Hon. Peter Kent (Thornhill, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour and a pleasure to rise in the House today on this historic occasion, the third reading of the Rouge national urban park act.
Before I get to the good news, I find I must speak to the fact that the past hour has been wasted by another example of legislative vandalism by the official opposition, the NDP. I am told that it might have been a mistake in signals and I suppose we have to consider that, but I think this is just the latest in a long-running example, both in committee and here in debate in this House, where the NDP has obstructed, undercut, and taken part in legislative vandalism.
I will now go to the good news. The Government of Canada is proudly embarking on a Canadian first, a new kind of national protected area within Canada's largest metropolitan area. The creation of Rouge national urban park is a proud and historic achievement not only for all the residents of the greater Toronto area and all of Ontario, but also for Canadians right from coast to coast. Rouge national urban park, which is a Canadian first, builds on an incredible legacy of pioneering and innovative conservation work undertaken by Parks Canada for over a century.
In 2011, the year of Parks Canada's centennial, the agency was awarded the Gift to the Earth award by Mr. Gerald Butts, who was then of the World Wildlife Federation International. As colleagues now know, he is working on a recovery effort for another endangered species, but that is another story.
The creation of Rouge national urban park is an immensely proud occasion for all Ontarians and Canadians. It helps to position Canada at the forefront of the world's emerging urban protected areas movement. Rouge national urban park would be one of the planet's largest and most significant urban protected areas, providing a sanctuary of protected and restored forests, marshes, wetlands, farmlands, and centuries-old cultural landscapes alongside the greater Toronto area's rich cultural diversity.
This bill allows more land to be added over time, which would eventually make this wonderful park 25% larger than the current protected area, making it 13 times larger than Vancouver's Stanley Park—no offence intended to my colleagues from British Columbia—16 times larger than New York City's Central Park, and 33 times larger than London's Hyde Park.
Rouge national urban park would be a shining example of the very best of Canada, because it brings together and enshrines in legislation the protection and the celebration of three things that define us as Canadian and speak to the very essence of Canada—our nation's national, cultural, and agricultural heritage.
This bill integrates the protection of nature, culture, and agriculture in a new and bold approach, but I want to make it clear that the Rouge national urban park would provide us with a strong legislative framework to meet, to exceed, and to expand upon the protections and mandate currently in place to protect and manage smaller portions of the Rouge by a variety of public landowners.
Protecting nature, culture, and agriculture together does not mean that protection of natural resources is somehow diminished, as some have implied, nor does it mean that there are no priorities or that the Rouge is trying to be everything to everyone. That is simply not true. Those who suggest such scenarios do not understand the Rouge Park's urban setting, the needs of its landscape mosaic, or the opportunity to demonstrate true leadership internationally.
Having been asked by the Rouge Park Alliance, which for years had managed the lands currently called the Rouge Park, to find a solution to the governance and conflicts that were making park management impossible, Parks Canada began consulting with thousands of Canadians and with hundreds of groups and organizations representing stakeholders, communities, non-governmental organizations, and governments.
Through the process, the government determined that an integrated approach was the most appropriate for the Rouge. It is an approach that has three very clear interconnected priorities when it comes to protection: nature, culture, and agriculture. This model is what Canadians and the Rouge Park Alliance, the formerly provincially appointed managing authority of Rouge Park, have asked for. This approach would allow us to make the very best conservation gains across the entire park landscape in ways that would allow for the Rouge's natural, cultural, and agricultural resources to receive the highest level of protection now and far into the future.
The Government of Canada's integrative and inclusive approach will allow us to succeed where the previous disparate park authorities and regimes have not before. While there has certainly been some wonderful work done to protect the Rouge over the last 20 years, there have also been divergent and sometimes conflicting interests in the lands that make up the future Rouge national urban park. During that time, no single legal regime governed these lands, and at times the voices of many groups and residents were not reflected in policy development and park management. Nature, culture, agriculture, and visitor connection opportunities were often seen as competing rather than complementary priorities.
When the bill came to committee earlier this month, one of the witnesses we heard from was the Hon. Pauline Browes, the director of Waterfront Regeneration Trust Corporation and a former federal minister of state for the environment. Mrs. Browes gave the committee some of the history of the creation of the Rouge Park. She stated:
|| Every municipality in the Rouge watershed passed a motion endorsing the proposal, as well as the TRCA, to urge the federal government to establish a national park. The Government of Ontario publicly and enthusiastically supported that recommendation. The community supported the recommendation.
Ms. Browes continued:
|| This legislation is before you. Parks Canada, a heralded organization of experience and very competent individuals, has been assigned the responsibility of the permanent protection and preservation of the natural, cultural, and agricultural aspects of the Rouge national urban park. In particular I would like you to look at clauses 4 and 6. I have read the debates that each of you have made in the House of Commons...but the language of these two clauses is clear and self-explanatory. These clauses will allow the minister to make the decisions based on the identified purposes for which the park is being created and the factors which must be taken into consideration. Pitting the elements against each other by putting one as a priority...would really create conflict. I would ask you to consider the natural, cultural, and agricultural aspects, and I mean the cultural aspects with the aboriginal issues and the archaeological issues. When I was a member we did some archaeological digs in the park and we found a 17th century French coin. There's a lot of cultural heritage within this park.
With Bill C-40, Parks Canada, through the Minister of the Environment, would be given the responsibility to bring all groups together and work for the betterment of Rouge national urban park to ensure a broad range of perspectives is heard and nature, culture, and agriculture are all valued, celebrated, and, most importantly, protected to the full extent of the law.
Our government's approach will see everyone with a stake or interest in this wonderful new national park working together, where a win for nature will also be a win for agriculture and for the cultural landscape of the park. In practical terms, this means that Parks Canada would apply its world renowned approach to conserving biodiversity and restoring native wildlife and ensuring the health of park ecosystems through rigorous monitoring of the park's flora, fauna, waters, and soil. Parks Canada would work with farmers to end the cycle of one-year leases and initiate a leasing regime that would foster economic stability. The farmers would in turn work to manage farmlands in an ecologically sound fashion, commit to conserving resources, and contribute to the visitor experience and cultural heritage of the park.
Integral to all of this, as emphasized in the bill, is the fact that Parks Canada would manage the health of ecosystems. It would apply this concept across all of the park's ecosystems, landscapes, and resources in a way that not only protects and restores natural and cultural heritage, but also promotes a healthy and vibrant farming community. This new type of protected area cannot, as some have requested, be managed for ecological integrity. The fact that more than 75% of the park's intended area has been altered or disturbed by civilization, the fact that it is in close proximity to Canada's largest metropolis, and the fact that it comprises a variety of landscapes and uses make the concept of ecological integrity simply inappropriate for the Rouge. Instead, this unique protected area calls for this new approach to conservation.
When the bill was before committee earlier this month, one of the witnesses we heard from, Mr. Larry Noonan from the Altona Forest Community Stewardship Committee, said:
|| Some people have asked why the term ecological integrity is not in the act. The Canada National Parks Act states that “ecological integrity” includes “supporting processes”. As a further clarification of part of this definition, Parks Canada defines “ecosystem processes” as “the engines that make ecosystems work; e.g. fire, flooding...”.
Mr. Noonan continued that “Ecological integrity cannot be applied to an urban national park”. He was very clear, and he has the authority to stand by these words. Furthermore, he stated:
|| We cannot allow fires and flooding in the Toronto, Markham, and Pickering urban environment. The Rouge national urban park act cannot have this term included, or there would have to be a list of exceptions to the definition which could serve to lessen its impact in the Canada National Parks Act.
Stepping aside from Mr. Noonan's quotes for a moment, there are loopholes in Ontario's act that basically allow any number of events to take place, with profound negative impacts on both the protected area itself and the wildlife, archaeological realities, first nation realities, and the agricultural component of this unique new entity.
After saying that ecological integrity cannot be applied to an urban national park, Mr. Noonan said:
|| The Rouge national urban park act cannot have this term included...Instead, Bill C-40 refers to “the maintenance of its native wildlife and of the health of those ecosystems”. The Rouge national urban park and the management plan lay out strategies for attaining the highest possible level of health for the park's ecosystems.
As well, we heard from many other witnesses, a list of whom I will not go into at this point, who did not believe that ecological integrity was even achievable within Rouge Park due to its unique urban setting and the large percentage of historic land disturbance.
Conservation of nature is clearly one of the main objectives of Rouge national urban park and the integrated management approach is very much in keeping with internationally defined standards for the conservation of protected areas.
The legislative framework for the Rouge national urban park meets the definition of a category V protected area under the stringent criteria of the International Union for Conservation of Nature. This category of protected area applies where the interaction of people and nature over time has produced an area of distinct character, with significant ecological, biological, cultural, and scenic value. This is exactly what Rouge national urban park represents. I will commit to the House that Parks Canada will see to it that all of this park's unique components live up to the highest international conservation standards and receive the strongest ever legal protections in the history of the Rouge.
