MNBP Special Council Meeting November 18, 2019: Understanding the Agreement that Established Our National Parks

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By John Francis

The Municipality of Northern Bruce Peninsula’s Nov 18 Special Council Meeting began with a presentation by Councillor Smokey Golden. Her subject was the Federal/Provincial Agreement of 1987 which created the two National Parks on the Bruce Peninsula. Her purpose, she explained, was not to go through the conditions in detail but rather to review the history that culminated in the binding agreement signed by the Federal Government, the Provincial Government and St Edmunds Township.

Background materials for Councillor Golden’s presentation form 23 pages of the Council Meeting’s Agenda. Included in the package are the Agreement itself and the Federal and Provincial responses to the Conditions placed on the Agreement by St Edmunds Township. To view the Agenda package, go to www.northbrucepeninsula.ca then drop the Municipal Services tab and select “Mayor and Council” then “Agendas and Minutes”. Select the Nov 18 link, then “Agenda Package” to get the background materials.

Councillor Golden illustrated her explanations with news article reprints and a series of information sheets issued by Parks Canada at the time. Clearly, residents and ratepayers were assured that their approval was crucial to the National Parks going ahead. Then-superintendent Bob Day promised that there would be no expropriation and that local citizens would be involved closely with the proposal.

These were very important issues for local residents at the time, Councillor Golden explained: distrust in government ran very deep on the Bruce Peninsula in the 1980s. The Niagara Escarpment Commission was deeply unpopular, as was the NDP plan to impose development controls on the Bruce Peninsula. The Province of Ontario had acquired large tracts of land along the east shore of the Bruce Peninsula. St Edmunds Township Reeve Brad Davis told taxpayers that they had a choice between the Feds and Parks Canada on the one hand and the Province and the NEC on the other. He endorsed Parks Canada as the better choice. Conservative MP Gary Gurbin told voters that establishing a National Park was the best way of maintaining control. Parks Canada representatives made repeated commitments that the conditions establishing the National Parks would not change.

A twelve-member committee was struck with members from both St Edmunds and Lindsay Townships, to study the proposed National Park. Their report, released in 1982, indicated comparable levels of support in both municipalities (see chart from their report, this page).

The 1983 municipal elections changed that, Councillor Golden explained. Lindsay Township’s new Council insisted that a referendum be held before Lindsay Township would commit to the National Park proposal. That referendum, held in 1985, opposed the National Park and Lindsay Township withdrew from participation in the proposal. In St Edmunds Township, the 1983 election produced a conditionally pro-park Council; an excerpt from then-incumbent Deputy Mayor George Harpur’s campaign flyer cited the Study Committee’s recommendations and promised: “If re-elected I would agree to proceed with this project only if the conditions outlined are accepted and enshrined as part of the legislation establishing such a park.” 

In the end, the park was limited to St Edmunds Township. The establishing ceremony was held at Tobermory on July 20, 1987. The agreement was signed by Federal Minister of the Environment Tom McMillan, Provincial Minister of Natural Resources Vince Kerrio as well as St Edmunds Township Reeve Brad Davis and Deputy Reeve George Harpur and MP Gary Gurbin.

Attached to that document was a list of 37 conditions placed on the agreement by St Edmunds Township. Promises were made that must withstand the test of time, said Councillor Golden. Her presentation included the full document; a few excerpts are included here.

Councillor Megan Myles offered an alternative view, stating that it is clear from page one that this agreement is between Canada and Ontario. The municipality is a 3rd party — not actually part of the agreement. She suggested that the municipality and the parks need to adapt to current and future conditions, need to know what the principles are, what are the most important things. She stated that while she respects the history, her responsibility is to the current residents who elected her. Public opinion changes; she would be more interested in knowing what public opinion is now. Areas that aren’t clear need further legal interpretation and clarity.

Excerpts from 37 Conditions appended to Federal Provincial Agreement which established the two National Parks on the Bruce Peninsula.

Councillor Golden disagreed. “It’s not up to us to get legal representation — it’s up to Parks to respect the agreement.” That deal was made with the electors of that time; a guarantee was issued. People were afraid that the rules would change down the road — that’s why they insisted the conditions be inflexible.

What conditions were those, asked Mayor Milt McIver. Employment (commitments to hire St Edmunds residents), roads and boundaries are the most important of them, Councillor Golden replied. She suggested that these issues need to be explored in more detail at another meeting. Considering the original agreement is important and helpful to both sides.

Excerpts from 37 Conditions appended to Federal Provincial Agreement which established the two National Parks on the Bruce Peninsula.

Councillor Myles argued that this is not one of Council’s top priorities and does not deserve that level of attention. Studying an issue like this costs taxpayer dollars — do we want to invest a significant amount of time in it? Before Council “schedules meetings and meetings and meetings”, she would like some feedback as to whether it’s a priority with the public.

CAO Bill Jones noted that Parks Canada has agreed to come to council meetings as a delegation three or four times a year. Mayor McIver noted that the delegation format works well in that Council can respond issue by issue.

The next Parks Canada delegation at MNBP Council is tentatively scheduled for Dec 16. The results of staff negotiations regarding Emmett Lake Road and Little Cove Road will be discussed. 

Table from 1982 Committee report concerning proposed national park in Lindsay and St Edmunds Townships.