Mr. Speaker, I suppose there is some possibility that since June 19 members do not remember what profound wisdom I shared with the chamber. On the realistic possibility that they have not retained that profound wisdom over the course of the summer, let me do a quick review and then comment on the changes that have happened since that debate, which have a dramatic impact on the integrity of the bill.
When I was initially expressing my thoughts, I was concerned about three things: the actual size of the park, the ecological integrity of the park, and the consistency of a park with agricultural leases. At that time, I was concerned about the ecological integrity of the park. Members may or may not know that most parks make reference to a clause when a park is created, which states:
The Minister shall, within five years after a park is established, prepare a management plan for the park containing a long-term ecological vision for the park [and set out] ecological integrity objectives and indicators....
That clause is noticeably missing from this park bill. Rather, there is a downgraded standard of ecological integrity, which 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.
It is quite a significantly reduced commitment.
As I said on June 19, taking into consideration that was not a plan, I then went on to sketch a scenario, which in a strange sort of way actually unfolded. The scenario was that the would go to the Province of Ontario and say that the federal government would like the 1,000 acres or 2,000 acres or whatever the number might be and the minister from the Province of Ontario would say that the province wanted to know how it would produce the plan and manage the park. The response from the minister of the environment, who is the responsible minister, would then say, “trust me”, which does not cut it.
As far as anyone else in the House knows, including the , we do not know how this park would be managed.
I then went on to say that if I were the Province of Ontario, the town of Markham or the city of Toronto, I would be asking this rather fundamental question. I would say that unless they had a plan, no plan, no transfer. I want to emphasize that I hope it does not get held up on that. I hope there is a plan. I hope the ecological and cultural integrity of the park will be protected, however, “trust me” is not exactly a great answer.
I know the Speaker appreciates the profundity of my wisdom on these matters, but even I did not know that I would be prescient.
Members will note that since then, the Province of Ontario has withdrawn its 22 square kilometres because it wants a commitment to an ecological plan that is similar to or exceeds the commitment that currently exists for the park. The consequence of that is the government, for whatever reason, has not offered that commitment and is not presenting legislation which offers that commitment. Therefore, the Province of Ontario is in a bit of a dilemma because it wants to see this park succeed. The town of Markham, the city of Toronto and I dare say that pretty well everyone in this chamber want this park to succeed, as do all of the people who they represent.
The Province of Ontario has reluctantly withdrawn its commitment to transfer the 22-odd square kilometres that are within its jurisdiction. At this point, we do not actually know what other transferors will do to fulfill the government's commitment to a 58-square-kilometre park.
As we are speaking here on October 2, 2014, debating the bill, which we all support in one manner or another, we do not actually know what the park will be. In fact, we know much less than we knew back on June 19 when we were debating it.
At this point, this is a bit of a Swiss-cheese park, and I do not know what the Province of Ontario controls. I do know that it is significant. I would say it is pretty well one-third of the intended park. I do not know whether this turns it into a whole bunch of little pieces of land, which may or may not be joined together, through the entire 58 square kilometres. We may have a big chunk out of the middle of the park, or we may have a bunch of little chunks out of the park.
Regardless, this does not seem to be an appropriate way to go about it. I would have thought, and far be it from me to give advice to the government, that before tabling the plan, before tabling the bill, the government would have had the Province of Ontario, the City of Markham, and the City of Toronto, whichever would be transferring land, sign on to the commitment to ecological integrity, which was actually created in January 2013, when the federal government signed a memorandum of agreement with the Province of Ontario requiring that the Rouge Park policy meet or exceed existing provincial policy.
I would have thought that would have been locked down prior to the presentation of the bill, but it was not, and the Province of Ontario is not satisfied. The Province of Ontario will not transfer its land until it is satisfied, so we have a bit of a Swiss-cheese park proposal presently before the House. None of us actually knows what is in the proposal and the Government of Canada does not seem to be prepared to meet or exceed provincial policy.
The consequence is that we are debating in the dark, because we do not know where we are going to have this plan. We do not know what will be in it. We do not know what will not be in it. We do not know the basis of the government's refusal to meet or exceed the provincial standards, and the consequence of that is yet to be determined.
I frankly thought, when I read of the Government of Ontario's intention to withdraw from its commitment, that the government would actually pull the bill until such time as all levels of government were satisfied with the commitment to ecological integrity in the bill.
It is not as if this does not actually have some serious implications. This is an exciting possibility. This is a one-in-a-lifetime possibility, and it is very important to get it right. Therefore, it is very important to have all levels of government on side and to deal with what are unique problems in the proposal.
This park is crossed by Highway 401. It is crossed by Taunton Road. It is crossed by hydro lines. It is an urban park. Members might also know that the Rouge River is one of the more degraded watersheds in the general GTA. Because it is one of the more degraded watersheds, it is extremely important that an ecological management plan be put in place before the Conservatives invite other levels of government to simply turn over their commitment and in the end lose all control over their pieces of land.
I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for your time and attention. I cannot say that I would be overly insulted if you did not actually remember what I said in June this year. I hope that my remarks summarize what I see as the state of affairs and why this bill is quite problematic for many of us.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by noting that today is the first day of the Markham Fair, which runs from October 2 to October 5. This is one of Ontario's largest agricultural fairs. It has been going on since 1844 in my community. It highlights the important role that farming and agriculture have played in the development of my community and the entire York region.
What is very special about the Markham Fair every year is the importance that the entire community places on it. Every November, I have the opportunity to attend the president's banquet at the Markham Fair, and we recognize the individuals who have volunteered their time at the fair. It always amazes me how many people have been there for 5, 10, 20, 25, 40, 45 and 50 years, volunteering at the Markham Fair. Generation upon generation of families volunteer to make this annual fair a special event for our entire community.