Integration is tailor-made for this unique landscape and it is the right way forward for Rouge national urban park. Integration allows us to protect, and future generations to appreciate for eternity, if I may say, the striking colours of sugar maples in the Rouge's Carolinian forest in the Fall and to enjoy the fresh maple syrup made by the Rouge's heritage farmers every spring. In other words, our integrated approach is just about as Canadian as one can get.
In light of this historic occasion and in the spirit of coming together for the public good to create a lasting legacy for Ontarians, Canadians, and citizens of the world, I would urge all members to support the bill before the House The legislative framework for the Rouge national urban park meets the definition of a category V protected area under the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Stringent Criteria.
Ms. Megan Leslie (Halifax, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I was hoping to get a question in to my colleague from Thornhill, but I guess we ran out of time. He started off his speech accusing the NDP of legislative vandalism, so I am going to start off my speech by talking about legislative vandalism.
Legislative vandalism? How about the fact that we have had time allocation in this House, cutting off debate, effectively limiting democracy, 82 times? He wants to talk about legislative vandalism? How about the fact that the Conservatives use in camera proceedings for any kind of real debate or discussion that happens at committee. The member wants to talk about legislative vandalism? How about the fact that the chair ruled Chief Allan Adam, of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, out of order because he wanted to talk about the downstream effects, the impact, of the oil sands on his people. The chair said that Chief Allan should actually wrap it up, because they were there to talk about the benefits of the oil sands.
If Conservatives want to talk about legislative vandalism, how about the fact that we are at third reading on this bill and we have yet to hear from the minister herself, not one word. Where is she?
That is legislative vandalism.
Mr. Speaker, I would ask to be given a bit of a warning towards the end of my time, because I have a lot to say about this bill, and I want to make sure I can get in my key points.
When this idea of Rouge Park becoming Rouge national urban park was floated, we saw it in the throne speech. I am not generally happy with throne speeches, but I was really excited to see that. I love the idea of Rouge national urban park. The NDP is a great supporter of this idea of national urban parks to begin with. However, the fact that Rouge Park could be the first is exciting stuff.
Let us imagine if we could have urban parks across Canada, where people could take public transit to actually go see nature, be in nature, and understand the cultural and ecological significance of the space. It is a great idea.
We were so excited about it that the NDP was actually successful at committee. We were doing a study on urban conservation, and we were successful in getting a couple of days of study on Rouge Park so we could get an update. We heard from Parks Canada, the David Suzuki Foundation, Friends of the Rouge Watershed, and the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society. We really wanted an update on how things were going since the throne speech, what we needed to know, what areas needed to be worked around or figured out, and where we needed to be creative.
In fact, we are so supportive of this idea of a national urban park at Rouge Valley that my colleague, the member for Scarborough—Rouge River, is a patron of the Friends of the Rouge Watershed. It is her personal commitment as a member of Parliament to say that she is engaged with the process and that it is something she supports and wants to see come to fruition.
We were all really excited when we saw this in the throne speech. What happened? I will note that we have been very supportive of the work on the ground that has been done around Rouge Park. Local, provincial, and national groups have worked for decades to make this happen. The idea of turning this into a national park, with all the national park status and national park protections that come with it, is something they have been working on for decades.
Imagine how excited they were to see this in the throne speech. They were actually at a point where they could see everything they had worked on coming to fruition. It was really happening. Yet I am holding in my hand a news release that all these groups worked on together and sent to all members of Parliament. I am going to read from it. We are so excited about this park, but listen to the news release:
|| Dear members of Parliament:
|| As organizations with a long-standing interest in establishing Rouge National Urban Park, we are writing to convey our grave concerns with Bill C-40. We urge you to oppose this bill at third reading. A more robust legislative framework is needed to ensure Canada’s first national urban park will adequately protect the Rouge—an amazing natural treasure—for Canadians today and into the future. We attempted to work constructively through the Parliamentary process, supporting amendments to address major flaws in the bill when it was before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development in late October and early November. Unfortunately, the Committee rejected all proposed amendments.
There is a piece in here about the problems with the bill, but I will get to that in my speech. I want to skip to the last paragraph. It is emotional, and it lays out the situation for these groups:
|| The Province of Ontario has already informed Canada that it will not transfer its Rouge Park lands unless the bill governing the creation of the national urban park is amended to "meet or exceed" the environmental policies of existing Greenbelt and Rouge Park Plans. Bill C-40 fails to meet this test. If Parliament proceeds with this flawed bill, the province's substantial Rouge Park lands (25+ km2) may not be transferred to Parks Canada. The resultant Rouge National Urban Park will be less than half the park's announced size and will not include the heartlands of the park, the beautiful Rouge Valley system. It will be a park in name only.
|| Please oppose Bill C-40 at third reading and recommend that stronger legislation be drafted and brought back to the House.
It was signed by the executive directors of Nature Canada, Environmental Defence, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, the David Suzuki Foundation, Friends of the Rouge Watershed, Ontario Nature, and the STORM Coalition. It is incredible to think that these groups would want us to vote against this bill, but that is the reality.
My colleague, the member for Beaches—East York, and I, after committee, were faced with a decision when none of the 19 amendments brought forward by the NDP were adopted. We were faced with a decision on what to do and what to recommend to our colleagues in voting on this bill. A lot of these groups, including Friends of the Rouge Watershed, Land Over Landings, and Ontario Nature, said to come to the park, and they would take us on a tour of the park and talk about what needs to happen. The two of us did that last Monday, and it was incredible.
People have worked so hard to protect this land over the years in the hope that one day, it could become a national urban park. After this incredible tour of farmland, wetlands, beach, and the valley we all gathered in an environmental education centre for young people, and the members of the groups spelled it out. They said, “We want you to vote against this bill”.
How did we get here? How is it that these groups are pushing us to vote against it? It is not that we do not understand compromise. We cannot let perfect be the enemy of the good; that is the saying.
We had a similar situation with Sable Island National Park. If members remember that debate here in the House, Sable Island National Park is in my riding of Halifax. We had similar issues with the bill. It was not quite what we needed it to be.
We engaged with the legislative process. We brought forward amendments. Those amendments were rejected, which is kind of to be expected with the Conservatives these days, but we still did it in good faith. At the end of the day, I realized that the legislation for Sable Island National Park would carve out a protected area in the middle of a gas field. This is a natural gas field. It is a unique situation. It would carve out a protected area, and I knew that one day, on the Monday, there could be drilling in that national park, but if we passed that legislation on the Tuesday, there would no longer be the right to drill in that park, so it was worth it. Even though the bill was not perfect, even though we brought forward amendments and they were rejected, we still supported it.
I am incredibly proud of that work, and we will continue to work to make the legislation and the park management plan robust and strong and to put in the proper protections for that park.
However, Rouge national urban park is different, because this legislation crosses a line. It obviously is a precedent-setting bill. The park is the first national urban park in an urban setting. It can be accessed by public transit. It creates a new model for protecting areas in an urban setting, because we have to take into consideration the presence of highways. There is the 407.
I was overlooking the Rouge Valley the other day and I could hear the roar of Highway 401, even though I was looking at this beautiful nature valley. It was incredible. There are roads, highways, railway lines and farming, so it has to be different. A precedent will be set.
However, there is a negative precedent, and that is around ecological integrity. We heard the member for Thornhill talk about ecological integrity. He said that we could not protect ecological integrity in an urban park. I disagree. If we look at the Parks Canada Agency Act, it talks about the first priority being the maintenance or restoration of ecological integrity, which is the improvement of ecological integrity.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature has a definition of a protected area, which says, “A clearly defined geographical space, recognised, dedicated and managed...to achieve the long-term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values”. They are different words, but the same idea. They talk about the conservation of nature. The prioritization of ecological health or ecological integrity is all conservation.
What do we have here? We have something totally different in this bill. I will read it verbatim, and members will be shocked, because the bill states:
|| The Minister must, in the management of the Park, take into consideration the protection of its natural ecosystems and cultural landscapes and the maintenance of its native wildlife and of the health of those ecosystems.
We go from prioritization, improving and maintaining to we should probably think about it, and that is not acceptable in the least.
I heard the speech of my colleague from Thornhill and all of the arguments at committee at second reading. The Conservatives said that a burn off of a forest could not be done when a highway went through it and there were houses, that farms would not be ripped up so trees could be planted to restore the natural ecosystem. No one asked for that.
At committee, we had incredible testimony from environmental groups, local organizations and farming groups. The Conservatives would have us believe that it is this environmentalist and farmer fight, and never the two shall meet. That is not the case. Everybody was perfectly reasonable at committee. Everybody said that they wanted to protect farms. Farmers said that they want to protect their livelihoods, but they wanted to have a park. Environmental groups said that they wanted to protect farms and have a park. Everybody was reasonable.
There was a way to figure this out and come to a compromise in protecting farmland and ensuring there were no silly rules that said that Highway 407 had to be set fire every 10 years to stimulate new growth. We are smart people. We are legislators. We have Parks Canada and legal drafters. I know them and they are smart people. We can figure out a way around this.
