CPAWS-OV: Muddying Gatineau Park Waters

CPAWS-OV: Muddying Gatineau Park Waters
Posted on January 26, 2021 | Jean-Paul Murray | Written on January 26, 2021
Letter type:

Author's Note:

Author's Note:

For many years, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society overlooked the damage private properties do to Gatineau Park, rationalizing their presence by referring to residents as "stewards." More recently, the group has changed its tack, now recommending private property removal. 

I’m glad to see that the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society has stopped undermining its Gatineau Park campaign by bending over backwards to legitimize the presence of private land owners, as evidenced by its December 2020 final brief on the new master plan.

However, the damage the group has done over the years is very considerable. For instance, throughout the draft plan, the NCC refers to park residents as “stewards,” “partners,” and “protectors” of the park. A completely hare-brained notion, given the harm they do. 

I place responsibility for this squarely on CPAWS’ shoulders, since the steward thing has been their refrain for years... and since they have been the main group advocating park protection. I cite the example of their former Gatineau Park Committee chair’s 2005 letter to Ed Broadbent, criticizing his bill for being an attack on park residents, whom she referred to as stewards (see her letter below). 

Perhaps the strongest evidence of CPAWS craven capitulation to private interests over the years came in its 1989 brief,  titled “Legislative Protection for Gatineau Park.” That document opted for creation of a separate Gatineau Park Commission through legislation, which would have handed much of the management to park residents.

The following excerpt, in my view, explains why CPAWS has never managed to secure any kind of rational park legislation (because it had been lobbying on behalf of park residents, something even the NCC would never admit to doing publicly):

“In our view, most residences and the several small communities within the park boundaries are an integral part of the park’s cultural heritage, and we see no rationale for their removal provided their activities are in keeping with the general mandate of the park. On the contrary, a legal regime sensitive to both landowner’s and users concerns about the preservation of the park is an important advantage of separate legislation.”

Fortunately, CPAWS-OV's final brief puts to rest the notion of park residents being partners, protectors and stewards. The documents makes several good points, and is definitely worth a read; however, sloppy research and slapdash reasoning are evident throughout. Below are only some of the problems I observed. 

First, the document deplores lack of “reference to the province of Québec owning land within the boundaries of the park” (p. 14). Yet, Quebec lands in the park were transferred to the NCC in 1973. Although the NCC perpetuated the myth that those lands still belonged to the province, the Gatineau Park Protection Committee settled the issue in 2009 before Quebec’s Administrative Tribunal. Moreover, the draft park master plan now recognizes the NCC’s ownership of those lands (61.5 km2, along with all lakebeds).

Second, CPAWS says the park has no legal boundary (p. 19): here again, it muddies the waters. The park’s boundary was set by statutory instrument in 1960—by Order in Council PC 1960-579. An order in council is what’s called “subordinate legislation.” The real issue is that the NCC claims to have changed the park’s boundaries in 1997 through a decision of its board of directors. However, a board decision cannot rescind or alter a statutory instrument. Besides, all the NCC documents I’ve consulted confirm a new order in council is needed to change the boundaries (or a bill in Parliament).

CPAWS also claims that a survey of the new boundary is needed; however, the technical description of that “new” boundary was included in Bill S-227, in 2007, as a result of the pressure Senator Spivak put on the NCC. The real issue is: the new boundary must be given legislative status.

Third, and here’s where CPAWS really shows that it’s not paying attention: it flags the $25k limit on property acquisitions specified by the National Capital Act as an obstacle to consolidating park inholdings (p. 18). However, on May 15, 2008, as a result of protests over the Carman Road development, the federal government adopted Order in Council PC 2008-0958, authorizing the NCC to acquire the Carman Road property and circumvent the $25k limit. As well, the government adopted Order in Council PC 2008-1604, on September 5, 2008, authorizing the NCC to acquire “any or all privately owned real property within the 1997 boundaries of the Gatineau Park.”