As I said, it is an agricultural fair. We see all the things that we could expect to see at an agricultural fair. There are ploughing matches There are competitions for things like hogs, chickens, the best homemade apple pie. There is soap carving. Obviously, there is a midway and there are all kinds of other things that highlight the importance of agriculture to our community.
Today, as they kick off another year of the Markham Fair, I just wanted to congratulate them and wish them well.
There has been a lot of difference of opinion on the creation of the park. Actually, let me take that back. I do not think that there is a difference of opinion with respect to creating the Rouge national urban park. I think that the difference is in the form that the park would take.
As the members for and highlighted, a lot of people for many years have been focused on trying to create a national park in the Rouge. That is something that has been talked about for many years.
It is important to look back a little bit at where this all started and how we got to this place. A lot of the land in this area became available to the government through the expropriations in 1972 by the Trudeau government of, I think, over 18,000 acres of land for the creation of potential new airports and a second airport for Toronto. At that time, farmers in the area were evicted from their lands. Some were given leases to lease back their lands on a yearly basis, but many were evicted. That has been the reality for many of the farmers in the area since 1972.
Fast forward to 1994, when the Rouge park concept started being put into play. As it has already been noted, it really followed Pauline Browes, who was the minister of state for the environment in the Campbell government and a parliamentary secretary in the Mulroney government. A decision was made that $10 million would be set aside to help create, manage and preserve some of the natural heritage of the Rouge park. That brought in a heightened significance of how special the natural heritage of the Rouge is.
Consequently, there have been provincial governments that have also recognized its significance. Through the 1990s and the early 2000s, the Mike Harris government transferred thousands of acres of land into the management of the park. Also through that time, plans were made to manage the Rouge in a more effective way so that we could preserve and protect the national heritage of the area.
As we have got a little bit further into the discussion, there were thoughts about what could be done to protect the Rouge park. As it has been mentioned, the Rouge park falls into two different categories. There is a Toronto category, and then there is a York region part of it.
For those who do not know the area, in the Toronto category there is a large street called Steeles Avenue. South of Steeles Avenue, some of the most extraordinary natural heritage in Ontario or Canada can be evidenced through the Rouge park there. It is absolutely spectacular. I do not think anybody can question that.
North of Steeles Avenue, we start coming into more agricultural areas. A vast majority of the land to the north of Highway 7, which would be put into Rouge park, is agricultural land that has been farmed for hundreds of years. This is not just a new concept. This land has been farmed for hundreds of years. In fact, I would invite all of my colleagues in the House to look at a program called The Curse of the Axe. This program highlights the Wendat people who were settled in this area some 500 years ago. It was discovered that the Wendat people had been farming those very same lands. The extent to which they were farming completely changed how we viewed our first nations and the role that they played in agriculture and trading in the area. I would invite all my colleagues to look at the program. It will highlight again how long this land has been farmed.
North of Highway 7, it is farming. To the south, as the member for rightly pointed out, we have the 401, a hydro corridor, the Toronto Zoo and, on one edge of it, there is a landfill. However, there are extraordinary pockets of incredible beauty that the Ontario government, the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority and what was previously the Rouge Park Alliance had been working on preserving for a number of years. We have done that with partners in the private sector. By and large, we have done a very good job.
However, when the concept started evolving with respect to a national urban park, and we knew we had some excess airport lands, that is when the debate started to change a bit. We knew, as has been mentioned by other speakers, that we could do something very special here. We could protect the natural heritage of the Rouge Valley, but at the same time we could extract those lands that had become surplus to any potential airport needs, and put them back into a Rouge park so these lands could be protected for a long time to come.
The Ontario Farmland Trust, a non-profit organization that promotes farmland preservation, said, “The new Rouge National Urban Park offers one of the most innovative opportunities for the protection of farmland resources, agricultural heritage and local food production in our generation.”
If I am not mistaken, it is only 1%. This is class 1 farmland. We have lost so much farmland in this area to development. In the park south of Steeles Avenue, pretty much all of the farming that was there is now gone. I believe that we have to do our absolute best to ensure that the class 1 farmland on the northern part of the future park is preserved and saved, and that we allow our farmers to continue to farm, using best farm practices, for a very long time.
Our farmers are sometimes condemned as not being proper stewards of the land. I disagree. These lands have been farmed for hundreds of years, and our farmers are some of the best stewards of the land. The proposal that has been brought forward by the minister would see these farmers finally get long-term leases. Bear in mind that these farmers have been working on yearly leases. It is very hard, if not impossible, for them to make investments in the land that they have been farming. They cannot make the investments that most farmers would want to make. They are forced into a certain type of farming because they are on a yearly lease. This has disadvantaged the farmers in this area for a very long time.
We have the opportunity through this legislation to do both things that are very important, to protect the natural heritage of the park, while at the same time reversing decades of poor treatment of farmers in the area.
That is why I am very excited about this. Obviously throughout this process there has been a lot of debate. The member for and I have not always seen eye to eye on this. We have had a tremendous amount of debate. When the proposal first came to me as the member of Parliament for Oak Ridges—Markham to create a Rouge national urban park, I was dead set against it if it meant that farmers in my riding would be disadvantaged the way they had been and if they were to be treated the way they had been under the existing Rouge Park management.