The NDP proposed many things, because there are a number of flaws with the bill, around the issue of prioritization of ecosystem health or ecological prioritization. We proposed to replace clause 6 and say that the minister must, in the management of the park, prioritize improvement of the health of the park's ecosystem. We are talking about prioritization. We are not saying that we have to do outrageous things that do not make any sense. We just want to prioritize the improvement of the health of the park's ecosystem.
Then we put forward a subclause (2) that for greater certainty, the minister must recognize and take into consideration the ongoing presence of agriculture in the park. That is important. I hear the Conservatives ask what is going to be done with the farmers. Let us spell it out. We are going to take into consideration the ongoing presence of farms in the park. We are not saying ongoing farms, but secretly this is a conspiracy to rip up all the farms and plant trees. We are talking about protecting the agriculture in the park.
I will read a couple of quotes from committee because they are so simple and straightforward.
Faisal Moola is from the David Suzuki Foundation. He said:
||—we do not believe that maximizing ecological health and support for agriculture are mutually exclusive objectives in the park. The David Suzuki Foundation supports sustainable farming in the park.
That is perfect.
Kim Empringham is with the York Region Federation of Agriculture. She was wonderful at committee. She understood compromise and coming together to try to reach consensus. She said:
|| Two of the guiding principles for the Rouge national urban park are to maintain and improve ecological health and scientific integrity, and to respect and support sustainable agriculture and other compatible land uses.
We have a woman who testified on behalf of farmers and a man who has testified on behalf of environmental groups, and they are saying the same thing. What I do not understand is why we have this fake fight and this pretend argument that we cannot do this. We can do it. We came up with a solution. In my opinion, that one amendment would solve all the problems that we are having.
What do we do? I would like to talk a bit about the political process. We worked really hard within this process to create the best bill possible. If members remember, at second reading, the NDP was not combative on this. It said yes, that we wanted to get this to third reading. I think that we actually fast-tracked it a bit and said that we would only put up a certain number of speakers because we were eager to roll up our sleeves, get to work at committee and deal with this.
In our speeches, the New Democrats said that we wanted to come up with a solution, that we could do this and figure this out. We had quite supportive yet tempered speeches in the House. They were really interesting. We heard from MPs, mostly in the Toronto area because they know the park so well. They really wanted to say something about this park and be a part of navigating the path forward. The speeches were excellent.
We then worked with different groups. Sometimes it is back and forth. We are on the phone a lot. Someone says “what about this word?” and we are the go-between. You know this, Mr. Speaker, from your background in law. We negotiated that, but we did it, and we came up with this good amendment and really good language for clause 6.
What we had to do was talk to the grassroots organizations that wanted to protect farming in the park and yet recognize farms as another unique aspect of this park. I think we did it. What is left here?
The NDP brought forward 19 amendments at committee. It was a pleasure working with my NDP colleagues on this, because they really took it to heart. They really did want to ensure that the bill was better. Kudos to the MP for Scarborough Southwest and the MP for Scarborough—Rouge River for the work they did. We lost that fight, so we will take the advice of these groups that are on the ground that want to see this urban national park more than anything, but not at the expense of creating a bad precedent for urban parks from here on out. We will take their advice and we will vote against the bill.
However, we support this park, so what do we do? We have started that work already. My colleagues and I, particularly the member for Scarborough—Rouge River, have been sitting down with this amendment to clause 6, for example, and other amendments, and we will put together a private member's bill that will lay out what the NDP will do when it is in government, how it will change this bill to actually protect ecological integrity, yet ensure the ongoing presence of agriculture in the park. We will bring forward this bill, and I will be so proud to do that. I hope I get to second the bill.
We can do this. We can have an incredible urban national park. We can make it the jewel in the national park crown and set a positive precedent for urban parks to come. That is what we are working on. I look forward to the introduction of that bill. We really will lay out how we can make this happen, protecting all of the interests that need to be protected, including the health of this ecosystem.
Hon. John McKay (Scarborough—Guildwood, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, it is customary for members to stand and say it gives them great pleasure to enter into this debate and so on, but in fact it does not give me great pleasure to enter into this debate. I am quite disappointed with the ultimate outcome of this legislation. I had hoped that with the co-operation of the opposition parties at second reading that the bill could have moved to committee where we could have done some business, but the government chose to take its usual bullheaded approach that it is right and everybody else is wrong. The consequence was that there was no movement by the government on anything, whether it was on the size of the park, or trying to make Queen's Park happier, or for the literally thousands of petitioners and all of the various environmental groups, and even some of the farmers, who are worried about where all of this may end up.
It is without any pleasure at all that I rise to talk about this legislation on behalf of the Liberal Party. In the event that we are fortunate enough to form government, we will fix this because it is in need of a serious fix. This was and is a wonderful opportunity to do something right, but the government in its “wisdom” decided that its way is the only way to do things right.
I largely agree with Pauline Browes, a former minister in the Mulroney government, and her detailing of how various levels of government have come together over time, both Conservative and Liberal, to get us to the point we are at today.
It is ultimately a good idea to turn these lands into a federal park, but regrettably the whole thing has derailed. What caused this derailment? Was it Queen's Park? It said that unless the government fixes the bill, Queen's Park is not going to contribute its lands to the park. Those lands constitute some 44% of the park. Instead of what has been advertised as a 58-square kilometre park, it would be 44% less than that.
However, it is actually worse than that. It is not as if we can chop the whole thing in half, make a nice clean line, and end up with half of a park. This would actually be a Swiss cheese park. The lands are owned in bits and pieces by various entities, one of which is the TRCA, which is controlled by the Ontario government. Those lands run largely along rivers and stream valleys. Other lands are owned by the town of Markham, which will make its own decisions. Then there are the federal lands. The whole thing is going to be a mess. There are conflicting jurisdictions, right from Lake Ontario all the way up to the Oak Ridges Moraine. It is a lot of land.
The fifty-eight square kilometres is quite a bit less than the 100-square kilometres that the environmentalists wished to protect. Lands to the east of the park itself are entirely controlled by the federal government and largely set aside for the Pickering airport, much of which is surplus to any airport. That land could have been contributed by the federal government toward enlarging the park, but for whatever reason the government chose not to do that. The 600-metre corridor which would have connected the Oak Ridges Moraine and the bulk of the park itself could have been included in the lands in the first place, but it was not done, for whatever reason.
The Conservatives seem to be fond of setting aside land, but are not quite so fond of ecological integrity and habitat protection. The animals that are in the park would have to stop at some artificial line between the Oak Ridges Moraine and the end of the park; otherwise, I guess they would be fair game.
In the actual bill itself there are three squiggly little pieces of land in Markham. Therefore, we are not getting 58 square kilometres, 100 square kilometres, or any of the lands that the federal government could have contributed from the lands east of the park itself. Instead, we are getting three little squiggly pieces of land in Markham, and that is the content of the bill. However, as the government has argued, we should trust it.
How did this derail? Was it the Queen's Park decision? That certainly did not contribute. Was it the committee process? We would think that a bill of this significance would have had more than three hearings at committee, one of which was the minister and her officials arguing for the bill. Essentially, we had a total of four hours at committee to review the bill and to hear the concerns of people. This park has been 30 years in the making, and it boiled down to four hours at committee. Many of the witnesses were pre-selected for their views, which were favourable to the those of the government's.
The previous speakers alluded to the multiple amendments, many of which centred on the one issue of the creation of some ecological standard. We can argue as to whether there should be ecological integrity or ecological health, but there should be something. Right now, it is ecological nothing. There are so many priorities set out in section 6 that there are actually no priorities. Therefore, for a minister, possibly such as this one, who is predisposed to making it up as he or she goes along, that leaves everybody quite vulnerable. On the other hand, a subsequent minister might be very interested in one aspect, whether it is some sort of development aspect, farming aspect, or some ecological integrity part of the park. We could assume anything. The way that this legislation is written, the minister has almost fiat-like powers to direct the park, and from time to time that will bump up against the best interests of ecologists, farmers, residents, or other levels of government. We have the opportunity here to get it right, to set forward values and priorities, and what we hear is “Trust us”.
It has perhaps derailed with the belittling of the witnesses and the exaggeration of the differences between the farmers and the others. Jane Philpott, one of our candidates for that area, and I, made a special effort to spend an entire day with the farmers. I enjoyed that day. I thought they were reasonable people. Their expectations were quite reasonable. I thought that these were people with whom we could do business. Therefore, my anticipation, largely fostered by the government's members, of some sort of hostility on the part of the farmers, was completely and utterly dissipated. I saw them as some of our foremost ecological stewards. They care about their lands. I was reminded of my father who had a farm not far from that site, and his land was his capital. The current situation leaves the farmers in a difficult position because they cannot enhance or develop their capital, whether with various farming techniques, drainage, or things of that nature. They are in a vulnerable situation. I am reminded of the worst words that a citizen of Canada will ever hear, which are, “I'm from the Government of Canada, and I'm here to help you”. I would tell my farmer friends to beware of the bill. They might think it helps them, but a proper definition of ecological health would help them a great deal more.
