Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to stand in the House today to participate in the debate on Bill .
While I stand in support of this bill at this stage of the legislative process, my remarks today are by no means free of criticism of the bill. In fact, this speech, as with all the speeches from the NDP caucus, is intended to send a clear message that significant amendments need to be made to the bill in order to garner support through to the end of the legislative process.
Of course, the criticism herein is intended to be constructive. It is a plea to the government to raise its sights, its ambitions, and to do three things: realize the great potential of this project; realize the dreams of a whole lot of hard-working citizens who always had before them a clear sense of the great potential of this project; and set a precedent for a new kind of Canadian park, a national urban park.
There is an existing Rouge Park. At 47 square kilometres, it is one of North America's largest and sits amidst about 20% of Canada's total population.
The park is rich in its diversity of nature and culture. It includes a rare Carolinian forest, numerous species at risk, internationally significant geological outcroppings from the interglacial age, and evidence of human history dating back 10,000 years, including some of Canada's oldest known aboriginal historic sites and villages.
For many years, these resources have been under the stewardship of the Rouge Park Alliance, an alliance of many groups, including dedicated citizen groups, but there is now before us the opportunity to move this park and add other resources to it under the stewardship of Parks Canada and its commitment to ecological integrity.
The proposed Rouge national urban park should provide protection and restoration of forests and wetland areas to soften the impacts of urban growth, improve the quality of water entering Lake Ontario, reduce the risks of climate change-related flooding, erosion, and property damage, and improve habitat for rare and endangered species. This is important.
We have built our cities and continue to build our cities with insufficient care and respect for the ecological integrity of the nature that runs through them and borders them, and more than that, with insufficient care and attention to the application of the notion of ecological integrity to how we build and grow cities themselves. There is a certain bitter irony in this.
As pointed out in a report by Ontario Nature and the Suzuki Foundation, entitled “Biodiversity in Ontario's Greenbelt”:
|| Humans chose to settle in this part of Ontario in large part because of the rich diversity and fertility of the land. Millions now make their home in this region, as do a large number of our most enchanting species at risk....
Evidence of that once beautiful natural landscape remains in Toronto. A recent Toronto Star article put it this way:
|| The city of Toronto was built on the backs of its rivers. Nine rivers and creeks flow through its rich valleys and pour into Lake Ontario, making rivers as essential a part of Toronto's landscape as the CN Tower or Queen's Park.
Said Robert Fulford in his book Accidental City, “The ravines are to Toronto what canals are to Venice and hills are to San Francisco”.
Some of those rivers were lost but have since been found. Groups such as the Toronto Green Community and the Toronto Field Naturalists actually provide Lost River Walks in the city. Some rivers, such as the Humber, the Don, and the Rouge, their various branches and tributaries, remain essential to what Toronto is and more important, remain essential to visions of what Toronto could actually be if we took care to restore and preserve their ecological integrity.
There are innumerable groups on the ground in our urban communities animated by a vision of preserving and restoring the natural and cultural heritage of these rivers, preserving and restoring that which brought people to settle there and live off that part of the land in the first place.
In my riding, for example, the Taylor Massey project was developed by a group of volunteers a decade ago for the purpose of increasing community awareness of this 16 kilometre watercourse and for the purpose of restoring the natural heritage of the creek's valley lands and to improve the water quality and aquatic habitats of this urban creek.
The Taylor Massey creek flows into the Don River. By 1969, the Don River was reportedly not much more than a city sewer. That prompted some to call it dead. Therefore, on November 16 of that year, 200 mourners paraded from the University of Toronto campus down to the banks of the Don River in a mock funeral procession complete with hearse.
If it was indeed dead, then it has risen from the dead, thanks to the efforts of countless citizens, but not yet fully recovered because much more effort is required. I am thankful for those people who commit their free time and energy to its revitalization and to realize, for their own projects, for their own communities, for the benefit of all of us, what we have now the opportunity to do for the Rouge River.
What we have in this legislation is a great opportunity. With respect to the Rouge, so many people have brought us to this point where this land can be brought under the stewardship of Parks Canada. As stated on its website:
|| Parks Canada's objective is to allow people to enjoy national parks as special places without damaging their integrity. In other words, ecological integrity is our endpoint for park management...
However, rather than bringing to the urban park the same commitment, indeed legislatively set out priority, to ecological integrity that is applied to its other parks, the legislation would shed that commitment and shake loose that priority. Bill , in fact, would require only that the minister “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”. This flies in the face of Parks Canada's own governing legislation and policies that specify the maintenance or restoration of ecological integrity through the protection of natural resources and natural processes and the fact that this should be the first priority of the minister when considering all aspects of the management of its parks.