There is a 2001 Rouge Park management plan. Part of that management plan calls for a 600-metre corridor. The net result of that corridor would mean the elimination, at a minimum, of 1,700 acres of class 1 farmland and that is completely unacceptable to me, to farmers and to my constituents. We can make sure that we work with the farmers, who are not opposed to making sure that the entire ecosystem is protected. They want to work together with government to make sure that they can do that. I want to read a letter from the York Region Federation of Agriculture, which represents farmers in the area, to the hon. Brad Duguid, the Ontario minister who has highlighted that the Ontario government does not want to transfer the land. It says:
The York Region Federation of Agriculture members are the 700 farm businesses in York Region and Toronto including the farmers in the Rouge National Urban Park. ...you arrived at your decision to not recommend the Provincial land transfers after discussions with stakeholders and local citizen groups. You did not consult with the York Region Federation of Agriculture, the farmers in the Park, or the community living in the Park. We urge you not to hold up the transfer of Provincial lands to Parks Canada.
The farming community in the Rouge National Urban Park are the same farm families that have been farming and caring for the land...for the past 200 years. The future of the farms in the Rouge National Urban Park have been in limbo since the farms were expropriated in the 1970's. The farmland in the Rouge National Urban Park is Class 1 Agricultural Land, meaning it is the best land for agriculture production. Less than 1% of Canada's farmland is Class 1. The farmers in the park have already given up 1000 acres of productive farmland in the Rouge National Urban Park to reforestation projects.
We support Parks Canada's consultation process that engaged over 100 stakeholder groups and thousands of individuals to create the Rouge National Urban Park Draft Management Plan.
It went on to say:
We believe that Parks Canada will improve the ecological integrity of the Rouge National Urban Park while maintaining the farmland in food production.
I want to reference another letter, from the Cedar Grove community group to Minister Duguid. Cedar Grove is an extraordinary community within my riding, a very historical community. This is what it has to say:
On behalf of the Cedar Community Club, we write with regard to your letter of September 2...which presents your decision to withdraw your recommendation to support transfer of land to Rouge National Urban Park.... It was shocking to learn of your decision and we strongly disagree.... With the promise of the coming Rouge National Urban Park, there was an anticipated hope for stability for the farmers and residents of Cedar Grove and surrounding communities.
It went on to support what the minister has done to bring about the Rouge national urban park.
I want to talk about what has recently transpired with the Province of Ontario.
We obviously have been working with the Province of Ontario for a number of years. Since this announcement was made in the previous election of 2011 and rehighlighted in the throne speech, we have been working closely with the Province of Ontario to bring about the Rouge national urban park in a way that respects the ecological integrity and promotes the national heritage, but also protects the farmers and gives them the stability that they have been looking for since 1972.
I do not think it is a big secret that we were close to an agreement. We had a signed agreement with the Province of Ontario that we probably would have announced had an election not been called for the Province of Ontario. Then, after the election that changed, unbeknownst to any of us. I know I picked up the Toronto Star one day and saw a letter from Liberal Minister Duguid outlining the Liberals' concerns. They were no longer going to be transferring the land because they had some concerns with ecological integrity.
Never had they mentioned this before. The province had signed an agreement with us. The transfer was to happen. We were to move forward with a management plan that was working with the province and the stakeholders in the area. Then this came. Coincidentally, everything is held up until November 2015, after the next federal election. It is truly shameful.
It is worth remembering that these are the same provincial Liberals that had before requested, not ecological integrity, but money for the lands it was going to transfer. They wanted to be bought out. Therefore, when they asked for I think it was $120 million, they had no concerns with what they were seeing then. Their concern was that they wanted to be bought out of their position in the lands; “Give us a hundred million dollars and we'll transfer it to you, no problem.”
It was highlighted by people like Alan Wells, who was the final chair of the Rouge Park Alliance, that this had never been the case. Governments had transferred lands to the Rouge Park for a very limited amount, I believe for $1. The provincial government had done that before. The provincial government of Mike Harris transferred lands to the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority so that it could be managed. That was pointed out to the minister, but they needed to get their $100 million.
I really want to reiterate what the provincial Liberals' proposal would do. In his letter to the , he highlighted what the member for and the member for talked about. It is worth noting that the member for , the member for , the member for , and I am not sure if anyone else, submitted petitions to the House supporting a 1994 framework, saying that this park could not go ahead unless the 1994 framework was supported. However, as I said earlier, the 1994 framework would cause 1,700 acres of class 1 farmland to be taken out of production. It would mean the eviction of farmers and would probably mean the closure of one of our most successful farms in the area, Whittamore's Farm.
To say that the farmers do not trust the provincial Liberal government on this is an understatement because they have seen this before. There was a park called Bob Hunter Memorial Park, where 600 acres of class 1 farmland was taken away from farmers. People who had lived there for 33 years were evicted. Trees were planted across this class 1 farmland. Millions of dollars were put into it. There was no consultation. It was done and forced upon these farmers. Therefore, the farmers do not trust the provincial government. Quite frankly, governments at the federal level have never undertaken a consultation process like we have on this, and that is all governments. The Conservative and Liberal governments in the past have never done what we have done now.
While I agree that the southern part of this extraordinary ecosystem needs to be protected, and that is what our legislation does, I do not agree that means sacrificing thousands of acres of class 1 farmland in order to create a Rouge national urban park.
I hope that members of the House will work with us to create a park that we can all be proud of and give the millions of people who live in this area access to a treasure that we will be able to brag about because we helped create it.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise to speak on a bill that deals with my hometown of Scarborough.
The possibilities and, as the parliamentary secretary said, the promise of this national urban park is certainly something for all of us to get excited about. It is a new type of park for a new era. With 80% of Canadians now living in urban environments, we need to have some national urban parks. This is really the test bed, the thing that any future endeavour is going to be measured against. It is incredibly important for us to get it right from the beginning.
The member was talking about political games being played by the provincial government, having delayed the decision until November 2015. This was an election promise that the Conservatives made in 2011. It was in the throne speech, and yet it has taken three years to get here.