I have to say that I was disappointed by the treatment of the witnesses who came before us and whose views did not line up with the government's preconceived views. We have to be worried about a bill that is not supported by the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, CPAWS, the leading organization in Canada recognized internationally, which is basically saying that we should go back to the drawing board and try to get this right because it will serve as a precedent for other bills.
Ontario Nature does not support it, the STORM Coalition does not support it, Nature Canada does not support it, Environmental Defence does not support it, and literally thousands of petitioners do not support it. They are not all foreign radicals. They are not all there to derail development and all of the rest of the ways in which environmental groups are demonized. They actually had quite reasonable, thoughtful and, I would respectfully suggest, modest suggestions as to how to get over the hump of the concerns of the Queen's Park government with the bill as presented by this particular government. Again, everyone else was wrong, the government was right, and there was absolutely no point at which we could arrive at any kind of compromise.
We have had some discussion about this rejection of the concept of ecological integrity. That is actually a difficult thing, and I could be persuaded that we cannot simply layer over the Parks Canada bill onto an urban setting. It seems like a reasonable proposition, but what is the alternative? We are driven to the other alternatives in clauses 4 and 6. When we ask a very simple question, which is what is ecological health, we either get a dozen answers, resounding silence, or tap dancing away from the question, because there is not a person in this chamber, not a person listening to this debate, who actually knows what ecological health is. It is thrown out there with the assumption that people will buy that idea and somehow or another it will work out in time.
The former minister, in his lead-off speech, said that some things go without saying. If we think about that, we are legislators and we put bills forward. To say it “goes without saying” is not something we could put in a bill because it “goes without saying“. If in fact there is a very concerned community about what those definitions should be, “goes without saying” is not an adequate response to their concerns.
We put definitions in a bill for good reasons. We put them in a bill to circumscribe the discretion of a minister. Ministers come and ministers go. Some are persuaded this way, some are persuaded that way, and with this government there is quite a turnover. In the course of eight or nine years of the government, it has gone through six ministers, one twice, and it has gone through either five or six deputy ministers in the same period of time. It is like two merry-go-rounds going in different directions simultaneously. It hardly creates a level of confidence that there is some direction going through Environment Canada or the deputy minister. It is perfectly natural, because the concept in the government is that everything is run from one place and one place only, so a minister and, for that matter, a deputy minister are substituted from time to time if we want to change the name or face of the organization.
It we put that in the context of this particular bill, in the course of the five, six, and possibly seven ministers we have had, each one would have a different idea of what ecological health might mean. Absent a definition, it goes without saying we cannot live with that. This is why this becomes the hill to die on.
Right now it is the ecological community that is unhappy with the bill. The hon. member for Halifax who spoke earlier listed all of the people who are unhappy with the bill. This time next year it might actually be the farming community that is unhappy with the bill, because this is a blank slate for any minister to do anything. Had we spent some useful time trying to circumscribe the arbitrariness of the bill, we might have come to a point where the entire House could support the bill and it could go forward. For the government's purposes, mysterious as they might be, that is not going to happen.
The other clause that gave some pause for concern was clause 8, the appointment of an advisory committee. It says that the minister “may” appoint an advisory committee. That also means that the minister may not appoint an advisory committee. If we take the arbitrariness of clause 6, which is that all priorities are priorities and therefore that we do not actually have a priority, and add to that the fact that the minister may or may not create an advisory committee, the consequence is that we would have the potential of a minister who may well be very arbitrary. That arbitrariness may go against a variety of any one of the communities that spoke, whether the environmentalist community, the farm community, or whatever. It leaves everyone exposed.
This is a whole series of reasons as to why the bill is derailed, when it could have been kept on the rails with a bit of reason and compromise.
There was also this whole argument about connecting the Oak Ridges Moraine with the bulk of the park in order to protect the animal populations that would go back and forth. This point actually exists in some form, although not very coherently, and would require some result where lands would be acquired. Obviously, lands could also be compensated at the same time. Again, I go back to the way the bill is quite arbitrary. Some minister might well say “Too bad for you, Mr. or Mrs Farmer. You're off your lands”. That, frankly, would be quite regrettable. The connection from the mouth of the Rouge all the way up to the Oak Ridges Moraine was something that would actually protect the ecological position of the park.
In summary, the bill is badly derailed. It could have been saved and still could be saved if the government were open to any amendments. Unfortunately, however, we are going to be in the position of it is their way or the highway. Regrettably, we could have achieved a consensus but did not. I dare say that it is quite typical of the government's attitude toward any opposition, no matter how mild or how reasoned.
Mr. Corneliu Chisu (Pickering—Scarborough East, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I welcome this opportunity to speak to this most worthy bill.
Rouge national urban park will be a place that protects not only natural but also cultural and agricultural resources. It will be a place that provides access to landscapes and experiences that help to define us as Canadians. Bill C-40 would help make this vision a reality.
Rouge national urban park, a Canadian first, would see the creation of one of the largest and most diverse urban parks in the world. There are currently no other places that can compare to it.
This proposed national urban park is so big that it will house 79 working farms with views of Toronto's downtown core. That is something many urbanites rarely get to see, let alone experience, in our 21st century world.
The park would give urban children and youth a chance to learn about their region's heritage, from first nations' presence beginning at least 10,000 years ago to the more recent farming heritage dating back to the late 1700s. It would give them a chance to discover where the food they eat comes from. This would educate young Canadians and enable them to become tomorrow's informed stewards of agriculture and our precious natural and cultural resources. Indeed, this is perhaps one of the strongest selling points for the bold new legislation before us.
Among its benefits, thousands of acres of prime category one agricultural lands in York region would be added to the current regional Rouge Park as a result of this expanded mandate. Sixty-two per cent of the land set aside for Rouge national urban park would be agricultural, and it is not just any farmland. With the creation of Rouge national urban park, the Government of Canada would protect and keep in production some of the country's rarest and most rich and fertile soil. This is important, because farms in and around the greater Toronto area are fast becoming an endangered species.
Given that only 1% of all farmland in Canada is rated as category one, protection of these lands is vital, particularly since over two million acres of farmland have been lost in southern Ontario over the past 30 years due to urbanization and land zoning changes. Without the highest level of legislative protection afforded under Bill C-40, millions of Torontonians, Ontarians, and Canadians would lose access to this valuable farmland. Official park designation means we could preserve land that produces food for surrounding urban neighbours while also achieving amazing results in conserving native plants and animals and providing visitors with innovative farm, recreational, and visitor experiences.
In the lead-up to the tabling of the bill, Parks Canada consulted with thousands of Canadians and hundreds of community groups, organizations, and different levels of government.
Beyond public consultation, the bill before the House today was referred to an all-party committee process, which examined each and every aspect of the bill before carrying it forward in its present form. The Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development heard from 11 different public witnesses and experts, including senior Parks Canada officials; a former chair and members of the former Rouge Park Alliance, the now-disbanded provincially appointed group that helped to manage the Rouge for nearly 20 years; farmers; and environmental groups. Of these witnesses, the vast majority supported the bill as is, including representatives from the Rouge agricultural community.
Some have tried to suggest that the government was playing politics by not accepting any of the proposed amendments of the bill. This is just not true. The truth is the majority of the amendments proposed by the official opposition and the Green Party called for ecological integrity to be included as a leading priority in the bill, despite the fact that only two out of the committee's 11 witnesses supported or espoused ecological integrity. To be clear, 81% of the witnesses present did not ask for ecological integrity to be included.
Moreover, two of the environmental groups presenting supported Parks Canada's concept of ecological health over the concept of ecological integrity. This makes it incredibly difficult to understand why the official opposition and the Green Party would put forward so many amendments that included ecological integrity. I wonder why these members chose to listen to only two of the witnesses. Even more concerning is why these parties chose to ignore the vast majority of the witnesses.
Many have asked why the government does not support the application of ecological integrity in Rouge national urban park. For those who are familiar with the subject matter, according to the Canada National Parks Act, which is the law governing national parks in Canada, “...“ecological integrity” means...a condition that is determined to be characteristic of its natural region and likely to persist...” and evolve without interference.
In plain language, ecosystems have integrity when they have their native components intact, including ecosystem processes such as free-flowing rivers and streams, and when there is continuation of natural processes such as fire, flooding, pest outbreaks, and predation. For ecological integrity to persist, the ecological footprint of humans in and around a park would need to be minimized.
While ecological integrity is a noble concept and one that works well in national parks such as Banff, of which 96% is still wilderness, the principle of ecological integrity as applied by Parks Canada in Canada's national parks is not appropriate for Rouge's urban setting, its infrastructure realities, and the future infrastructure needs of the Province of Ontario and adjacent municipalities. Nearly 80% of the park area is considered disturbed or severely altered from its natural state, and this calls for a very different conservation approach.
