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Environment Minister Peter Kent shows off part of what will beocme Rouge National Urban Park in Scarborough, Ont., on May 25, 2012.

Nathan Denette/THE CANADIAN PRESS

A former deputy minister at Environment Canada says the Conservative government is gutting Parks Canada.

Jacques Gérin was with the department from 1977 to 1985, including three years as deputy minister. In a letter to Environment Minister Peter Kent, he said federal budget cuts will undermine a decade of progress on protecting the ecological integrity, or health, of Canada's national parks.

The agency is implementing $29-million in budget cuts, and is significantly reducing the number of scientists and technical staff who work in national parks. Many were hired over the past 10 years.

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"These are highly-educated public servants with decades of experience in ecological restoration and understanding natural systems. These are the people who know what is happening to Canadian ecosystems and how to restore endangered species like caribou, salmon and rare plants," Mr. Gérin says.

Other experts have expressed the same concerns about cuts to the scientific capacity of Parks Canada, a move one critic described as a "lobotomy" of the parks system.

In response, Parks Canada has said the scientists were hired to develop monitoring programs and appropriate protocols for restoring ecosystems, but that now the agency is moving into another phase of the work.

Mr. Gérin doesn't buy that explanation. "If there is no monitors, who is going to do the monitoring?" he says.

The former deputy minister is also worried about how the cuts will affect efforts to build relationships with first nations. "People within Parks Canada who have spent years diligently building relationships of trust and respect with members of first nations are also being let go. It is hard to believe that these relationships will not suffer as a result."

He has not yet received a response to his letter to the environment minister. After his retirement, Mr. Mr. Gérin served as chair of a high-profile panel on the ecological intergity of Canada's national parks.

"We had taken two years to examine the problems our parks were facing. Our report concluded our natural treasures were indeed in danger. ... Our recommendations covered a wide range of necessary changes: to increase scientific understanding and capacity to monitor ecological health, to restore degraded park lands, to rebuild relationships with Aboriginal peoples and to develop better programs for Canadians to learn about and connect to the natural world.

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"Substanial progress has been made," says Mr. Gérin, but those achievements are now at risk. "... Parks Canada is being gutted."

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