Just like many other items, including trade deals, the Conservatives are announcing that the mission is accomplished before they have all the ducks in a row, before they have got the land from the province.
When my colleague from asked the question about hitting the pause button until we actually know what park we are dealing with, she asked a very relevant question. Given all the uncertainties, I am not sure how, once we get past second reading, into committee, and then come back for third reading, any member in this House could turn around and vote in favour of a park when we do not even know what the boundaries would be, without resolving this issue with the provincial government first.
If all the concerns can be addressed and a deal reached, then that would be the appropriate time to continue to move forward with the bill.
I find it interesting that we are hearing all these accusations of political games, when the Conservatives are playing the same games.
Over and over again, we heard about the Trudeau government in the 1970s expropriating land from the farmers and how much it hurt farmers. After Trudeau there was Joe Clark, and after Joe Clark there was Turner, and after Turner there was Mulroney, and after Mulroney there was Chrétien, and then Paul Martin. Now we have had eight years of the current Conservative government, and none of them have taken the steps to address that harm to the farmers that happened 40 years ago. None of them have taken the time to address those issues and to actually get that land farmed.
The member incorrectly stated that most of the land in the Pickering airport lands is being farmed right now. I would recommend that he take a drive around the area again, because most of the land is lying fallow. Many of the homes are falling down because the government has not maintained its responsibility to keep them in good repair. It is ignoring it.
The member should speak to Land Over Landings and take a drive around with its members. They are not scary people.
I know the government likes to play the game of friends and enemies game, and the game of “you are with us or you are against us”.
When the member for was introducing the bill, and when I asked questions about the Friends of the Rouge Watershed's concerns that the protections would not match what is there now, he completely ignored it and dismissed the Friends of the Rouge Watershed as a fringe group.
Nothing will ever be accomplished in Rouge Park without buy-in from the Friends of the Rouge Watershed. They are the ones who have been there on the ground. They are the volunteers who have cared for and loved that park for 40 years. They are not going to let it be torn apart. They are not the fringe. They are the stakeholders. They are the people who are invested in that park already and have been for generations. Getting them onside is also critically important.
They went to the provincial government because they found there was nobody at the federal level who was willing to listen to them. I wish the provincial government had made this point before the last provincial election. That would have been a good time to make a stand on this and would have pushed all the leaders of the parties on that issue, and would have brought a really important Scarborough issue to the forefront.
I think that would have been really good for the debate and for making sure that this park that is going to be created is actually going to be the park we want and the park we need.
I have some personal experience with the park over the years, from visiting there as a child with my grandmother. Probably not many members of this House know, but for the first five years that I worked, from age 15 to 20, I worked in a daycare. I worked for Not Your Average Daycare in Scarborough. It has several locations across Scarborough.
They really had an innovative program. During the summertime, they used to take all the school-age programs from the different daycares and put them into one central location to basically create a summer camp. For the vast majority of the kids who were attending daycare, it was far beyond their families' financial means to send them away to camp, to have that experience in nature. By bringing all these school-age programs together, we would be able to give them a summer camp. It was still in the city and it was in a school, but we were able to take them to different places, so they could have some of those experiences.
One of the most important trips was the one out to Rouge Park. It is just magnificent when one comes into the park, because one sees that blend of urban and rural, of park and city. At the entrance to the park, it is abutted against the CN tracks, and then there is a beach. There is the fabulous Rouge beach. There is the lake, the beach, and then the train tracks, and of course all the myriad sounds that go with it.
On the other side are magnificent wetlands and a pond that are just spectacular. Individuals could be in a canoe and close their eyes and feel they are in Algonquin Park or hundreds of kilometres away outside the city. They could decide to paddle up or down the Rouge River. People who have spent time in a canoe know the sounds of rapids and waterfalls, and they have to be alert because they do not want to encounter any of those when they are in a canoe. On the Rouge, they do not have that, but as they approach highway overpasses and roads, they get a very similar sound from the cars going across the roadway. It sounds very much like rushing water. They can actually merge the two forums here.
It presents unique challenges, because there are not too many national parks that have to deal with city-sized infrastructure, whether we are talking about sewers, roadways, or electrification. Rouge Park, I would think, would certainly be the park with the best cellphone access that we can imagine, and that presents challenges to enjoying nature, but it also presents opportunities and new mediums to educate the population. I am thrilled that Parks Canada is working on an interpretive program based on a cellphone app that would actually give people self-guided tours in Rouge Park, one of those ways to actually harness technology to enhance the experience within the park.
I spent a lot of time there myself, growing up, and I also like taking the train whenever possible in my travels between Toronto and Ottawa, but certainly I used GO Transit back and forth, visiting friends and family all across the east end of Toronto.
One of the most spectacular sights I have ever seen in Toronto—my colleague, the member for , skated on it—is that pond in the wintertime when it is frozen, and all of a sudden Canada's national obsession takes over and a couple of nets get placed down and we get shinny and a skating rink on the pond, inside the boundaries of Toronto. It is a unique experience to have pond hockey happening in Toronto in the wintertime. It is not something anybody would think of, but it is just one of those unique facets of the park that make it a multi-use facility all year round.
There are also snowshoeing excursions in the wintertime, and my one experience of trying to do that did not result in much success, not because of the snowshoes and my falling down, although that would have happened many times, but actually because of one of the barriers to the park. Back then, I did not have a vehicle. My partner and I intended to take public transit on a Sunday to get there. The subway does not open until 9:00 a.m. on Sundays and the bus takes a long time, even from east-end Toronto, not even downtown or the west end. To get all the way out to Rouge Park via public transit can take two hours from the east end of town.