What is more, this language affords, according to a recent legal review by Ecojustice, significantly less protection than Ontario's Provincial Parks and Conservation Reserves Act. In failing to do so, it would appear to be an obvious breach of the memorandum of agreement between Parks Canada and the Ontario government, which requires that the policies that govern the Rouge national urban park meet or exceed provincial policies.
This is how we end up in this position, with the Ontario government withholding the transfer of lands to Parks Canada until the federal government commits in effect, and really quite perversely, to live up to its own legislative priorities and commitments.
The bill needs to change so it is consistent with the Canada National Parks Act and lives up to commitments made to the Government of Ontario so we can get on with the great opportunity of creating a first and great national urban park along the Rouge River watershed.
Let me conclude by saying, with respect to the many people who are putting their minds and energy to this issue, that we have not really arrived at a clear understanding of what the ecological integrity of the urban actually looks like. However, I approach that issue with the same optimism and the same ambition as I do this legislation. The urban and the concept of ecological integrity ought not to stand in contradistinction. Indeed, in light of the incredible rate of urbanization globally, we have to make meaningful the notion of “urban ecological integrity”. A first national urban park is the first good step along that path.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for .
The notion of ecological integrity is one that may be foreign to some of the members opposite. Certainly it is foreign to the way the government has approached many of the issues that have arisen over the course of its term in office in terms of protecting and enhancing the environment.
The member for , who most recently asked a question, was at one point the minister of the environment when one of the worst pieces of legislation, as far as the environment is concerned, was introduced. That was the budget implementation bill of 2012, which in fact eliminated environmental protection through the environmental assessment act and replaced it with an act that basically does very little to protect the environment.
This same government then, in another budget implementation bill, removed the protection for Canada's water systems, the watercourses, for the rivers, the lakes, the streams that run all over our country. Some 250,000 of them used to be protected and now we are down to something like less than a hundred. Therefore, ecological integrity is not top of mind for the members opposite.
That said, we support and we will fight for the notion of creating an ecological preserve in the heart of an urban area, in particular in Toronto, where I live. It will hopefully set a precedent for the creation of other urban area ecological integrity preserves in many urban areas in Canada. As the member for said, all of the population growth is going to happen in the cities in the next 40 years.
We need to get it right. We need to design our park systems to protect the integrity of the ecology. We need to design them to provide access to the burgeoning populations of these great metropolises, while not allowing that access to degrade the park. We need to be able to use these systems for the creation of parks to provide us with the necessary climate change adaptation that we are now going to be facing.
There are members opposite who used to talk about climate change adaptation. In fact, it was the member for 's favourite words over the course of his term in office. He said we were not going to protect against climate change; we were going to adapt to it. That seems to have fallen off because someone discovered it costs money to protect us against climate change, but we still need to do it.
One of the ways to do it is to design and protect the integrity of watercourses that flow through our urban areas. One of these watercourses is the Rouge River. The Rouge River gets its start in the headlands north of Toronto in the Oak Ridges Moraine and carries fresh water from a huge area of drainage to Lake Ontario, thus protecting that watercourse.
Protecting what flows into that water and protecting the lands around that water will also protect the integrity of Lake Ontario. Lake Ontario is the drinking water source for several million Canadians. Ultimately it flows down the St. Lawrence toward Montreal and becomes the drinking water source for many more Canadians. Therefore, protecting the integrity of that water system is something that we should be paying careful and close attention to. We cannot do it by removing protections, which is what the government has done in the past.
The Canadian Environmental Assessment Act now basically does not protect the environment at all. That was back in 2012, more than two years ago. Schedule 2 has yet to be published. We still do not know what an environmental assessment will do in terms of human health. A number of pieces of what is to be protected by the environmental assessment is still not defined because the government has still not published the regulations.
It is that kind of laissez-faire attitude that we on this side of the House wish to correct. One of the things we hope to do by giving Bill support is to bring these flaws to the attention of its drafters in the environmental committee over the course of the next few weeks and months, so that we can make the corrections that are necessary to make the bill much more robust and a better example of a precedent for other cities in the country.
With this bill we need to provide for a way to adopt the long-standing vision that has been around for many years for the Rouge Park. We need to strengthen and implement the existing environmental protection policy framework and that includes protecting the watercourse. The removal of the watercourse from the Navigable Waters Protection Act, some may wonder what difference that really makes in this day and age. Surprisingly, a meeting between the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority and Enbridge about Line 9, which flows across this park and across the Rouge River, advised the conservation authority that the removal of the watercourse from the Navigable Waters Protection Act meant that they no longer had to put shut-offs on an oil pipeline as it crossed the river. This is one of the consequences of removing the protection.
