A Public Park, Not a Private Domain:
Why Gatineau Park Should be Nationalized
In its 1990 master plan for Gatineau Park, the NCC committed to purchasing private property in the park, as well as providing a legal framework for protection of the park. But the NCC has repeatedly failed to keep its commitment to increase public access to Gatineau Park by gradually purchasing private properties inside it, particularly around Meech and Kingsmere Lakes. The NCC first made that commitment in its 1980 Master Plan, repeated it in the 1990 Master Plan, and now they are making it again in their new 2005 Master Plan. The NCC's record so far is dismal: it has failed to purchase most of the properties that have come up for sale in the area since 1980. According to the 2005 Draft Gatineau Park Master Plan, 200 private properties remain in the park.
Even worse, since 1992, the NCC has sold nearly 400 acres of land in the park, furtively and without public consultation(1). Just recently, the Municipality of La Peche granted an NCC request for residential zoning to 26 acres of land formerly within the park(2). Is yet another sell off in the picture?
When presented with these facts, the NCC will skirt them, put up a smoke screen, and claim that the overall size of Gatineau Park has increased by some 2,588.78 acres since 1989. However, given the congestion created by new residences in the park's core, its usable size has actually decreased. Since 1992, the Municipality of Chelsea has granted 32 building permits for new residences in the Meech and Kingsmere Lake areas. Such residential proliferation puts a great deal of pressure on the park: most of its infrastructure - trailheads, boat launches, beaches, parkways and trails - is located there.
Meanwhile, the park has been subject to further misadventure, including burning down the Alexander House at Meech Lake for a "fire fighting exercise" performed by the Municipality of Chelsea(3) and the proliferation of marijuana grow operations(4).
Of course, none of this could happen under the National Parks Act: section 5 (3) of the Act states that no portion of a park may be removed, save by Act of Parliament. But lacking the promised legal framework for protection of the park, the NCC can, and does do whatever it wants, behind closed doors. The NCC has mismanaged Gatineau Park long enough, and time has come to place it under the protection of the National Parks Act, or in the hands of a new Gatineau Park Commission.
New Woodlands Preservation League
1 House of Commons Debates, November 20, 2002, p. 1665.
2 The agreement concerning this land (part of lots 1A, 2A and 3A of concession 1, township of Masham, Wakefield section, was signed on December 11, 1997 and registered in Gatineau under number 362399.
3 Senate Sessional Paper No. 1/38-366S, February 10, 2005.
4 The Ottawa Citizen, August 12, 2004, p. D1, and September 4, p. E3.