Given this incredibly unique urban context, Parks Canada has developed a more suitable concept of ecosystem health and will apply this concept to achieve the highest level of conservation and protection in the Rouge's history by integrating the conservation of natural heritage values with human health and well-being, including air, soil, and water quality enhancement; food production; and recreational and educational opportunities.
Quite simply, ecological integrity, as it applies to Canada's national parks, does not work in a landscape that is fragmented by Canada's busiest highways, roads, rail lines, hydro corridors, parcels of private lands, homes, working farms, communities, and provincial and municipal infrastructure. This unique urban context makes Rouge unlike any other national park in the country, and that is why the Government of Canada decided to create a new category of protected area: a national urban park.
In practical terms, if the government were to apply the concept of ecological integrity to Rouge national urban park, the consequences on local communities, municipalities, residents, farmers, and other businesses would be harsh and severe. Applying ecological integrity would mean that most types of new infrastructure, including those for any potential future above- and below-ground needs of the Province and local municipalities, would not be allowed.
Ecological integrity would also mean that in-stream control structures that prevent flooding would most likely need to be removed. Natural stream channels would also need to be restored, regardless of their path through the landscape, and floods and the movement and evolution of rivers and creeks would be required to proceed naturally. Ecological integrity would prevent the use of environmentally friendly farming techniques, such as agricultural tile drainage.
Even more concerning, adapting ecological integrity in the Rouge would see many Rouge farmers evicted from working farms that have been in production since as early as 1799. There are reasons we do not see farming in places like Banff National Park or Gros Morne National Park. It is because active farming in itself is considered incompatible with ecological integrity as it is currently defined in the Canada National Parks Act. That is why anyone who says that he or she supports both farming and ecological integrity as it is legally defined by the Canada National Parks Act is at best naive or misinformed or at worst simply trying—without success, I might add—to appease the farming community.
Additional proposed amendments to the bill would have seen natural heritage conservation prioritized over cultural and agricultural heritage, and I would like to take a few moments to address this idea.
From the onset of this great project, the government has clearly stated the need for an integrated approach to conserving the Rouge's rich and diverse landscape and uses. The Government of Canada and Parks Canada have always made it clear that Rouge national urban park would prioritize equally the protection and celebration of nature, culture, and agriculture and the goal of connecting Canadians to this heritage. Again a majority of the witnesses called to committee supported our integrated approach, one that protects natural heritage but also extends these protections to the Rouge's cultural and agricultural heritage.
Despite this, the official opposition and the Green Party put forward amendments that would see one component of the park, natural heritage conservation, take precedence over another element of the park. Did the official opposition and the Green Party mean to suggest that somehow 10,000 years of rich cultural and first nations history and heritage, as well as hundreds of years of agricultural heritage, should be second class? Are they suggesting that these other park components are somehow less important or deserve second-rate treatment?
Again, why did these members of Parliament ignore the majority of committee witnesses and opt instead to propose untenable and divisive amendments? Perhaps these members failed to read the Province of Ontario's very own and much vaunted Greenbelt plan, which does not place agriculture as a lower or second priority to nature.
It is clear that in putting forth these amendments, there was actually little regard for the public interest. Rather, it was an example of listening and catering to a narrow segment of the population. This is what leads to cynical public attitudes towards our political process.
The legislation before the House today is strong and will provide the Rouge with its highest legislative protection in its history. For some to suggest that this bill would somehow weaken the protection currently in place is simply wrong.
Should we be expected to believe that loopholes in Ontario's Greenbelt Act and Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Act, loopholes such as grandfathering environmentally destructive practices, allowing exemptions so that endangered species can be killed if a net benefit is provided, loose permitting systems, and incredibly, self-monitoring of development projects, suggest the highest standards in law and policy that Parks Canada should adopt or strive for in the Rouge? These loopholes allow for significant commercial and industrial development, the dumping of toxic fill, and the killing of species at risk. These very same practices have been severely criticized by the very same organizations that are suggesting that somehow the bill before us today presents a step backwards in the protection of the Rouge.
Just this week, a tribunal in Pontypool, Ontario, listened to claims from concerned members of the public that industrial development on the supposedly provincially protected Oak Ridges Moraine will cause “serious and irreversible harm to plants, animals and the environment, particularly the Oak Ridges Moraine”.
These are serious allegations and concerns being levelled against the same provincial legislation the opposition parties are upholding as examples of the best protection.
The bottom line is that Parks Canada would provide protections that would safeguard for perpetuity the Rouge's plants and animals, waters, cultural landscapes, and farmlands and would not cause them irreversible harm.
I emphatically suggest to members that the bill before the House today would meet and exceed any current or past protections in place for the Rouge, and it is shameful, given the strength of this bill and Parks Canada's international renown in conservation and ecological restoration, that anyone would begin to suggest otherwise.
In the Rouge Park of today, if one steals a fossil, kills an animal, vandalizes a national historic site, pollutes the waters, or dumps garbage and toxins in the forest, there are no law enforcement officers with a direct presence in the park to apply the law and safeguard this most incredible of resources. Rouge national urban park would have a full complement of year-round, dedicated law enforcement wardens in the park to enforce one strong and clear set of park laws and regulations and would have the ability to impose stringent fines and penalties to effectively enforce the law.
Apart from not knowing where the food on their plates comes from, many Canadians likely are unaware that farmland can play a role in preserving and restoring wetlands, forests, and grasslands that protect a wide array of species. Progressively managed farms support native biodiversity through good cropping practices, maintenance, and restoration of hedgerows, fallow fields, and woodlots by creating vital habitat that supports nesting and migratory birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians.
Farmland in the Rouge contains important natural heritage and hydrologic features, and the stewardship of these farms can help facilitate both environmental and agricultural protection. Farms in Rouge national urban park would therefore be integral to the long-term sustainability and health of the park.
It is for precisely reasons like these that Rouge national urban park would include and protect agricultural lands. The Rouge would require and promote sustainable farming practices to support the continuation and viability of farming and would contribute to natural and cultural resource protection, healthy ecosystems, and a quality visitor experience.
This Canadian-first approach would embrace working farms as a unique feature of the park and would integrate agriculture into the park's vision. These objectives would be confirmed in the legislation.
Parks Canada would continue to work with the farming community, academic institutions, and other stakeholders to define how this long-term farming presence could best be accomplished. For the first time in decades, farmers would be given long-term leases contingent on meeting the highest standards of sustainable farming practices. As long-time stewards of the land, the agricultural community has made evident its commitment to achieving the vision for the national urban park.
Equally important is that as older farmers retire there will be opportunities for a new generation of farmers. New and young farmers would join existing farmers, and all would have a chance to apply leading, innovative techniques that improve land stewardship and protect prime farmland for optimal use while maintaining time-tested traditions that make farming such an important part of our heritage. In the future, this will lead to increased diversity in farm types and sizes and in the crops grown in the park.
Beyond the direct interests of farmers and food production, agricultural themes would be woven into the visitor experience. For example, visitors to the park could become involved in farm tours, workshops, and other programming. They could also take advantage of fresh food sold at farmers' markets or take part in agricultural fairs.
This would present a win for everyone. The legislation would facilitate ways for people to continue to live and work in the park, enhance their livelihoods, and work collaboratively in achieving the overall vision of the park. It would encourage sustainability and beneficial land management practices, ensuring the long-term health and well-being of the land protected by the park.
Rouge national urban park is a project that should be uniting Canadians, not dividing us. It is a park that has truly been developed by Canadians for Canadians. This is cause for celebration, not just in the greater Toronto area but from coast to coast to coast, as all Canadians would be able to access this one-of-a-kind national urban park.
Canadians strongly support our approach, which safeguards and promotes healthy ecosystems, respects local farmers, and creates unprecedented opportunities for new and urban Canadians to experience the richness and beauty of Canada's treasured federal heritage areas. Let us all work together in the interest of all Canadians and create a lasting legacy for our children's great-grandchildren.
It is with utmost humility and sincerity that I call on all parliamentarians to demonstrate their full support for this landmark legislation.
Ms. Rathika Sitsabaiesan (Scarborough—Rouge River, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I am really saddened that I will not be able to support this legislation moving forward, because I was one of the people at the very first visioning exercise for the creation of the Rouge national urban park. I was the youngest person in the room, and being the youngest person in the room, I knew that I would be the one to get to enjoy the park the most. I was super excited about it.
I will be sharing my time with a colleague.
While I will not be able to support this legislation brought forward by the government, I do support creating Rouge Park as a nationally protected park. We want this land to be protected. We want it to be a national park that everyone can enjoy for generations to come. This legislation would decrease protection.
I was so excited when I heard in the throne speech that the government planned to make the Rouge Park a nationally protected park.
I went to the day long visioning exercise. For years I have worked for the conservation and protection of the existing Rouge Park. The Rouge River is in my riding of Scarborough—Rouge River. The largest piece of the current Rouge Park is in my constituency. I am blessed to have this park literally in my backyard.
The Rouge Park is special in being located in an urban setting. Roadways, highways, hydro corridors, railways, and oil pipelines are all within the Rouge Park. It is a special park because most of our national parks do not have all of those things within their protected areas.