That is another problem that would have to be addressed, the public transit access to the park, because one of the main features is supposed to be public transit access. The public transit file is an absolute mess in Toronto these days, and certainly in the municipal election, one would have hoped that many new and great ideas would come forward.
Unfortunately two of the candidates, John Tory and Doug Ford, both have transit plans that end at the Scarborough Town Centre, that do not address anything in the eastern half of Scarborough. They do not even come close to addressing better transit access to the Rouge Park.
The only candidate who does have a plan that addresses improved transit in eastern Scarborough is Olivia Chow, the one person who uses public transit, and always has. She has never owned a car and every time she visits east Toronto, she takes transit out there, and I know how long it takes from all my years of using public transit.
Transit presents some unique challenges as well as some unique opportunities for the use of the park.
Other issues have come up.
I am sure that part of the reason why the province has decided to potentially hold up transferring this land, beyond the political games, is the environmental changes the Conservative government has made that have degraded environmental protections, in particular, the Navigable Waters Act.
Rouge River used to be a protected waterway, but it no longer has that protected status. Municipal infrastructure criss-crosses the park in different places. Line 9B pipeline crosses through the park. A few years ago there was an erosion where parts of the pipe were exposed. It took three days to get access to the pipeline. This means that if we ever have a spill at some point and it takes days before people get there to start to address the problem, then we need much more stringent environmental protections, even something as having stop valves on each side of the river.
If the Rouge River still had navigable waters protection, stop valves would be a required change with the reversing of the flow. We are dealing with a 40-year old pipeline and we have no additional protections. Approval has been given to run oil the other way and at a higher psi. This is problematic on old pipe.
Looking ahead at any other projects that might come forward, whether it is Energy East or anything else, we have to ensure that the strongest protections and measures are in place so that when pipelines cross crucial environmentally sensitive areas like the Rouge River, they will minimize and mitigate as much of the risk as is humanely possible.
It is just a fact of life that it is impossible to eliminate all risks in all situations, but we can do a lot to prevent problems from happening rather than simply picking up the pieces after a problem occurs. Unfortunately, with the changes to the Navigable Waters Act, this is the situation in which the federal government has left us. More effort is going to be put into cleaning up a problem than into preventing one from happening in the first place.
There are fish species in the river and there are migratory birds and endangered species. The endangered Carolinian forest is a very unique bit of forest in southern Ontario. The Rouge River is one of the only places in Canada that has that type of forest.
It is incredibly important that we do what we can to get things right. It is important that we have the right framework, the right protections in place to ensure that the park serves for generations to come. It is important that it set a really high standard that can be met for future national urban parks or even provincial and municipal urban parks that would follow.
Lots of folks on the other side forget that the federal government has a role to play with respect to leadership.The federal government should be ahead of the provinces and the municipalities when it comes to its thinking on environmental protection, so that thinking can filter down to other levels of government. We do not have that and we see that across the board with the Conservatives.
The Conservatives opposed a $15 minimum wage that would have sent a strong message toward fighting inequality in our country. They opposed it because they did not think it would impact a lot of people. It would not impact their people is more of the reason why they would oppose that.
I again bring attention to the fact that when introducing the bill, the member for dismissed the Friends of the Rouge Watershed as an outright nuisance group and as radicals, as members on the other side so often do. Now that is coming back to bite them, because they now have a supporter in the provincial government.
The Conservatives want to lay blame at Trudeau's feet. Let us lay the blame at the feet of every Liberal and Conservative government that has followed for not addressing the issues of farmers for the last 40 years in that area.
My colleague from , our agriculture critic and I toured the Pickering airport lands last year as part of a fact finding mission to see what we should do with this land. It is a tremendous track of green space. It is class A farmland that should be used for farming. It was taken away and has, in many cases, laid fallow for a really long time.
As I said, there is only one family farm left there, belonging to the Tapscotts, who emigrated from Scarborough many years ago. They have not updated any of their equipment or introduced any new practices in the last 40 years because the land could be taken away from them at any moment. As a result, they do not run as efficiently or as ecologically as they could, because successive Liberal and Conservative governments have failed to address the issue or at least give them the opportunity for a 10 or 15-year lease where they can invest back into the land that has provided for their family for generations. We would like to see that addressed at some point as well.
All of this consternation has really left us wondering if this park will ever be created. Under existing legislation, the province states that the protections are higher than those the federal government would put in place with the introduction of this park. Maybe the federal government could go back and talk to the provincial government to see about addressing these concerns. We will raise them here, and we will raise them in committee, but it is up to the Conservative government to act. It is the government.
The government is forging ahead without an agreement with the largest stakeholder in the province, which controls a huge amount of the land for this park. It is just incredible that it would steam ahead without having that agreement in place with the province. The parliamentary secretary said that we had an agreement, and that there was a memorandum of understanding. The province now thinks that the federal government is not upholding that standard and that the protections that would be put in place would not as good as what is there now.
The government is going say that it is better. Why does it not take the time to explain to Canadians why it thinks it is better than what is there now? Have those conversations with the provincial government.
I do not know why the government always seems to have so many problems discussing things with the provinces. It does not matter whether we are talking to health care, the environment or parks. It just seems to like to roughshod over everybody else. Frankly, the leader knows best, they will put it in place and everyone just has to trust them.
As one of my colleagues said, “just trust us” is not enough. That is not the barometer for any transparent or accountable government in our country. I would even argue that a future NDP government has to have opposition, effective critics and people on all sides of the argument, ensuring that they are coming together, because that is what makes bills and legislation.
In this case, it will make for a better park. Hearing from all sides and addressing as many of the concerns as humanly possible will ensure that we have a park that meets the best environmental standards. It will ensure that the farming continues to be allowed but that it is done in the most ecological manner possible, with the least amounts of phosphates and pesticides, and the most organic products available.
