Latest Gatineau Park Monster House Prompts Liberal MPs to Action
At his virtual town hall meeting on January 20, Hull-Aylmer MP Greg Fergus flagged construction of a house at Meech Lake to announce that he and his West Quebec Liberal colleagues are working on a bill to protect Gatineau Park.
“Somebody had asked is there anything that I and other like-minded lawmakers can do to protect the park, particularly the area around Meech Lake […] Apparently, another house was built in the area across from Blanchet Beach,” said Mr. Fergus. “Yes, as a matter of fact, this is a very live topic. One [about] which myself, I and my colleagues from the Outaouais, have been meeting to make sure that we can get a bill regarding the National Capital Act, which would govern the Gatineau Park area. We’re working to try to bring this forward.”
Construction of the house in question, at 909 Meech Lake Road, began without permits last fall. The motel-sized building, measuring 104.1 ft. by 57 ft., is located next to Blanchet Beach, which has become a battleground opposing swimmers and local residents over the last few years. As a result of residents’ complaints, the NCC has imposed ever-greater limitations on public access.
The co-owner of this new building—the 135th new house in the park since 1992—is Canada’s ambassador to Mexico, Graeme C. Clark, a former aide to Prime Minister Jean Chrétien. According to documents obtained through access to information, the Municipality of Chelsea will be issuing a statement of offence.
Mr. Fergus’s announcement appears to be in keeping with the policy/opinion that a public beach located at the heart of the capital’s conservation park should not become the theatre of residential development for well-connected fat cat federal bureaucrats, or any other kind of fat cat… Besides, he must be aware that building private houses next to public beaches in Gatineau Park goes against every NCC master plan and policy imaginable.
For instance, a 2008 NCC report noted that private lands located near recreational facilities have “an impact on the delivery of quality services to visitors and on visitors’ perception of being in a conservation park,” adding that the “likelihood of conflicts between park visitors and residents in the vicinity of the infrastructure should also be considered. The closer the land is to recreational infrastructure, the greater the impact.” (Vers une stratégie d’acquisition des terrains privés dans le parc de la Gatineau, CCN, juin 2008, p. 10.)
More specifically still, in 1989, another NCC report confirmed that “There are more user-resident conflicts at Blanchet […] due to the minimal amount of parking available, the narrowness of the road, the proximity of residents to the Lake and the higher degree of resident activity.” (Acquisition Plan, Gatineau Park Private Properties, Gatineau Park Task Force, NCC, May 1989, p. 10.)
However, passing park legislation, according to Mr. Fergus, will be a challenge: “The difficulty, of course, is going to be making sure that, in a minority Parliament situation, that we’re bringing forward legislation that we can pass. And so that will require some work with the other political parties, making sure that this falls within our […] legislative framework [calendar]. And then to get this proposed, and passed. And also out of the Senate. So we are working on this and we really do want to make this happen.”
I prefer Robert F. Kennedy’s approach: “I dream things that never were and ask, ‘Why not?’”
Getting a bill passed in a minority parliament should be no problem, since there’s already strong support among all parties, save for the Conservatives. Evidence of multi-party support on this can be found in the results of the April 28, 2014 Commons vote on Bill C-565.
So, should Mr. Fergus’s January 20 announcement not be more Liberal hot air, the bill he and his colleagues will hatch should meet the basic criteria that represent a consensus on the issue. Their proposal should enshrine the park’s boundaries, require conservation and ecological integrity as a management priority, buy out private properties, and dedicate the park to future generations. Such a bill should also include a mechanism to consult the Quebec government on park management plans.
In 1988, all of the park’s territory “was designated as having national interest land status pursuant to the Treasury Board decision […] The significance of this designation places the Park in that grouping of lands which should be held by the federal government in perpetuity to support the realization of the NCC’s mandate in the Capital.” (Acquisition Plan, Gatineau Park Private Properties, Gatineau Park Task Force, NCC, May 1989, p. 3.)
Allowing any new construction in the park is a violation of that Treasury Board decision… and of section 25 of the National Capital Act, which declares Gatineau Park to be for the general advantage of all Canadians.
Let's hope Mr. Fergus is true to his word this time. In the 2015 and 2019 election campaigns, he said Gatineau Park would be among his top priorities. Yet he did less than nothing on the file.