Was that a deliberate act on the part of the government? I hope not, but it is a consequence of that act and it is a consequence that we cannot sit idly by and let go on. Imagine if we create this wonderful park and Line 9 bursts over the river? What utter degradation. What utter devastation to the Rouge River would happen then.
In addition, the whole notion of will give consideration, which is part of what the bill is about, is one of the things that we have serious reservations about and the Province of Ontario has serious reservations about. That phrasing is in keeping with the government's general approach to the environment, which is “We will give it some thought, but we are not going to be held to anything. We are not going to actually guarantee that we are going to do anything”. That is one of the reasons the Province of Ontario has withdrawn its support at the moment for transferring its lands into this set of lands. It is afraid that the word “consideration” will mean that the park's ecology can be degraded in a manner that it would not have allowed.
I believe that the Province of Ontario may have it right. We do not always agree with the way the Province of Ontario behaves, but in this case it may have it right. We need to correct the bill in order to make sure that the integrity of the park and the integrity of the entire system is protected and maintained.
In addition, there is an opportunity with something called Pickering lands, which are lands that are north of this park, that presents itself to the drafters of the bill and to the government to include a much bigger area in the protections that this park legislation is meant to provide. We should not bypass that opportunity to try to find a way to protect more of the Oak Ridges Moraine, to connect this park to the Oak Ridges Moraine, because right now the town of Stouffville has way too much development in it to connect it otherwise. Therefore, connecting it through the Pickering lands would be a good additional step.
Finally, I want to say something about what was referred to in part by the member for and that is the notion of the potential for flooding, the potential for climate-change-wrought, weather-related devastation to parts of the city of Toronto. One of the things we discovered in my riding is that despite the actions of the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority, some devastating flooding took place in the July 8 storm in which more water fell than in Hurricane Hazel and it fell in shorter time. That flooding is a direct result of the massive changes to the weather systems that we are seeing and we are not prepared for it. The cities are not prepared for it.
The creation of this park could give the federal government, the provincial government and the city of Toronto the opportunity to study ways to prevent the kind of disaster that happened on July 8, 2013, and to find ways to make sure that water flow is managed in such a way that it does not affect human habitation around it. The alternative is to spend hundreds of billions of dollars in redirecting water through giant sewers and creating a whole new set of infrastructure that the city cannot afford to do. It would be turning to the federal government to afford to do that and the federal government has already said there are limits in how far it can go.
In closing, we do appreciate the effects of the bill, but we wish to see it go to committee so that it can be seriously amended in such a way as to give the land the protection it deserves.
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise in this place on behalf of the good people of Davenport in the great city of Toronto to debate this bill on an urban park in Toronto. In fact, it is in Scarborough, which is a little dear to my heart, given that I grew up in Scarborough.
It is important to note that there are many people who grow up in Toronto and in greater Toronto area, and there are many people who live in Toronto, who are cut off from the natural endowments the city offers. There are many reasons that happens. I am dwelling on this because of the importance of having green space in an urban context. That is important, as long as people have access to it.
I have spoken to seniors, for example, in my community who came to Canada as immigrants and worked very hard their whole lives and never actually had the opportunity to experience the lake. In fact, they did not even realize that Toronto was right beside a lake. They have not had the opportunity to explore the green spaces.
Scarborough has acquired a reputation, which I have always felt was incredibly unfair, even though I grew up at Markham and Lawrence, as being a concrete jungle. In fact, it has some of the most beautiful southern Ontario landscapes one could imagine. I invite you down any time, Mr. Speaker.
The issue I am raising is the issue of access. We have so much to offer in the city of Toronto, but we have a growing gap between those who can access these wonders and those who cannot. That gap largely hinges on economics and the income gap between the rich and the poor.
We have communities in the north part of our city with young people who have never gone downtown or visited City Hall, although these days, I do not know if people would want to visit City Hall. These young people have never visited the museums in downtown Toronto. They have never swum in the lake that is right there, at the side of the Gardiner Expressway.
A project that is going to create an urban national park in the eastern part of the city is incredibly important, if we do it right. The NDP has a number of questions about whether we are doing it right.
The NDP is strongly in favour of protecting the ecological integrity of Canada through the creation of national parks. However, these parks must be protected by strong environmental legislation backed up by sound, scientifically based management plans. The Rouge Park is no exception.