Fourth, CPAWS presents a hodgepodge of legislative options for the park, thereby further confusing its message (only its proposal to amend the National Capital Act is remotely feasible, in my view). In particular, it advocates amending the National Parks Act, with absolutely no discussion over this requiring expropriation of all land owners, in accordance with section 5(1)(a) of the act—or cutting the boundary around all private enclaves, thereby excluding the public from the park’s most visited sites. A completely clueless recommendation.

Fifth, on page 5, the brief claims the issue of legislative protection was “excluded from previous plans.” Wrong again. Under the heading “Legal Status,” the 2005 master plan specifies that “Additional legislative authority could give the NCC greater breadth of responsibility and power to act.” On page 75, the document also makes the following commitment: “within the year following approval of the Master Plan,” the NCC would “identify the potential options to enhance its authority over all the aspects of the Park and the activities taking place within (...) for the long term protection and integrity of the Park’s boundary and ecosystems.” Almost exactly what the 2020 draft plan says.

The NCC fulfilled that commitment, publishing a 2006 document entitled, “Is Gatineau Park Legislation Necessary,” which underlined that the status quo was not an option.  

Sixth, showcasing its sloppy research, CPAWS claims that creating a national park would “fulfill the original vision of having Gatineau as the first national park east of the Rocky Mountains.” Wrong: the first national park east of the Rockies was St. Lawrence Islands National Park (now Thousand Islands National Park), created in 1904. You’d think a group that asks the public for money to act as the watchdog on Canada’s national parks would be a little more rigorous... 

Notwithstanding these numerous and serious errors, CPAWS’ brief finally showcases the very serious problems created by private property encroachments in the park. It’s a good document, despite its shortcomings. There’s a slight “I’ve had it” edge to it... 

It deserves at least a “C-”.

A pdf of the CPAWS brief is attached to this article.


In her November 21, 2005 letter to Ottawa Centre MP Ed Broadbent—only one week after he tabled the first-ever bill designed to protect Gatineau Park—the chair of CPAWS’ Gatineau Park Committee argued that his bill lacked balance on the issue of private property, although all it proposed was giving the NCC a right of first refusal on property sales in the park. 

Below is the text of her letter:

November 21, 2005

Dear Mr. Broadbent: 

The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society-Ottawa Valley (CPAWS-OV) Chapter’s Gatineau Park Committee appreciates the initiative you have taken to provide a stronger legislative basis for management of Gatineau Park through Bill C-444, An Act to Amend the National Capital Act.

The Committee has given careful study to Bill 444 and is pleased to give full support to the amendments which:

– Establish Gatineau Park and define its boundaries;

– Require the submission of an annual report by the National Capital Commission to Parliament;

–  Promote greater transparency in appointments to the Commission and require stronger integration of National Capital Region representatives into the Commission, reflecting the importance and impact of NCC decisions on citizens of the National Capital Region.

However, the Committee has also identified several shortcomings in the proposed legislative amendments, some of which we feel could be problematic if they are not changed during the legislative process. We would like to bring them to your attention. They include:

–The proposed amendments do not provide a legislated mandate for protecting ecological integrity and for conservation-based management, and may   instead result in a stronger basis for development of the park. The language of the amended s.10. (1) is of particular concern;

–There remains a need to strengthen the regulatory authority to manage activities within Gatineau Park;

–The focus on private property acquisition may divert funds from other conservation priorities (including acquisition of property outside the park subject to development).  Residents of the park can be strong allies in conservation measures, and a balanced approach to property acquisition is necessary.

The Gatineau Park Committee remains committed to the goal of achieving legislated protection for Gatineau Park, and would be happy to work with you/your office to achieve this goal. We are eager to play a vigorous role during any parliamentary hearings considering Bill C-444 by the appropriate House of Commons or Senate Committee, should these occur during this session.

Yours sincerely,

Muriel A How, Chair, Gatineau Park Committee


About The Author

J-P Murrayp's picture

A writer, certified/literary translator and communications specialist with nearly 25 years experience working on Parliament Hill. In 2015, Ekstasis Editions published his translation of Robert Lalonde's Little... More