moved that Bill , be read the second time and referred to a committee.
She said: Mr. Speaker, the government is taking important steps to amend the Rouge National Urban Park Act, the Parks Canada Agency Act, and the Canada National Parks Act. This demonstrates our commitment to preserving our national parks, and enhancing Canada's first national urban park.
Parks Canada protects and preserves national parks because they tell stories of who we are, including the history, cultures, and contributions of indigenous peoples.
Rouge National Urban Park has been included in the newest category of protected areas within the Parks Canada family, alongside national parks, national historic sites, and national marine conservation areas.
As a large-scale, federally designated protected area with its own legislation, this new national urban park celebrates the Rouge’s natural and cultural landscapes, its vibrant farming community, and the traditional use of this special place by indigenous people.
The park offers opportunities for Canadians to engage with it through events, educational programming, and involvement in ecological restoration projects. Parks Canada programs and services at Rouge Park will enable more Canadians, including young Canadians and newcomers to Canada, to experience the outdoors and learn about our history.
Rouge National Urban Park has been included within the Parks Canada family of protected areas, alongside national parks, national historic sites, and national marine conservation areas. As a large-scale federally designated protected area with its own legislation, this new national urban park celebrates the Rouge's natural and cultural landscapes, its vibrant farming community, and indigenous peoples' traditional use of the space. The park offers opportunities for Canadians to connect with the park through events, educational programming, and involvement in ecological restoration projects. Parks Canada programs and services at the Rouge will allow more Canadians, including young Canadians and newcomers to Canada, to experience the outdoors and learn about our history.
The creation of the park and the protection of its natural, cultural, and agricultural resources are the result of hard work, dedication, and collaboration. The park would not be here if not for the work of the local community, conservation groups, non-governmental organizations, three levels of government—municipal, provincial, and federal—and indigenous communities.
Parks Canada is committed to developing a system of national heritage places that recognizes the role of indigenous peoples in Canada. Recently I was in the greater Toronto area, where I had the honour of meeting with Chief Stacey Laforme of the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation. I was very pleased that Chief Laforme expressed his support for the creation of Rouge National Urban Park. Chief Laforme and the Mississaugas of the New Credit, along with nine other first nations, have been working closely with Parks Canada since 2011, when Parks Canada formed a 10-member first nations advisory circle to help guide the creation of the park. This important relationship, based on a culture of respect and appreciation, has helped shape the park's vision and direction, and has led the way to an ongoing collaboration that celebrates over 10,000 years of indigenous peoples' history and culture in Rouge National Urban Park.
Along with its important ecosystems and farming communities, the park will also protect significant indigenous sites such as Bead Hill National Historic Site and the Carrying Place Trail National Historic Event. This is but one example of a collaboration that has enabled the Government of Canada to realize the vision of a federally protected area, managed by Parks Canada, in a major urban centre.
Rouge Park is Canada’s premiere “learn-to” park.
It is a gateway to discovering nature for 20% of Canada's population. It provides unprecedented opportunities for Canadians to experience nature and learn about our cultural and agricultural heritage. It is a place to gather and recreate, and a place to enhance the lives of urban residents through access to nature. New Canadians and young urban families may not know the joy of canoeing, roasting marshmallows, or taking a hike through the woods to learn about local plants and animals. Rouge National Urban Park is a place to have amazing experiences and build memories.
The proposed amendments would strengthen the Rouge National Urban Park Act and allow the Government of Canada to complete Rouge National Urban Park. Our government made a commitment to Canadians that we would work with the Ontario government to enhance the country's first urban national park. This includes improved legislation to protect this important ecosystem and guide how the park will be managed.
One of the proposed amendments to the Rouge National Urban Park Act will ensure that when it comes to managing the park, ecological integrity is the first priority.
The proposed definition of ecological integrity is the same definition used in the Canada National Parks Act, and will be specifically added to the act.
“Ecological integrity” means that ecosystems have integrity when their native components, including wildlife, native plants, waters, and ecological processes, are intact. Over the last year, Parks Canada has worked in partnership to complete 15 ecological restoration, farmland enhancement, and scientific research projects in the park. Ecological integrity will be applied in a unique context to the parks, in a way that respects the reasons the parks were created: to protect nature, culture, and agriculture in an integrated way.
Parks Canada is a recognized world leader in conservation. Through its conservation and restoration program, Parks Canada takes actions to preserve national parks and contribute to the recovery of species at risk.
Last winter I visited the Toronto Zoo to learn about a very interesting project. At the zoo they were restoring Blanding's turtles, a species-at-risk, to Rouge National Urban Park. In partnership with the zoo, Parks Canada is helping to re-establish a healthy, local population of this threatened species. It was inspirational to meet the team working hard to ensure this species has a future.
Like the incredible nature and indigenous stories, agriculture is also tied to the history of the Rouge.