There is conditional support. We support moving the bill to committee to strengthen it. Part of the reason is that we do not trust the Conservative government on the issue of environmental protection. It has a long record of doing everything in its power, which is considerable right now, unfortunately, to diminish, denigrate, and demolish environmental protection right across this country. We are very concerned about this.
The way the government has first made a promise then delivered a bill that is weaker than the promise gives New Democrats some real concerns.
From coast to coast to coast, Canadians recognize the importance of oversight and well-funded institutions that protect our environment and well-funded parks.
New Democrats have many concerns about this bill, which we want to address in committee.
We believe the national park legislation and management plan should adopt the long-standing Rouge Park vision, goal and objectives; strengthen and implement the existing environmental protection policy framework; protect a healthy and sustainable 100 km2 Rouge national park area; restore a sustainable and integrated natural heritage system; dedicate more of the park to nature and public enjoyment instead of private leases; transition towards smaller-scale farms that support healthy local food production; clearly prioritize ecological health and conservation of the Carolinian and mixed woodland plain forest; ensure that all activities that may affect the Rouge national urban park undergo staunch environmental assessments; and, finally, include a science-based management plan.
In other words, we have a long list of items we need to raise. We have a park, and the partner with the largest parcel of land is not in support of the direction the government is going right now. That also underlines a serious concern, and the concern is about leadership. The concern is about the seriousness with which we take our actions in this regard.
It is incumbent upon the government to work with all the stakeholders in a manner that moves this park forward in the way it was described initially. It is also important that we look at the natural value and work together to find a way to bring this forward in the manner in which it was initially planned.
On this side of the House, we look forward to working with our fellow parliamentarians to see this park finally realized with the strongest environmental and ecological protections it should have.
Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today to join the debate on Bill .
This legislation would create the first national urban park in Canada, which is a positive step forward for our national park system. Having an area of pristine wildlife so close to 20% of Canada's population will offer a great value to the entire nation.
While the proposed Rouge national urban park is not within my riding of Scarborough--Agincourt, I grew up only a few short kilometres away, and I can tell the House that the Rouge lands are truly a national treasure. I remember attending my first day camp near the metropolitan zoo in Toronto when I was about 8 or 9 years old, and in many ways this was my first exposure to the splendours of the Rouge Valley system. Because I came from an immigrant family without significant means, this was in many ways my first exposure to the outdoors.
More recently, over the past number of years I have had the pleasure of going back to the Rouge Valley as a cub pack leader and as a scout troop leader, participating in programs such as the 10,000 trees for the Rouge program and planting trees in the Rouge park to add to the wonderful biodiversity found there.
My family has taken significant advantage of the Glen Rouge campground that is run by the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority.
It is a fabulous opportunity. We have heard from colleagues on all sides of the House about the tremendous accessibility that this potential national urban park would afford to many residents within the greater Golden Horseshoe. It represents one of the last great unspoiled wildernesses and also happens to be coupled with some of the most outstanding farmland in the country. For example, my family has also had the privilege of going on a number of occasions to Whittamore's Farm. Those were opportunities to expose my family to farming culture, particularly as we enter into the fall harvest season.
Let me simply join my colleagues on all sides of the House in expressing my excitement at the potential opportunity that the creation of this new national urban park would afford to our community and to all residents within Toronto.
I am also particularly pleased to see that the government is building upon the tremendous work that has been done by the provincial government with the establishment of the Greenbelt in 2005. The Greenbelt is one of the largest and most successful areas of preserved green space in the world and serves as a showcase for what an urban green space can offer on a large and significant scale. I had the privilege of being in the legislature as a staffer at the time, and I watched this wonderful legacy unfold.
Unfortunately, at that time the Ontario Conservatives wanted to allow continued development on this precious piece of land, as we may hear from certain members in this House, so it is heartening to see support from the government in the House today and to recognize that it is indeed time to establish a national urban park. I do want to recognize the tremendous work that has been done on all sides of the House and by many stakeholders over the last 20 years, work that has led to where things sit today.
The Rouge national park would provide important connectivity with, for example, the sensitive Oak Ridges Moraine leading to the shoreline of Lake Ontario. Earlier the member for highlighted the importance of creating linkages and connectivities between these various important spaces.
We support this particular bill, and it appears that essentially all parties across this House will likely be supporting the bill as it moves forward at second reading. However, like most things that the government does, its efforts to create this new national urban park, at least from our perspective, fall short in some key aspects.
This park is to be created using lands currently held by the Government of Ontario. In fact, lands being held by the Government of Ontario would represent approximately two-thirds of the total park lands if and when they were transferred to federal control. However, despite the fact that intergovernmental talks have been going on for a number of years and should be a shining example of intergovernmental co-operation, sadly, we have sometimes seen strife taking place between the two orders of government.
