2010. Seven years later, motorboats continue to pollute the park, disrupt its tranquility and threaten the safety of swimmers and non-motorized watercraft (a few years ago, I saw a huge boat run right into a canoe on MacDonald Bay, Meech Lake…).
Another egregious failure: the 2005 park master plan underlined that it would work on defining the best legislative framework for the park. However, the park’s then director, Jean-René Doyon, wrote a mediocre report arguing the park was already sufficiently protected by various laws. A weak-kneed capitulation before the special interests governing the park (Meech Lake and Kingsmere residents) whose privileges would most likely be threatened by protective legislation.
Moreover, here's another awful capitulation to private interests: Gatineau Park’s weak and hapless director, Christie Spence, told Radio-Canada that the NCC intends to forgive the 80 or so Meech Lake residents who built lakebed structures without permit by giving them easements. Great way to promote the capital’s so-called conservation park... by increasing the domain of private privilege inside a public park.
Public Advisory Committee on Master Plan Renewal: A Conflict of Interest
And in a latest sickening display of NCC complicity with private park land owners: more than one third of the allegedly public consultation committee on the renewal of the Gatineau Park Master Plan are private park land owners or their close friend. Fully one third of members whose interests directly conflict with the public interest are private park land owners.
The NCC is a derelict and dysfunctional agency. To celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary, it’s allowing construction of an 11th house at Meech Lake since release of the 2005 master plan, which said private properties must be removed. It’s a clueless and rudderless agency with a weak CEO and an even weaker minister, Mélanie Joly. The last three park directors, including the current one, have been mediocre beyond belief.
The capital and Canada deserve so much better … and the public should be clamouring for a pound of flesh…
2010 Conservation Plan and Private Property
Below is a sample of the several statements on private property from the NCC’s 2010 Gatineau Park Ecosystem Conservation Plan. Policies that have clearly failed or not been adhered to, given the above. A copy of the Conservation Plan may be viewed on the Gatineau Park Protection Committee’s Web site.
P. 19: Private properties and developments, residential leases, are not consistent with the Park’s mission.
P. 20: Consequences of private properties and development: direct habitat loss; alteration of species behaviour; alteration or fragmentation of species and habitats; potential impoverishment of indigenous populations and biodiversity; alteration of ecosystem structures and functions.
P. 52: The presence of private houses impacts on the ability of shoreline areas to maintain their integrity.
P. 57: Private properties are likely to have a negative impact on the behaviour of wild species, exposing them to habitat fragmentation and loss, and does not necessarily reflect the ecological values of a conservation park (p. 57).
P. 65: The presence of private properties places stress on the host environment in the form of water pollution, habitat fragmentation and the erosion of riparian habitats. The weakening of the ecosystem has allowed invasive species to colonize the area, and urban development has also increased pressure on the natural environment.
P. 80: Reducing the impact of human-induced development. A number of structures such as roads and private residences are present in the Park. Steps must be taken to reduce these impacts inside the Park, both in the field (e.g. creation of buffer zones, reduction of concrete surfaces) and in decision-making.
Appendix 3–4: Three main stressors are responsible for damage to aquatic ecosystems: invasive species; human use and recreation; development and private properties.
Appendix 3–5: Since 1991, attendance has increased to more than 500,000 visits per year (Sodem 2001), and is currently situated at 4,000 visits per km². In addition, visitor numbers tend to be concentrated at certain sites, such as Meech Lake, which currently receives nearly 39% of total visitor traffic.
Appendix 3–6: Restoration actions: reduction in the size of areas occupied by human-induced infrastructures: purchase of privately owned land; demolition of infrastructures and restoration of vegetation on demolition sites.