In the Chamber -- Grant Mitchell's Blog

Expanding Nahanni

Posted 6/22/2009 by Senator Grant Mitchell

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Last week, the Senate passed an historic bill to expand Nahanni National Park by six times. This is an outstandingly beautiful part of Canada and this expansion is the right thing to do. It is an important achievement for Canadians and for the world.

It also raises the process of Senate review of bills which you might find interesting and which I talk about below.

The larger park will preserve vast ranges of habitat for significant populations of animals and birds. There are twice as many bears in this park as there are in Banff and Jasper parks together. Sensitive ecosystems and watersheds will be protected. Recreational users will have limitless opportunities. Aboriginal peoples, notably the Decho, will have their traditional lands preserved.

This decision comes after long years of consultation and development by stakeholders and governments. Canadians in both the north and the south were given the chance to have input in public consultations conducted across the country. It is also the product of both Liberal and Conservative governments as the park was created by Trudeau and now ultimately being expanded under this government.

Let me share with you an interesting insight into how the Senate works in a case like this. The Senate fast-tracked this bill and dealt with it in two days. We received it Wednesday afternoon at about 5:00 PM., gave it second reading immediately, referred it to committee for Thursday morning where the Minister appeared, and returned it to the Senate for third reading and royal assent Thursday afternoon.

Normally, there is required two days notice between stages of the bill. But, with unanimous consent of the Senate, we can do what we did in this case. It was possible with this bill because it was not controversial and was seen to be an important achievement.

But even at that, there was concern amongst some Senators that we were moving too fast. Senators are very sensitive about being pushed around. Often we receive bills at the last minute, in particular at the end of a session, and we are expected to get them through in the kind of limited time that does not allow us to adequately fulfill our “sober second thought” responsibility. Sometimes we have only a day or two for important money bills.

Sensitivities are heightened now because government legislation is coming to us with the clear indication that amendments will not be accepted and with the veiled or even explicit threat that Senate amendments will result in an election.

As deputy chair of the Standing Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources which had responsibility for reviewing the bill, I was directly involved in passing the bill through committee. I worked closely with Senator David Angus, the Chair, and the members of the committee. I also worked with Senator Con Di Nino who was the Conservatives’ sponsor of the bill. It was a very fulfilling experience to see everyone working together to pass this important legislation.

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