For example, when the government was supposed to have engaged in a positive announcement last summer when it was signing the memorandum of agreement to create this national park, it unfortunately turned out to be a bit of a public relations nightmare.
I do not necessarily want to diminish the long-standing efforts of the many people who have been the driving force behind this park or on the long consultative process that has occurred, but if the government was truly committed to building a first-class national urban park, we have to ask why so many environmental groups are applauding the recent actions of the Ontario government.
In this debate I have heard the accusation that the Government of Ontario is playing politics with the formation of the Rouge national park, but the question is who is playing politics with whom. For example, it was this government that blindsided the provincial government when the announcement was made last year about the ongoing development of the Pickering airport at the same press conference, and the Government of Ontario was not given a heads-up that it would be happening.
Let us be frank: it is not as though the government has a reputation for sound environmental bona fides. Members could just read, for example, the Commissioner of the Environment's report that was issued yesterday, which was damning in its conclusion that we would not meet the Copenhagen greenhouse gas emission targets by 2020.
This is the same government that has also seen substantial reductions in Parks Canada staff, despite the fact, as I will acknowledge, that the government has set aside a significant amount of funds, in the order of over $140 million, for the creation of this new national urban park.
It is no wonder that the Government of Ontario and leading environmental groups just do not trust the government when it comes to acting in the best interests of the environment.
After a decade of environmental management of the Greenbelt, which the Rouge park will become an integral part of, the Government of Ontario requested some assurances from the federal government that it would continue to protect this land, as was befitting a national park.
Sadly, this is where the bill fails the people of Scarborough, the people of Toronto, and, frankly, all the people of Canada. In our view, this bill is missing some key details. For example, it is missing details about how endangered species will be protected, plans showing how heritage areas will be treated, details about how the park will be zoned for different uses, such as farming, hiking, and protection of natural habitats.
I stand with the provincial government in asking the government to honour the memorandum of agreement that it signed with the Province of Ontario. I do so because it is important that in establishing a first national urban park, we ultimately get it right.
Despite the fact that the Liberal Party will be supporting this piece of legislation on second reading, we strongly urge the members on the government side, particularly when it goes to committee, to support efforts on this side of the House. These efforts will be undertaken by the member for and the member for , our party's environmental critic, who will attempt to work with members on the other side to fix this particular bill and strengthen the legislation that is required when it returns to this House on third reading.
While the Liberal Party supports the creation of this park and especially the significant expansion of a park system that the residents in this particular area already enjoy, it is critical that we get this right the first time. I ask the government to continue to work with the Province of Ontario and with key stakeholders to build the best possible legislation before this House. I ask the Conservatives to honour the agreement that they signed and to work with the requests that have been advanced by key environmental groups. I also ask them to simply be open to changes in order to build a bill that will have a lasting legacy for all of our children.
A national urban park in a major urban centre like Toronto can ignite the imagination of Canadians and bring joy and knowledge about the importance of the outdoors, just as it did for me when I was a young lad. However, it can only be done if we get it right, and it can only be done if we make the necessary changes to this bill.
Let me conclude by asking the members opposite to work with all sides of the House so that we can fix this bill.
Mr. Speaker, it is interesting that as the member for Parkdale—High Park, I may well be the only member in the House who has the word “park” twice in the name of my riding, so I am very happy to stand to speak about parks.
Specifically today we are debating Bill . Coming from an urban riding in downtown Toronto where the city is growing in its urban density, we are seeing increasing numbers of condos, high rises and growing stratification of people of different economic means. Some are doing extremely well by the economy, some are staying fairly stable, but then some are falling further and further behind. A University of Toronto professor from my riding, David Hulchanski, has talked about this idea of three cities, where we have three distinct populations living as one. I see that even within the area I represent.
Some people in our community are very well off, professionals, people who buy homes that are not just worth one million dollars, but multi-million dollars. They have a lot of choices about where they go and how they participate in recreational activities. They can choose to belong to a private club in the city. There is a waterfront club right in my riding. They can take a vacation in northern Ontario or anywhere else in the world. Then a growing number of people, and I see in my community, do not get to go anywhere. They stay in the city. They have never been to Muskoka or out on a boat. Their options are rather limited.
In our riding of Parkdale—High Park, we have High Park, which until now has been the largest park in the city. Through the visionary action of John and Jemima Howard many years ago, this park was bequeathed to the city with the understanding that it would always remain free and open for access to all. On a summer day, families, not just from the surrounding communities but from all over, come to the park. They have picnics, play sports and conduct a variety of activities in the park. It is a really wonderful thing to see. In fact, people from around the world come to see the cherry blossoms when they are in bloom, a gift from the Japanese government. It is a source of great enjoyment.