Not far from Toronto city centre, we find class 1 soil, some of the rarest and most fertile farmland in Canada. Working farms are protected in Rouge National Urban Park, and this is unique in a system of federally protected areas. This provides an engaging opportunity to share information with visitors about the important role our farmers play both in food production for the greater Toronto area and as stewards of the environment.
The proposed amendment to the Rouge National Urban Park Act clarifies that ecological integrity will not prevent the carrying out of agricultural activities.
These amendments address the requirements of the Province of Ontario, while providing greater certainty to park farmers who will be able to continue carrying out agricultural activities within the park and with leases of up to 30 years. This will provide long-term stability for park farmers and their families, some of whom have been farming in the Rouge Valley since 1799. Farmers can continue carrying out agricultural activities within the park. They provide an important source of locally grown food to the Greater Toronto Area.
The final amendment to the Rouge National Urban Park Act would see 17.1 square kilometres added to the act's schedule. Located in the northern part of the park, this land is part of the first block of land transferred from Transport Canada to Rouge National Urban Park in 2015. This is a small but vital change to the act, as we are seeing parcels of land previously transferred to Parks Canada now officially becoming part of Rouge National Urban Park. This unique park, located within one hour's drive of seven million Canadians, will give people the opportunity to connect with and enjoy nature where they live, learn, work, and play.
By encouraging Canadians to visit our national treasures, like the Rouge, and providing them with the information and means to enjoy them, Parks Canada allows more Canadians, including young Canadians and newcomers to Canada, to experience the outdoors and learn about our environment and history.
By building these connections, we can create a community of stewards, people who know and care about these irreplaceable treasures.
I would like to thank the municipalities and community residents that surround Rouge National Urban Park for their enduring and passionate support for its creation.
Through the amendments to the Rouge National Urban Park Act, our government is following on its commitment to enhance the Rouge National Urban Park and protect its important ecosystems and heritage. We are taking steps to strengthen ecological protections for the Rouge, while continuing to respect and promote a vibrant farming community within the park.
We are confident that this will lead to the timely transfer of lands from the Province of Ontario and the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority. These amendments pave the way for the completion of Canada's very first national urban park.
Canada’s national parks protect Canada’s diverse ecosystems, maintaining or restoring the ecological integrity of these places for present and future generations. They also provide opportunities for public understanding, appreciation, and enjoyment of the natural world.
Indigenous peoples, local communities, provincial and territorial governments, and the Canadian public expect the government to preserve Canada’s natural heritage, and Parks Canada is mandated to protect and present these special places on behalf of all Canadians.
The government is committed to completing the national park system, which was first developed in the 1970s, and the national marine conservation area system, which followed in 1986. These systems support the protection of representative examples of Canada’s diverse terrestrial and marine environments.
The new parks and historic sites account is one tool the government uses in the development of national parks and national marine conservation areas. This account was established as a specified purpose, a non-lapsing account funded from appropriations, the sale of property and immovable assets, and from donations made by the public.
In order to deliver on the government's commitments to preserve and expand the system of protected areas and protect the commemorative integrity of historic sites, the proposed amendments to the Parks Canada Agency Act would allow the new parks and historic sites account to be used in a broader manner.
Currently, the act restricts the use of the account to national parks and protected areas that are not yet fully operational. The proposed amendment would allow the government to use the account and the public to donate funds to expand or complete Canada's protected natural and cultural heritage areas that have attained full operational status. This includes national parks, national marine conservation areas, and national historic sites, as well as other protected heritage areas, including Rouge National Urban Park.
This is important because without the ability to act quickly, the government could lose the opportunity to acquire significant representative areas and heritage assets that may not be on the market again for several generations. The proposed amendment would provide Parks Canada with the flexibility to be nimble in purchasing land and cultural and historical assets as soon as they come on the market.
Parks Canada manages one of the finest and most extensive systems of protected natural and cultural heritage areas in the world. This measure would support the government’s commitment to develop Canada’s world-class network of heritage areas.
It would, for example, make the new parks and historic sites account available for parks that are fully operational such as Bruce Peninsula and Grasslands national parks. These and other parks are missing pieces of land from the final boundaries originally envisioned when the parks were established. However, as they are already fully operational, land purchases to complete the parks cannot be made through the account. The proposed amendment would address this gap in the legislation.
This bill would also amend the Canada National Parks Act to modify the boundary of Wood Buffalo National Park in order to create the Garden River Indian Reserve and contribute to Canada's reconciliation with indigenous peoples. By using lands from Wood Buffalo National Park to create the Garden River Indian Reserve, the Government of Canada would be honouring its commitment to the Little Red River Cree Nation. The creation of the Garden River Indian Reserve would build on the government's commitments to reconciliation and nation-to-nation relationships with indigenous peoples based on a recognition of the rights, respect, co-operation, and partnership.
These amendments to the Rouge National Urban Park Act, the Parks Canada Agency Act, and the Canada National Parks Act are important and positive steps to strengthen the legislative framework that protects one of the finest and most extensive systems of protected natural and cultural areas in the world. Parks Canada places belong to all Canadians. National parks, historic sites, national marine conservation areas, and the Rouge National Urban Park simply represent the very best that Canada has to offer and their important ecosystems and heritage must be protected.