People on the ground affected by this park had a vision. We knew we could make it happen. We knew we could make it work. We could envision a nationally protected urban park that would include farmers, conservationists, environmentalists, highways, roadways, railways, and hydro corridors. Obviously these things could not be moved. We all thought there was real potential for a 100 square kilometre national park that would be called Rouge national urban park. We were excited about it because it is designated within the greenbelt natural heritage system. It is the northernmost point of the endangered Carolinian and mixed woodland life zones. The Rouge Park is the largest public park within the southern Ontario region that is close to 25% of the population in the greater Toronto area. A lot of us were excited.
Our party was happy to push the bill to committee at second reading. We believed that the government would have good faith at committee. We thought we would be able to put forward amendments that would strengthen the legislation now in front of the House.
I will talk about three items: ecological integrity; maintaining or exceeded the current protections already afforded within Rouge Park; and the 100 square kilometres. First, I will speak about ecological integrity.
The Canada National Parks Act states:
|| Maintenance or restoration of ecological integrity, through the protection of natural resources and natural processes, shall be the first priority of the Minister when considering all aspects of the management of parks.
Clause 6 in Bill C-40 states:
|| The Minister must, in the management of the Park, [and here is the catch] take into consideration the protection of its natural ecosystems and cultural landscapes and the maintenance of its native wildlife and of the health of those ecosystems
The difference is the strong piece that already exists in the Canada National Parks Act, which says that maintenance and restoration and protection of our natural resources should be the first priority of the minister.
In contrast, the new legislation put forward by the government would water it down so much that although the minister must take it into consideration and think about it, he does not have to do anything about it.
Let us look at it as people on the ground who love this park would. I am in the park at least once a week or, if not, once every two weeks. It is part of my life. We want to see it protected. We want to make sure that it can last for generations to come. This bill would significantly water down the protection of the ecosystems and would not really help in maintaining the ecological health or integrity of the park.
I want to make it abundantly clear that the NDP supports the creation of a Rouge national urban park, but not if it means that the protection of its ecological integrity is risked. That is what would happen with this bill, and that is why, sadly, I cannot support it moving forward as the Conservatives have outlined it.
I know that I only have 10 minutes, so I will move to my next topic, that of meeting or exceeding the existing protections. My colleague who spoke on this bill earlier mentioned the memorandum of understanding between the Province of Ontario and the federal government that was signed in January, 2013. The federal government signed this memorandum of agreement to “meet or exceed” Ontario's existing policies, which included the greenbelt and the Oak Ridges Moraine conservation plans, during the drafting of the legislation and management plan for the Rouge national urban park.
The provincial greenbelt plan provides provincial policy status to the Rouge park and watershed plans. I know that the current protection for the park is a patchwork of about 11 different policies and plans. The federal government agreed to meet all of those existing plans. I agree that they are patchwork, but the federal government agreed that it would ensure that the new legislation, Bill C-40, would meet or exceed the protections provided for this park.
The provincial minister sent a letter to the federal minister, who, I must add, has not yet spoken on this bill once. We have reached third reading, the last stage of this bill, and the current minister of the environment who is responsible for this has not even spoken on the bill once, which I think is absolutely shameful. I have digressed a little.
I will paraphrase a letter that the provincial minister of economic development, employment and infrastructure wrote to the federal minister, as I do not have time to quote it. He basically said that the protections for the park in Bill C-40 are much less than what already exist in Ontario through the existing provincial policies and plans. The current state would enhance the ecological integrity of the proposed Rouge national urban park. The provincial minister said that he would not be able to transfer the 5,400 acres of lands currently owned by the provincial government for the creation of the Rouge national urban park.
That takes us right to my third point of the 100 square kilometre park. The community dreamed of a 100 square kilometre park, which would be absolutely amazing, but then the government proposed a study area of 58 square kilometres. Now, with the provincial government not willing to transfer more than 25 square kilometres of land, this new national park would be less than one quarter of the size all of us on the ground had dreamed of for decades.
I am going to read a little bit from a letter that was sent to all members of Parliament from seven different environmental organizations. They asked us not to support Bill C-40 at third reading. They said that they had attempted to make it better, to work with the agricultural community, environmentalists, and the government. They opposed passage of this flawed bill, saying that it would not be good for the Rouge national urban park.
Mr. Speaker, that is why I am giving you and all the people who care about the Rouge park my word today that I will be working on writing a new private member's bill that would improve this bill. I look forward to being able to table that in the House and eventually seeing it become legislation once we have an NDP government.
Ms. Hélène LeBlanc (LaSalle—Émard, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, about 15 years ago, the House passed three pieces of legislation that have been crucial to protecting our collective heritage: the Canada National Parks Act, the Canada National Marine Conservation Areas Act and the Parks Canada Agency Act.
Today we have a magnificent network of 44 national parks and four marine conservation areas that we are very proud of, because these natural resources are for the benefit of all Canadians.
However, while we are protecting this wilderness, we must also acknowledge the fact that Canada is now an urban country. In 2006, more than 80% of our population was living in our cities. That is why this bill to create the Rouge national urban park is so important.
The project begins a new phase in the history of our conservation practice by establishing Canada's first national urban park. Clause 4 of this innovative bill outlines its objectives, which include protecting and presenting, for current and future generations, the natural and cultural heritage of the park and its diverse landscapes, promoting a vibrant community and encouraging Canadians to discover and connect with their national protected heritage areas.
This bill creates a new framework for the ecological protection of Canada's urban areas. Rouge Park is already the largest park in Canada's largest city. The park is home to a wealth of exceptional ecological resources, including one of the largest Carolinian forest habitats in Canada and important heritage sites such as an old portage route, Lake Simcoe and Lake Ontario.
The current Rouge Park owes it existence to the perseverance and continued efforts of citizens' groups that have been working hard for decades to preserve it. If the government is serious about its commitment to Rouge Park, it must act diligently and respect Canada's long tradition of conservation.
The bill would create a new precedent for ecological protection in urban settings in Canada. Rouge Park is an incredible resource, the largest park in the largest city in Canada. We should recognize and congratulate the efforts of concerned citizens who have preserved this natural legacy for many decades. We have to do justice to their efforts. If the federal government plans to take responsibility for the park that they have fought for, it must do so carefully and correctly.
We now have many prominent organizations that have worked with the park and have signed a letter recently, opposing the bill as it exists today, including the David Suzuki Foundation, CPAWS, Nature Canada and Friends of the Rouge Watershed.
The provincial Government of Ontario has expressed that it will refuse to contribute its lands to a park governed by the provisions of Bill C-40.
Given the importance of the mandate to create the first urban national park, I want to reiterate the importance of doing so properly. Bill C-40 raises concerns, mainly with regard to the minister's priorities when it comes to conservation. The priorities in Bill C-40 are different than those for a national park.
Bill C-40 states:
|| The Minister must...take into consideration the protection of [the park's] natural ecosystems and cultural landscapes and the maintenance of its native wildlife and of the health of those ecosystems.
However, in the case of a national park, the minister's first priority is to maintain the ecological integrity of the park through the protection of natural resources and processes. If we accept a model that will henceforth protect the ecology of urban settings, then we must ensure that ecological protection is a real priority and not left to the whims of a minister.
Creating a national urban park is something that a number of my constituents are interested in. I have the good fortune and privilege of representing LaSalle—Émard, an urban area on the Island of Montreal along the St. Lawrence River. In the middle of the river are the Lachine rapids, a natural obstacle that contributed to the creation of the Lachine Canal, the birthplace of industry in Canada, and the St. Lawrence Seaway, the second-largest in the world.
Besides its historical importance, the Lachine Rapids are the spawning grounds for 50% of the freshwater fish in the St. Lawrence River. Des Rapides park, which is adjacent to the Lachine Rapids, is a migratory bird sanctuary that is home to one of the ten largest heron rookeries in North America.
We are proud of this resource, and I invite my colleagues to visit this beautiful Canadian region. We are very proud of this resource, which has environmental, cultural and historical significance, from the settlement of first nations to industrialization.
Last month, I organized a forum on the future of our river, rapids and canal, which was attended by more than 120 people, in order to promote the importance of creating an urban park like the Rouge park.
At this forum, we discussed the importance of these Canadian urban jewels. My riding of LaSalle—Émard, much like the Rouge park, has sites like this, sites of exceptional natural beauty that are also part of our historical heritage. Due to the proximity of urban areas to these exceptional sites that we must preserve and enhance, people can get there very easily by public transit, by bike or on foot. There will be expert resources working as site interpreters.
I am very serious about creating a national urban park like the Rouge park. I would like to reiterate the importance of establishing solid guidelines in Bill C-40, not only to ensure we protect the land and preserve species, but also to really make this a priority.
Mr. Paul Calandra (Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and for Intergovernmental Affairs, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, it is truly a pleasure to rise on debate on this bill.
A number of people have been working to create the Rouge national park for many years. By and large, these people truly have the best interest of the land and national heritage first and foremost.