Let us use that area as a best example that we can share with other jurisdictions about how to coexist between farm and urban settings.We will need to have more of this in the future as more of Canada becomes urbanized and as we require more food to be developed locally. It is important for the future of our planet to ensure that more food is developed and produced locally so as to have fewer environmentally negative impacts.
We have a lot of problems with the bill as it is. I will be happy to see my colleagues in the environment committee eventually see this and study it further. I hope for once that we can actually see some compromise from the government so we can achieve what we all want to achieve, which is a national urban park in the Rouge Valley.
Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to rise today to participate in the debate on the legislation in front of us, which would create a first in Canada, a new national urban park in the greater Toronto area.
The first thing I want to do is acknowledge all the people who have worked tirelessly on this issue for over two decades. Literally tens of thousands of Canadians in the greater Toronto area and the Golden Horseshoe have been involved with this initiative.
This started some 25 years ago, as members opposite and on this side of the House have mentioned, when agricultural lands and open spaces began to be paved over by the ever-growing sprawl in the greater Toronto area. At that time many concerned citizens decided to get involved, become activists, petition and call upon municipal, provincial and federal governments to preserve this important part of Canada's biodiversity.
It started with the involvement of those citizens in the 1980s that then led to an adoption in the House in the 1990s of a motion that minister Pauline Browes introduced and was continued with by people like Glenn De Baeremaeker on Toronto's City Council.
More recently, in the 1990s, work was done by the Rouge Park Alliance, which was chaired by Mr. Alan Wells, past chief administrative officer of the Region of York, appointed by premier McGuinty to chair that alliance. I had the privilege of sitting on that alliance with a number of municipal and provincial stakeholders in recent years and doing very important work with Mr. Wells. Minister Flaherty appointed me to that alliance in June of 2008 and I worked with that group for about five years.
When I was first appointed to the Rouge Park Alliance, I had no idea about this gem in York region, now the city of Markham, and the city of Toronto. As an MP from the west part of the GTA, I had no idea that this ecological gem existed and what is even more surprising is that I lived in the city of Toronto for 15 years and I had no idea, as a Torontonian then, that this existed on the eastern part of the reaches of the city. After I was appointed to the Rouge Park Alliance, I quickly became aware. The scales were dropped from my eyes and I became aware of this precious area in the eastern part of the GTA.
The Rouge Park Alliance and its members worked together for a period of about a year and a half to take a look at the future of the park. There were many challenges that the park and the area faced. One was a very complex system of governance that had no legal standing to affect outcomes, a multiplicity of players and interests that all had competing agendas. It was decided that we needed to come forward with a new governance model.
Therefore, the Rouge Park Alliance spent a year and a half consulting dozens and dozens of stakeholders about the future of the park. That culminated in a report that was adopted in early 2010 by the Rouge Park Alliance, adopted unanimously I might add, that recommended the creation of a national urban park in the Rouge watershed. That is the genesis of how we got to where we are today.
The legislation in front of us is the result of broad consultations. There are two sets of consultations in particular I would like to focus on to illustrate the number of people and the depth of the consultations.
The first set of consultations were held between 2008 and 2010 by the Rouge Park Alliance itself. The Rouge Park Alliance was made up of representatives from the Government of Canada, the province of Ontario and all constituent municipalities, the city of Toronto, the region of York, the town of Markham, as it was then called, Durham region, Pickering and Ajax, stakeholders like the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority, environmental groups like Save the Rouge. They were all represented at the table by the Rouge Park Alliance. When we conducted that year-and-a-half analysis that produced the report, we consulted widely, not only with stakeholders but with many other people in the region.
We consulted with organizations such as the Waterfront Regeneration Trust, environmental groups like the David Suzuki Foundation and the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, dozens of meetings with dozens of stakeholders. Those consultations produced the report of the Rouge Park Alliance, in early 2010, recommending the creation of a national urban park.
Now, after that report was approved unanimously by the Rouge Park Alliance, a number of us convinced Minister Flaherty and the then minister of the environment, the current member for , that this was an important initiative, that the Government of Canada should get behind this initiative, that we should concur in that report, and that we should act on this.
As a result, in 2011, the cabinet deliberated on this proposal from the Rouge Park Alliance in a memorandum to cabinet and came to a record of decision that decided the Government of Canada would support the creation of a national urban park. In the fall of 2011, after cabinet approval, Parks Canada was instructed by the minister and the Office of the Privy Council to begin public consultations, the second round of consultations, concerning the creation of this new park. Those consultations were even more broad and deeper than the consultations that had been held previously by the Rouge Park Alliance.
Parks Canada heard from 11,000 Canadians about the future of this park, consulted with 150 stakeholder groups, and included MPs such as the MP for , who I had the pleasure of personally inviting to a consultation that was held by Parks Canada at the University of Toronto's Scarborough campus in the fall of 2011. Out of those consultations came a draft management plan, which Parks Canada has been working on, and the legislation in front of us today.
The legislation has been the result of not just broad and deep consultations, but the work of thousands of ordinary citizens, ordinary Canadians who care deeply about the environment in which they live. Therefore, the legislation is the on-paper dream of many tens of thousands of people who live in the greater Golden Horseshoe.
It is important to note that the legislation is not simply paper. Minister Flaherty, when he was alive, put $144 million in the fiscal framework for this park for the first 10 years it comes into existence. The money has been budgeted. There is real money and real resources, $144 million, that will go to the creation and support of this park, and $7.6 million a year after the first 10 years. This is real money that would lead to the tangible result of the creation of this national urban park.
I urge members to support this park because of those resources that will be brought to bear, but I also urge them to support it for two very important reasons.
The first one is accessibility.