My kids played soccer there. There is skating and many activities, but it is also an area where there has been a great deal of work to protect the natural environment. There are old oak forests that are unique to the area and a great deal of work goes into protecting and preserving the natural ecology of that area. It is a great treasure of which we are all very proud.
The notion of creating the first national urban park is quite exciting. I see the same potential for communities to participate, to have a variety of activities or access to nature in a way that, frankly, a lot of people growing up in downtown Toronto in towers, whether condos or rentals, would otherwise not have the ability to do.
It is in fact a real treasure. It is something that one generation can pass on to the next for the enjoyment of people in the future. It is something that has to be done well. It has to be done right. The fact that this park would be created is something that we are very pleased about. As New Democrats, we will be supporting it. I do, however, want to raise some legitimate concerns about the creation of the park.
One thing I have come to really understand, with the creation of High Park and the legacy of John and Jemima Howard, is that they got it right when they bequeathed this park to the city. They got it absolutely right. In downtown Toronto, if this land were made available for development today, I cannot imagine how much money these acres of waterfront property in the centre of the city would be worth. However, this parkland has been protected for the present and future generations.
How this new Rouge Park is structured will be very important. The Rouge Valley is home to over 1,000 species of plants and animals, including a number of species at risk. It is made up of Carolinian and mixed wood forests. They are very rare forest areas. It is certainly an area worth preserving and protecting.
The fact that the federal government would create this national park was laid out in the first throne speech of the Conservative government. We applaud that. This would be the first urban national park in the country and one of the largest in the entire North American continent. The funding was laid out for this in the economic action plan of 2012. The 2012 budget said that there would be $143 million over 10 years for the development and interim operations of the park, and $7.6 million a year for continuing operations.
The main issue is the framework for the creation of this park and the protection of the environment within it. The park is currently protected under a whole range of existing action plans that were developed for this area. There has been incredible community engagement in the creation of this park. There have been management plans, greenbelt plans, watershed plans, heritage action plans, a variety of plans into which the community has poured a great deal of consultation, expertise and hope to get this right for the future.
Unfortunately, Bill does not embrace the strong foundation of conservation policy that is provided in the plans that I just mentioned, in addition to the laws that have been passed already. The concern is that the bill, if it passes unchanged, will undermine the ecological integrity and the health of the Rouge Valley.
Again, I would like to say that if we do not get it right from the beginning and if we do not set out the proper framework, the after-effects will be felt by generations.
We want to see a Rouge national urban park that incorporates the same legal protections as other national parks. That would really make sense. This is an idea that has broad support from environmental organizations, local community groups and residents. While we believe that the bill is a step in the right direction, we have concerns that, with the way it is drafted, it will undermine the ecological conservation of this land for the future.
New Democrats think that the legislation and management plan should adopt the long-standing Rouge Park vision, with its goals and objectives. We think the bill should strengthen and implement the existing environmental protection policy framework. We believe that more of the park should be dedicated to nature and public enjoyment and that we should be setting as a priority the ecological health and conservation of the Carolinian and mixed woodland plain forest.
There are a number of other points that others have raised. Again, I want to give the government credit for moving on this. I talked about High Park in my riding and another feature of my riding is the western boundary, which is Humber River. The Humber River is the only national urban heritage river in the country. It is the only heritage river that can be reached by subway. It is a very wonderful, historic place in the city.
There was great concern when, in one of the Conservative omnibus budget bills, the protection for this river was removed, except for the mouth of the river. Therefore, I thank my colleague from , who introduced a bill to once again resume the protection of the Humber River, because it is of tremendous heritage and environmental importance to our community, and we believe, as it is designated, to the country as well.
In closing, I want to urge my colleagues to really think through the content of the bill. Again, we salute its existence, but the detail of it, the specific measures of it, can and should be improved upon and we hope that all parties can work together in the House to make that happen.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to lay out a bit of the timeline around the bill and some of the key issues.
Before I get into that, I do want to take a moment in this House to thank my colleagues, the member for and the member for . They have been really helpful. It has been great to work closely with them as MPs in the NDP who are right there where this park is. It has been great to get their advice from the ground to hear what is going on.
I also want to take a minute to thank some of the environmental organizations and local organizations that have been very helpful with our analysis of the bill. They include the Suzuki Foundation, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, and the Friends of the Rouge Watershed. When we are here on the Hill, we try to do an analysis of legislation as it is presented, but it is hard to know exactly how it will play out in local communities. They have been very helpful to us.