For many years, the people in this area have wanted governments in the past to try to strike a balance between protecting the natural heritage of the area and also protecting the farmers.
I have said this before, but I will recap a bit.
Many of the lands in the northern part of what would become the Rouge national urban park are class 1 farmlands. These lands were expropriated from farmers in the early 1970s by the Trudeau Liberal government for the creation of an international airport in Pickering. Thousands of acres of class 1 farmland were stripped away from farmers. In some instances, farmers were evicted from their farms. In other cases, they were given one-year leases. This has been the reality for these farmers since the early 1970s. They have been working off one-year leases on class 1 farmland.
To fast forward a number of years, the Bob Rae NDP government in Ontario started to try to bring together a process by which we could look at the Rouge Park differently. For the most part, the concentration was on the lands to the south of Steeles Avenue in Toronto.
What we saw through that process and the lands south of Steeles Avenue was that the farmers in that area were systematically, slowly but surely, eliminated. The class 1 farmland in that area is virtually non-existent today.
We have heard speaker after speaker from the opposition get up today and talk about how they believe we can bring forward a process that would not only protect farmers, but would also protect and provide ecological integrity for the Rouge Park going forward.
I know opposition members, particularly from the NDP today, have referenced the fact that they visited the Rouge Valley. They have had some meetings with, by and large, the environmental groups that are opposed to this legislation. They also reference comments made by a farmer at committee, and we have heard it twice in debate today. Her name is Kim Empringham from the York Region Federation of Agriculture.
Bear in mind that the federation represents 700 farm businesses in this area, which is responsible for thousands of dollars of economic activity and hundreds of jobs in the community. Farmers have been there for over 200 years, and the history of farming in this area goes back over 400 years.
What did Kim Empringham from the York Region Federation of Agriculture actually say? She said that the York Region Federation of Agriculture supported what Parks Canada had done. It supported the consultation process that Parks Canada had done and the legislation, which we are debating today, as is.
When asked by the member for Halifax about the legislation, Ms. Empringham said:
|| We're worried that we will gradually over time lose the land we have. When equal priority isn't given, it's hard for farmers and for agriculture to hold its ground and to maintain that level field.
Moreover, we heard from Mike Whittamore, who is a very successful farmer on the provincial lands in the northern part of the Rouge Park.
To be clear, there are two sets of lands. There are the federal lands on the northern part, which were seized for an international airport by the Liberals in the 1970s, and there are thousands of acres of provincial lands, which, by and large, were accumulated through either the Bob Rae NDP government or the Mike Harris Conservative government and put under the protection of the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority. Some of those lands were also provided by the city of Markham and put under the protection of what was then called the Rouge Park Alliance.
Mike Whittamore is a farmer on provincial lands. He is a very successful farmer. He is one of the farmers, in the 1970s, whose family had been there for 200 years. His farm was expropriated from him, and he has been living off a one year lease ever since. What did Mr. Whittamore, a farmer, say? He said that what he was afraid of is that this would become the death of 1,000 cuts. He said the first step would be re-forestation, after that it would be pesticides and fertilizers, and we would go on and on.
What rationale does Mr. Whittamore have for that? I talked about it before in the House. What evidence does he have of that? In 2007, it was the same provincial government and Minister Brad Duguid, who is now suggesting that provincial lands should not be transferred, that went another step further in this area. They took hundreds of acres of class 1 farmland out of production and evicted the farmers from their lands and homes.
Hon. John McKay: That's a lie.
Mr. Paul Calandra: Mr. Speaker, the member for Scarborough—Guildwood says it is a lie. It is remarkable that he says it is a lie because there are all kinds of press releases. I would encourage him to read the article so he can see that his colleague from Markham—Unionville was there for the presentation of a $2 million cheque when farmers were evicted from their lands in what is now called the Bob Hunter Memorial Park in this area.
Prime farmland in 2007 was taken out of production with a smile by the same minister who was at the time parliamentary secretary to the minister of municipal affairs and housing, the provincial member of Parliament for Markham—Unionville, the federal member of Parliament for Markham—Unionville, all happy about what was about to happen with the removal of these farmers from their lands, with a $2 million cheque.
The Bob Hunter Memorial Park still is not open to the public. That is the type of park management the Liberals across the way and their friends in the provincial government are supporting. That is what farmers are afraid of, because they know what happens when they entrust their futures to other people. What happens is they suffer, as Mr. Whittamore has said, the death of 1,000 cuts.
The members opposite have talked about ecological integrity. Among the witnesses who appeared at committee, who have actually been managing the resources in that area, was Ian Buchanan of York region. He said that it was impossible, that we could not bring ecological integrity to this park not only because of Highway 401, not only because there was a landfill in the area and the Metro Zoo, but for many other reasons. Mr. Buchanan of York region government talked about the successes and stated:
|| In addition, I have 15 years of environmental enforcement background at three different levels of government, and what was sadly lacking among all of the framework of legislation in the past was that there was no one window for environmental protection. There were multiple layers and people didn't know who to turn to about what activities were taking place. The one window is a blessing for the Rouge Park.
Larry Noonan, as was referenced by the member for Thornhill, who is with a ratepayer group, supports the legislation that we have brought forward. It recognizes that the goal of environmental integrity is impossible to attain in this area. It also supports the continuation of farming in the area.
Many of the members opposite have referenced Friends of the Rouge Watershed, Ontario Nature and a number of other organizations. A representative of Ontario Nature appeared in committee, Caroline Schultz. We often hear members opposite say not to worry about farming, that it will be protected, that it is all okay. When Ms. Schultz was asked about a corridor, she said that she supported a 600-metre ecological corridor that would take 2,000 acres of class 1 farmland out of production, but said that we should not worry because farmers could still farm.
However, depending on the type of agricultural production that is taking place, she said there were certain types of farming that would not be compatible. Already they are making plans to eliminate farmers from the area.
On the Rouge park management plan, a number of the members opposite have submitted petitions and have talked about their support for organizations like Ontario Nature, the David Suzuki Foundation and Friends of the Rouge Watershed and how important it is.
The member for Scarborough Southwest, when speaking about the Friends of the Rouge Watershed, said, “Nothing will ever be accomplished in Rouge Park without buy-in from the Friends of the Rouge Watershed”. Who disagrees with that? The 700 farmers who actually farm in the area, and the ratepayers who actually lives in the area. The Cedar Grove ratepayers association disagrees with it. People who actually live, work, invest or play in the Rouge disagree with everything the opposition has said with respect to the Rouge and preservation.
Why are farmers so worried about what the environmental groups have put forward? It is because in the Rouge park management plan, this is a section they support. This is from the plan:
|| Part of protecting cultural heritage values in the park involves the continuation of active farming. Since all activities must dwell within the framework of park goal and objectives, with the highest priority being the protection and restoration of the park's natural heritage, some reduction of farm land base is recommended to permit natural restoration goals to be met.
These are the people and the policies that the members opposite are telling farmers they have to swallow yet again.
Let us talk about the 600 metre ecological corridor. I thought it was 1,700 acres of class 1 farmland that would be taken out of production. I was wrong. It is actually 2,000 acres of class 1 farmland that would need to be taken out of production to meet what the environmental groups have suggested has to happen in the Rouge Park. Let us take that into consideration.
When asked by Ms. Empringham and Mr. Whittamore what that would mean, Mr. Whittamore said it was “death by a thousand cuts”. Ms. Empringham, on behalf of farmers, suggested that people who believed that did not understand farming. The equipment is bigger and it is more intense than it was before. This would almost certainly lead to fewer people farming in the Rouge Park.
The opposition also talks at length about Mr. Robb. Why do farmers fear Jim Robb? Why do they fear the environmental groups that have signed onto this? What has Mr. Robb called our farmers?
He called our farmers industrial cash cropping farmers who planted products that harmed the environment. This was at a committee in front the city of Markham. He went on to say that he was willing to share the Rouge Park with the heritage farm community.
When we had Mr. Robb in front of our committee and asked him to describe what a heritage farmer was, he suggested that a heritage farmer was somebody who was there when the lands were expropriated.
What he was saying in front of the city of Markham was that he would share the park with the heritage farmers, but the farmers who were farming class 1 farmland in the area who did not own the land when it was seized from them did not have a right to be on that land producing.
He was on a committee with a gentleman by the name of Reesor. The Reesor family is one of the original families that actually settled that area. Mr. Reesor actually started farming in that area in 1985. He would not be considered a heritage farmer. He would be evicted, presumably, under Mr. Robb's definition, which is supported by the opposition, from those lands that he has been farming since 1985 and that his family has been farming for over 200 years.
We heard from witnesses. I have met with a number of farm groups. I met with countless constituents of mine. They all say the same thing; that we have to protect the farmers in the northern part of the Rouge.
At the same time, we have to do our best to protect the southern part of the Rouge, which is in the hands of the provincial government. At first, all the provincial government wanted was a hundred million bucks. It said, “Give us $100 million and we'll turn our backs on the Rouge. You can do whatever you want with it, just give us that $100 million”.