This park will sit in the greater Toronto area, and as such it will be accessible to millions of Canadians. It is unlike most other parks in our national parks system. Most parks in our national parks system are not accessible by millions of Canadians, especially Canadians living in the St. Lawrence Lowlands. They are not accessible geographically because they lie in far-flung places of the country, like Auyuittuq National Park on Baffin Island, or Jasper National Park, which I have never been to, out in the Alberta Rockies, or Pacific Rim National Park on Vancouver Island, or Gros Morne National Park in Newfoundland and Labrador. These parks are often far away and very expensive to get to.
This park is in the backyard of some 8.5 million Canadians who live in the greater Golden Horseshoe.
This park is not only accessible geographically to those millions of Canadians, many of whom are new Canadians who have never had the privilege of experiencing the great Canadian outdoors, it is also, unlike many of these national parks, accessible economically.
To get to Nahanni National Park to do a one- or two-week canoe trip, it can cost upwards of $6,000 or $7,000 per canoeist. That is well beyond the means of many Canadians. To hike up the Weasel River in Auyuittuq National Park, it can cost upwards of $7,000 or $8,000 just to get there, do the trip and get out. That is also well beyond the economic means of many Canadians.
This park, though, this national urban park in the Rouge Valley will be accessible by a simple subway stop, a $3 TTC token or a simple car ride to that part of the country. This park is accessible in a way that millions of new Canadians will be able to enjoy. It will introduce them to our great treasure, our great national inheritance, our great outdoors.
It will also create a park that is 10 to 15 times the size of Central Park in Manhattan, a park that far outsizes Stanley Park in Vancouver. This is truly an opportunity for us to introduce millions of Canadians to the national park system, especially new Canadians, many of whom live in the greater Golden Horseshoe.
There is a second reason why this park should be supported by members on both sides, and that is ecology. There is an ecological reason to support this park. Parks Canada, through federal legislation, has a mandate to protect each ecologically significant part of Canada's biosphere. That is the mandate of Parks Canada.
We have done so to a large extent, as governments, present and past. We have protected the rainforest in the Pacific Rim National Park on the western reaches of Vancouver Island. We have protected the Atlantic coast and the great mountains of Atlantic Canada in Gros Morne National Park in Newfoundland.
We have protected much of the prairies and the boreal forest zones. We have protected pieces of the Rockies, such as Jasper and Banff National Parks. We have protected marine areas, like Fathom Five National Marine Park in Georgian Bay. We have protected much of Canada's unique biodiversity.
However, the one area in the country where we have not protected a significant piece of our biodiversity is in the Carolinian forest zone, an eastern deciduous forest zone. It is the forest zone that lies south of a line drawn between Stratford, Ontario, and the city of Toronto. I would argue it is one of the most precious ecological spaces in this country for one simple reason. It is the most dense biosphere in this country.
It contains the greatest number of species of flora and fauna. There are more species of flora and fauna per square kilometre in the eastern deciduous forest zone than in any other square kilometre of Canada's other pieces of biodiversity. However, as governments, we have yet to protect a significant chunk of that.
That is why the act is so very important. For the first time, we will protect thousands of acres of that precious biodiversity in this part of Canada.
When we came forward with this Rouge Park Alliance report, when the cabinet was deliberating on what to do to protect these thousands of acres of biodiversity, we had a conundrum.
The conundrum was this. The area of the Rouge watershed is replete with modern civilization. It has the 401 going through it. It has sewer lines from York Region that go through the York-Durham line onto Pickering and Ajax and to the water treatment plants on the shores of Lake Ontario. It has hydro lines. It has hundreds of kilometres of dirt and paved roads. It has civilization running through it. It has farmland. It has many other things that do not normally exist in our national park system.
Clearly, the government cannot remove the 401 from this part of the Rouge. It cannot remove the toll road, the 407, from this part of the Rouge. It cannot remove hydro lines or sewer pipes. It cannot do all that, and it has to acknowledge that this area is different than places such as Banff or Jasper or Gros Morne or Pacific Rim National Parks.
The government had two options to pursue. One was to water down the national park standard, which has an ecological standard of wilderness. The other option was to create a new second type of national park. Wisely, the government decided to go down the second path. To water down the wilderness ecological standard of our national parks would put the future ecological integrity of those national parks at risk.
By introducing a second standard, we can create this firewall, so to speak, around the national urban park to ensure we do not weaken the national park standard of wilderness ecology.
We introduced the legislation to create a first, a national urban park that would still meet a very strict standard. In fact, it would exceed the provincial park standard in Ontario. It is similar to the provincial park standard in that it acknowledges existing uses such as agriculture, the 401 and the 407. It would acknowledge existing needs to stop forest fires and flooding, which we do not stop in national parks. It would acknowledge the need for hydro lines and sewer pipes to traverse the region. It would acknowledge the existence of agriculture. However, it is different than the provincial park standard because it is a stronger standard.
I love the Ontario provincial park system. Every summer I canoe through our beautiful provincial parks: in Algonquin Park from Canoe Lake up to Brent and back; through the beautiful lakes like OSA in Killarney Park, from Georgian Bay and through Baie Fine. I have canoed up the Missinaibi River, a provincially protected area, up to Moosonee.
I love our provincial park system, but in the crown jewel of the provincial park system, in Algonquin Park, the province of Ontario today allows logging. The Algonquin Provincial Park has a provincial logging authority. There is logging in the provincial park. The province also allows for hunting and fishing. I know because I have fished in Algonquin Park and caught a smallmouth bass. The province of Ontario's standards for provincial parks allow for resource extraction such as mining, logging, hunting and fishing.