There was a study at the environment committee on urban conservation. The NDP was successful in getting two days set aside to specifically look at Rouge Park. I think this was last year. That was incredibly helpful. We got an update from Parks Canada officials and we did hear witnesses. We heard about the incredible consultation that has been happening, over 25 years of consultation, and the work around this park. We heard about the great work that Parks Canada staff have been doing to try to ensure everybody is at the table and to deal with creating a piece of legislation that would create a park. That is very difficult.
This is an urban national park. Even the concept of it is challenging, because there is a highway in this park. There are farms in this park. It is an incredible gift to think that we could have a park that we could access by subway. However, with those gifts come great challenges.
Often when bills are presented in the House, we will hear from government; usually the minister will speak to the bill. Then we will usually hear first from the opposition critics to lay out a party's position and see where we are going.
I am actually speaking at the end of this debate. I have been listening to it since the beginning, with a small break for committee duty. It has been really interesting. I am not saying that the way a politician says, “This has been interesting.” It has been really interesting. There has been actual debate in this House.
My colleague, the member for , sits behind me and I turned to him in the last of debate and asked, “Are you listening to this? People are talking about ideas. There's a little give, a little take.” I learned from each and every speech, regardless of whether it was a government member giving the speech, a Liberal member, or an NDP member. Why is that? I think the people who are speaking in the House to the bill have a vested interest in it. They are MPs from the area predominantly. They are MPs with expertise. They are MPs who have been engaged in this issue and engaged in the creation of the park for years.
In that debate, that honest debate that has been happening here in the House, I would say that most members have put aside their talking points and have talked about some of the real issues. I find that to be incredibly refreshing.
I think everybody who has spoken to this bill really does want to ensure that we get this legislation right, but they also want to ensure that we create this park. That is priority number one.
I will say that I will be supporting the bill, and I know that my caucus is behind that recommendation. As members know, critics make recommendations to their caucuses on different pieces of legislation. We are united and we do believe this is a good project, the creation of this park. We strongly support protecting land through creation of national parks writ large, as long as those national parks are backed with strong environmental legislation.
We also support this legislation, the creation of Rouge Park, Canada's first urban national park. That is the first thing.
The second thing is that I will come to this debate with an open mind, an open heart, and put down my talking points as well, to try to present some ideas, try to present some proposals, because I do see problems with the bill, and I am not alone on that. However, I think there are solutions, and I do believe that we as parliamentarians could work on those solutions together, alongside the community, and actually come up with a stronger bill.
A lot has happened with this bill. It was introduced in June, and frankly, I think some politics were involved in that. I think it was hastily introduced in this House, but we had some byelections happening in the Scarborough area so it is good for the government to say, “Look. We are going to hold up this bill.” That is just my assumption, but I do think it was tabled pretty hastily. There continue to be politics when we see what the Ontario government has been doing and saying via the media.
This park will be 58 square kilometres. The Province of Ontario owns two-thirds of that. The federal government owns about one-third, with some small parcels owned by Markham and Toronto. In order to create this park, we need a transfer of lands. Some 5,400 acres of parkland would be transferred from the Ontario government to the federal government. At least that was the theory we were working with in June. It is not so much the theory now.
In early September, we heard that the Ontario government was thinking about not transferring the land because of the issue of ecological integrity. I will get to the ecological integrity piece in a minute. About a week later, we saw that the said that the federal government would move ahead with this park anyway. I have a concern that we would be creating a park that we do not actually know what it will look like. We do not actually have the full parcel of land. I will admit I would rather create a very small park than no park at all, but we are in a situation where we are not 100% sure what land is going to be involved.
What is the issue with ecological integrity? This is important. The National Parks Act specifically 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”. The first priority is maintenance or restoration of ecological integrity.
This bill says that the minister must take into consideration ecological integrity. That is a big sticking point for a lot of people.
Community groups have come out and said that this is not acceptable, that it is a lower standard of environmental protection. I understand what they are saying and I believe what they are saying.
There was actually a pretty good release put out by a number of groups, including Environmental Defence and Ontario Nature, for example. They said:
|| We call on the federal government to uphold its commitment to the Memorandum of Agreement. As it stands now, the draft federal legislation threatens to undermine 25 years of consultation, scientific study and provincial policy development that made ecological integrity the main purpose of the park and the top priority for park management.
That is their concern. I share their concern, but I think we can figure this out.