Alan Wells, former chair of the Rouge Park Alliance, said that had never been done before. When we called them on it, they then changed their mind and said, “Okay, maybe $100 million is asking too much”. Part of that deal was also saying that ecological integrity was important to them. However, no, it was “Give us $100 million. We'll turn our backs. Congratulations. Move forward with your park”.
We said no; that was not our priority. Our priority was to amass these lands on behalf of all Canadians and to create something special in the Rouge. That is what we are moving forward with.
Let us look at what has happened. People have been calling upon the federal government to take leadership in the Rouge for decades, and we came forward with that protection. We came forward with a plan that engaged Parks Canada.
I have not ever heard anyone in this House who would suggest that Parks Canada is not among the most professional organizations and one of the best stewards of our parkland. In fact, it is world renowned for what it has done in creating national parks and in protecting our natural heritage around this country.
Parks Canada sat down with farmers and actually changed the relationship that government had with its farmers in the area. It changed that relationship to make it more co-operative. They worked together and got the buy-in of farmers to participate in the Rouge national park.
The federal government then set aside over $140 million to create this park, to make it a reality, so that millions of people in the GTA could have access to a national park. We incorporated visitor centres so that people could understand what is important about the area. We established a farming centre to the north of the Rouge Park, so people could understand the 400-year tradition of farming in the area. To the south, there are going to be trails so people can enjoy the Rouge park. They will be able to enjoy their visitor experience. There was going to be upgrading to the environment, upgrading that the provincial government has never done.
The provincial government has put forward a set of circumstances to transfer lands, and it wants us to do what it has never done. By the way, that does not include its infrastructure demands. The provincial Liberal government said, “You need ecological integrity, but, just a second, we need a whole swath of that exempted because we might have future infrastructure demands over the area. You can forget about that portion, but for everything else you should have ecological integrity”.
Forget the fact that the provincial government has never done it. Forget the fact that this legislation would increase the protection of the environment to the highest level it has ever had in this area. Forget the fact that the people who live, work, and play in this area, and have done so for decades, do not agree with what the provincial government is doing. They agree with the approach we are taking, and actually appeared before committee to support this government, to support the Parks Canada initiatives. We are supposed to throw all of that out and pay attention to groups that have no vested interest in the park unless they are getting paid. That is the reality here, and to suggest anything else is wrong.
When they talk about the amendments they brought forward, page after page of amendments, what are the vast majority of these amendments about? They are about ecological integrity. Did we vote against them? Darned right, we voted against them. To vote in favour of them would mean we would be evicting farmers. We cannot have it both ways.
To sum up, to those who suggest that they cannot support this bill, look at it this way. If the provincial government said that it is not transferring its lands, what would we be doing? We would be creating a 5,000-acre park. What are we doing there? We are taking 5,000 acres of class 1 farmland out of a proposed international airport. We are setting it aside for farmers and preserving it so that they can farm forever.
By voting against this, the opposition would not be voting against a greater Rouge park; they would be voting in favour of holding this land for an international airport. They can separate the two issues. If they support farmers and they support the environment, then they will support this bill, at the very least because it would take 5,000 acres of federal land out of a potential international airport and preserve and protect it forever.
At the very least they can support that, and we could all work on the framework and final management plan that would support all of the goals of farmers and environmentalists.
Mr. Dan Harris (Scarborough Southwest, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time.
New Democrats want to make sure that we get this park right. That means ensuring that ecological integrity and conservation are our top priorities for the Rouge urban park. However, this does not mean that we want to kick out farmers and it does not mean that we do not want to ensure that we are producing as much food locally for the greater Toronto area as possible, because that both makes common sense and is good for the environment.
We just heard the parliamentary secretary talking about how farmers have not been able to make investments over time to ensure they are following best practices for their own ecological integrity. Of course, we would support measures that would help farmers make those investments and give them the opportunity to improve their land. We want to see protection of the park and the entire region expanded and improved to ensure that the Rouge park and its farmers are there for many generations to come, for the benefit of both the city of Toronto and the greater Toronto area as well as for everyone who eventually goes to the park and enjoys it.
We recognize the decades of hard work and dedication from all community members who have worked tirelessly to protect the existing parklands and conceptualize the national park, and the NDP supports the creation of a Rouge national urban park, but not if it means compromising the protection of our environment. It is too risky a precedent to set for any potential future national urban parks that might be created, because this park is going to be the template on which any future potential parks will be based. That is why we are opposing Bill C-40 at third reading.
At the same time, we will be proposing a new bill that would fix the rollbacks of parks protection that the Conservatives have brought forward. It will build on the positive direction in which Bill C-40 started and would strengthen it based on the feedback and testimony that we heard from witnesses during the committee stage so that we can seek a consensus on the creation of this national urban park. We believe that such an approach would help to break the logjam with the province and the local stakeholders in this process, and ensure that the park is created in the best possible way.
The local community has said that we need better legislation to ensure the Rouge is maintained for future generations. The creation of Canada's first urban national park will set the precedent on how we protect ecologically sensitive land in urban settings in the future. It is imperative that we get this concept right. The government can create all the parks it wants, but without funding and careful protection of the ecological integrity of these and all national parks, the designation is relatively meaningless in terms of conservation.
We listened to expert testimony and proposed 18 different amendments to create a more robust legislative framework for Bill C-40. We were extremely disappointed—but, sadly, not surprised—that the Conservatives have once again shown their unwillingness to listen to stakeholders and work with the other parties to create legislation that represents all of the interests of those involved. That is why we are creating a new bill. The new bill will be in the name of our MP for Scarborough—Rouge River.
We want to see the creation of a park, but we are not going to settle for substandard environmental protections. We will continue to work hard to see the creation of a Rouge national urban park. We will work toward good, strong environmental policies that prioritize ecological integrity and the maintenance of farmland, ensuring the best possible protection of our precious Carolinian forests and watersheds, while working with the agricultural community to ensure the continuation of sustainable farming and local food production in the park.
To summarize, we have been through a process in debating this bill, first at second reading, when multiple petitions were presented that called on the government to act in a certain way. We actually had more consensus at the beginning of the process, but because of the unwillingness of government members to work with other stakeholders, institutional and government support has slowly but surely fallen away from this bill as this process has gone on, as the bill fails to meet the standards that we all believe should be there to ensure ecological integrity, sustainable farming, and protection of our watersheds. A pipeline that goes across the area and multiple highways and roads and infrastructure all add challenges that have to be taken into consideration.
However, in the creation of this park, we also have a golden opportunity to establish worldwide international best standards with respect to the interaction of the environment and infrastructure, with respect to the environment and farming, and with respect to the interaction of people, human beings, within sensitive ecological areas. We could look to making best practices there, taking what already exists around the world in order to make the best park with the best protection. It would the kind of template we would be proud to pass along to other parks and other urban areas in the future, because 80% of Canada's population lives in urban centres already, and the importance of having ecological lands, forests, watersheds, and other aspects of nature in and around these urban centres will continue to increase.
With a growing population, we also need to make sure that we are producing more food locally. This is why we are also upset that the government has continued down the path of past Conservative and Liberal governments in failing to correct the mistake made in evicting of many farmers in the expropriation of land for Pickering airport. There we have tens of thousands of acres of prime agricultural land that should be farmed locally, land that should be producing food for the greater Toronto area. It should be protected for generations to come so that the farmers there could rest assured that sustainable best practices are in place to make sure they are not causing any problems for the surrounding environment and that they are the most productive that they can be and can pass those farms along to future generations who can continue to feed the growing population in the greater Toronto area, which is already well over five million people.
When we factor in areas further than that, within the Hamilton area, we are looking at many more people. A large chunk of Canada's population is found in southwestern Ontario and southern Ontario, so the more food we are able to grow locally, the less environmental impact our food supplies will create. When food from distant places is shipped across a continent or across an ocean, enormous resources are used to get that product to market.
Whether our resources are appropriately priced is an entire discussion altogether, but we can all agree that locally produced food makes good sense for the economy and good sense for families, and it certainly makes good sense for the environment. The government is missing an opportunity to protect tens of thousands of acres of land that was expropriated for the creation of Pickering airport. There are other areas where we can expand airport capacity so that we do not have to lose that prime agricultural land.
The parliamentary secretary kept going on and on about the importance of making sure that farming continues to exist in that area, but where is that member when it comes time to have the discussion about reversing the terrible decision to expropriate that land 40 years ago, which resulted in farmers being on one-year leases ever since?
I and several colleagues have visited many of those farms. We participated in day-long events where we actually got to understand and see what that area brings to the province of Ontario and to our local economy. It could only get better than that if those lands were protected. However, in that debate, the parliamentary secretary is nowhere to be found. He cares about a few farmers, but he does not really seem to care about the rest. It is our total food supply that has to be protected.
The bill falls far short of what we should be expecting and the kind of standards we should be exacting to make sure we have a Rouge national urban park that respects all the stakeholders: farmers, environmentalists, the local community, local governments, and everybody involved in that park.