This legislation and the government's draft management plan would not allow those activities to take place. It would not allow any resource extraction such as mining or logging to take place in the Rouge national urban park. It would not allow the removal of native species of flora and fauna. It would not allow for hunting, or for the removal of fossils or other national heritage features.
Also, this proposed legislation and its associated budget would, for the first time, ensure that full-time Parks Canada staff are on site 365 days of the year to enforce the national urban park standard. The dedicated year-round enforcement officers exclusive to the Rouge Park would prevent illegal dumping, hunting and other long-standing problems in the park area.
In closing, I strongly urge members to support the legislation. It may not be perfect, but it is very good legislation that would provide a lasting legacy for the millions of Canadians who live in this area.
When I have traversed Algonquin Park, I have often thought about the people and the leaders who had the wisdom and foresight in the late 19th century to stand up to the Ottawa lumber barons, to stand up to the vested interests, and say that we needed to preserve this part of the transition forest between the boreal and the southern forests in Algonquin. I often think of those leaders who, over 100 years ago, had the foresight to establish this park so that today generations of Canadians have come to enjoy parks such as Algonquin.
The proposed legislation is in that spirit. The bill would benefit our children and grandchildren, and for that reason, I urge all members of the House to support it at second reading.
Mr. Speaker, from the outset I would like to mention that I will be sharing my time with someone yet to be determined.
Before I begin my speech, I would like to say something about this debate. I listened to all the speeches today, and some members have done an excellent job. I would like to say that I met with a number of environmental groups who spoke to me about the problem of ecological integrity in Rouge Park. They told me that it is very important to keep the concept of ecological integrity and to make exceptions that will make it possible to adapt the national park to urban realities. This would help maintain very high standards.
I would like to come back to the importance of parks and nature in Canada. The marvellous WWF Living Planet Report 2014 contains a truly important proverb that really puts everything in context: “We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children”. That is really important. That concept must be part of our actions and our sustainable development. The future of my children and my grandchildren is one of the reasons why I entered politics. The report continues:
Yet...we are not proving good stewards of our only planet....The way we meet our needs today is compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs...
We must understand that if everyone on earth consumed resources like Canadians do at present, it would take more than three planets to meet our needs. We are mortgaging our children's future, which is really not a good thing. The report makes that clear.
I have met often with representatives from the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society. They said some key things about the importance of parks in Canada.
According to a federal government study from 2011, Canada's national parks support 33,000 jobs across the country, providing a stable, long-term economic base for rural and remote communities. The study also found that, for every federal dollar invested in national parks, more than $6 goes back into the national GDP. Parks are therefore very important for our economy.
That brings us to the much talked about Rouge Park. A number of my colleagues expressed their concerns about the federal government's ability to ensure the ecological integrity and health of the park and the natural environment. Nature in this part of our country is actually very important.
I would like to come back to a report by the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development and a report by the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, which said that the federal government made major cuts in 2012, thereby reducing our scientific capacity to only one-third of what it was. If we have only one-third of our scientific capacity, we will have a hard time meeting the needs. In fact, according to the report of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, “ecological integrity is a characteristic of healthy ecosystems”.
That is very important and indeed it is set out in the National Parks Act. If we want Rouge Park to become a national park, it must have ecological integrity. It says so in the legislation.
The commissioner's 2013 fall report says:
...the Agency's governing legislation and policies specify that the “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.”
That is the law. The priority in the management of national parks is the maintenance and restoration of ecological integrity.
That has to be the priority for the Rouge national urban park. There can be adaptations in the future with exceptions for an urban park as needed. However, the basic principle of ecological integrity must be maintained.
I am a member of the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development, and several of my Conservative colleagues have said that they would never touch the ecological integrity of national parks. If that is so, then they should not start doing it here. This should be the priority, and new terms can be added to adapt later. I am very concerned about the federal government's approach to ecological integrity because the commissioner's report states:
We found that overall spending on Heritage Resources Conservation decreased by 15 percent in the 2012-13 fiscal year, compared with the average of the preceding six years, with further reductions planned [after that...]. The planned staffing numbers in Heritage Resources Conservation were reduced by 23 percent.... More specifically, staffing in the science work stream [those involved in ecological integrity] was reduced by 33 percent during this period, as 60 of 179 positions were eliminated.
The federal government has everything it needs to protect the ecological integrity of the Rouge national urban park. That is why we completely disagree. We are very concerned about that possibility.
According to the Rouge national urban park bill, the minister is not required to consider ecosystem and wildlife health. He is not required to rehabilitate ecosystem health, just to consider it. What a joke. They cannot simply consider it; they have to implement strict rules.
In conclusion, we will support this bill because it is important to move forward with the Rouge national urban park. People have been working on it for a long time, and it is really important. As a member of the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development, I will ensure that this bill is amended to make ecological integrity the priority.
I think it is a real shame that the Conservatives have started blaming the Ontario Liberal government for future inappropriate use of the park. On the contrary, they should be reaching out to the Government of Ontario and provincial governments. The Conservatives tend to be high and mighty with the provincial governments, telling them things will be done their way, period. What they should do is sit down and negotiate with them.
I find it unfortunate that a provincial government has come under attack in the House. Instead, the Conservative government should be working in partnership with the provincial governments and Rouge River advocacy groups. That is a real shame. That is why it will be much harder to work with the Government of Ontario, given the way it has been attacked here.
An NDP government will provide all of the necessary support to ensure that this park is protected so that we can preserve its biodiversity and help surrounding communities tap into the full economic and tourism potential that our national parks have to offer.
There is absolutely no doubt that creating parks will be one of our priorities when we form the government in 2015. At that time, we will ensure that ecological integrity is a priority, just as most environmental groups are calling for. Of course, there may be exceptions when it comes to urban parks such as the Rouge national urban park, for example.