Listening to the debate here in the House, I have heard my colleagues, in particular the members for and , talk about the fact that this is an urban park and it is complicated because there are farms and there is a highway. How do we have this standard of protecting ecological integrity when Highway 401 is going through it? That says to me that maybe we legitimately need a different standard, not a lower standard but a different standard, for urban parks. I buy that. That is something worth exploring.
The problem I have right now, though, is that I have trust issues with this government.
An hon. member: How come?
Ms. Megan Leslie: Well, Mr. Speaker, I am the environment critic.
I do not trust that this is just a different standard. It says to me that this bill is opening the door a crack, and other parks legislation will also have a different and perhaps lower environmental standard, so it is hard to trust that this is what the issue is.
However, if we are looking at a new consideration of ecological integrity or a new consideration of urban parks, then I think we need to have that conversation. I think it needs consultation. I think we need to hear from witnesses at committee.
I think we need to, as I said, put the talking points down and have an open and honest conversation about what we do with urban parks. I think there is a solution. I am not sure what it is yet, but I think we can get there together.
I often think about the fact that there is a concept that the environment is a precious, pristine thing that is unsullied and is separate from us. It is not. The environment is us. It is the people. It is our buildings, roads, and farms. We are part of the environment.
There has been a lot of work and thinking on that concept of the environment, so I know that the work is there that can help us get to a solution here. I do not know if it is an amendment to the Parks Act. I understand if the government does not want to reopen the Parks Act, but maybe we need to. Maybe it needs to be a definition for urban parks.
We need to come together. I think we can do it, both opposition MPs and government MPs and communities.
One might think I am naive in thinking we could actually work together to get this done, but I live in eternal hope. I actually have some good experience. There is precedence here in this House, even in this current majority government.
I am really proud of the work we, all of us, were able to do on the Sable Island National Park to bring that bill forward, to raise concerns about some problems with the bill, and to actually get assurances and commitments from government, whether it was via the park management plan or reporting, that dealt with some of the problem areas and with our concerns.
As a result, there was near unanimous support, with the exception of one. Everyone wins in that case. Everyone feels good and confident, and we know we have a good piece of legislation before us. I hope we can do the same with this bill.
I challenge all of us to maybe come up with a definition for ecological integrity, or maybe to come up with a different standard for urban parks, something we can all agree on. I do not believe that anyone in this House, or any party, wants weaker environmental protection. I take the government at its word on this.
I think we can figure this out, and then maybe if we can figure this out, we could actually apply that solution to something like Gatineau Park, for example. Members may remember that the NDP has brought forward legislation several times, I think it is three times, to clearly establish boundaries and to clearly establish roles when it comes to Gatineau Park. This is a park that exists without a plan or real boundaries or definition. I will say that most recently, legislation was brought forward, in the form of Bill , by my colleague, the member for . We think this is another opportunity for an urban park with strong environmental legislation.
Unfortunately, the government voted against that bill—
That is a shame.
Ms. Megan Leslie: It is a shame, Mr. Speaker. It was a good piece of legislation. Maybe we can stake out a bit of ground on what we do with urban parks. I am not anticipating thousands of them or a flood of urban parks, but it is a real issue, and we need to wrap our heads around it.
If we can establish what urban park protection would look like, then maybe we can apply it to Gatineau Park and have another win in this House.
I will go back to ecological integrity just for a minute, because members may think I am giving up too much here, that just because this is an urban park, we would not have strong environmental protections and we would not strive for ecological integrity. I want to be very clear and let the House know that this is not what I am saying.
I believe that a park next to or in Canada's biggest city should continue to strive for ecological integrity.
Ecological integrity is the goal of environmental protection within Rouge Park, Greenbelt, and Rouge watershed plans as well as in provincial and national park legislation and policies. I know that the government agreed to meet or exceed existing provincial policies. I have heard debate in the House saying that this legislation exceeds them, but I hear from the community that it does not meet them, so we need to figure this out.
Ecological integrity must continue to be the priority for the scientifically planned and zoned national habit systems of Rouge national urban park. We could look at different standards, such as net gain and ecosystem and watershed health, perhaps. It could be utilized for areas zoned for agriculture, infrastructure, hamlets, campgrounds, et cetera. I am not sure, but it is something we can talk about. If we think about it, lots of our provincial and national parks have highways, towns, railways, and other infrastructure within them, yet they still manage to prioritize that goal of ecological integrity.
We really want to see the creation of this park. We really want to work together to try to come up with a solution that addresses these concerns about ecological integrity. I look forward to hearing the witnesses at committee. I look forward to hearing speeches in the House afterward to see where we are, and I look forward to some questions.