Mr. Speaker, it is both a delight and a disappointment to join this debate on Bill today. It is a delight because it offers a wonderful opportunity to celebrate again the magnificent accomplishments of Parks Canada and the agency's pioneering protection and innovative conservation of precious Canadian spaces for the past 125 years. It is a disappointment because the amending legislation before us contains a sad and unacceptable compromise of Parks Canada's conservation principles and practices, a compromise clearly intended by the Liberal government to provide federal political cover for the petty partisan obstructionism of the Ontario Liberal government in its refusal to transfer provincial lands to our Conservative government to complete the magnificent new Rouge National Urban Park.
I will speak first to my delight. It was an honour to serve in a government that, in barely 10 years, increased Canada's protected areas by almost 60%, with new national parks, new national park reserves, and marine protected areas. Many of these additions involved remote wilderness areas, such as Nahanni, Nááts’ihch’oh, and Sable Island, similar to Canada's original wilderness mountain park, Banff National Park.
Then, building on a decades-old dream of a broad range of passionate and dedicated conservation-minded citizens, community groups, and far-sighted local, provincial, and federal politicians, came Canada's first urban national park, not quite in the centre but certainly surrounded by the Canadian metropolis, the greater Toronto area.
In the 2011 Speech from the Throne and the 2012 budget, our Conservative government announced a commitment to work for the creation of a new national park in the Rouge Valley, and $143.7 million were assigned to a ten-year plan to create the park, with a provision for $7.6 million per year thereafter for continuing operations. Parks Canada's unparalleled expertise and creative talents were brought to bear to meet the challenge of developing and delivering this entirely new concept. The challenges were considerable, unlike anything in Parks Canada's history.
The Rouge Valley, from the shores of Lake Ontario to the Oak Ridges moraine more than 20 kilometres to the north, is a once-pristine natural area that has witnessed more than a century of intense human activity. There are ancient first nations sites but also a former landfill site and an auto wrecker's yard. Surrounded by residential communities and businesses, the Rouge is criss-crossed by hydro transmission lines, railway lines, highways and secondary roads, and waste-water sewers. In the north, there are 7,500 acres of class 1 farmland worked by 700 farmers, who were uncertain of their future for decades, on lands expropriated more than 40 years ago by a Liberal government for an airport that was never built.
Despite all these realities, so unlike Canada's traditional wilderness parks, the Rouge is still home to marvellous biodiversity: rivers and streams, marshes, a Carolinian ecosystem, and evidence of some of this country's oldest indigenous sites, human history dating back more than 10,000 years.
When the Rouge National Urban Park is completed, it will provide exceptional protection for all of the Rouge's approximately 1,700 species of plants, animals, and marine life. This includes full, uncompromised protection for all of the valley's threatened and endangered species. Unlike past well-intended but unfulfilled plans for the Rouge, species recovery plans will be mandatory and non-negotiable and under the strongest protection of Canada's Species at Risk Act.
Rouge National Urban Park will provide, for the first time in its history, year-round, dedicated law enforcement through Parks Canada's storied park wardens. As with other of our national parks, they will have full powers to enforce a single set of park rules and regulations.
The uncertainty experienced for so long by farmers in the Rouge created by short-term one-year land leases will be eliminated. Farmers will have access to long leases. With that predictability, they will be able to invest in repairs to farm infrastructure. They will be able to apply best farming practices and continue to both contribute to the local economy and provide an enduring and productive farming presence in this rich portion of the Rouge for visitors from far and near to see.
That brings me to the delightful importance of the Rouge National Urban Park's accessibility. It is located amidst fully 20% of Canada's population. While it takes many hours and many thousands of dollars to reach some of our traditional national parks, the wonders of the Rouge are easily and inexpensively accessible by road, rail, and public transit. Visitor information centres, guided hikes, and kayak touring are available to schoolchildren and to Canadians, old and new.
Parks Canada's carefully developed plan for Canada's first urban park is exactly what conservationists and the Rouge Park alliance, the former provincially appointed managing authority of the lands, have requested for decades. That plan was the result of consultations with 150 stakeholder groups and 11,000 Canadians, and had the endorsement of all the municipal and regional governments that have committed lands to the Rouge National Urban Park.
However, there was one notable foot-dragging exception. That was the Liberal Government of Ontario. That government, through successive infrastructure ministers—not parks ministers—refused to allow conservation experts at the Ontario Parks agency to evaluate and respond to the Parks Canada plan. At one point, one infrastructure minister even demanded of me what was effectively a ransom. These were lands, incidentally, that the province had been neglecting and trying to get rid of for years. He said they would transfer the provincial lands for the payment of $100 million. Of course, our government refused to pay, considered the demand a bit of temporary madness by a cash-short, badly managed government. Then as our federal legislation to create the Rouge National Urban Park, Bill , approached passage into law, a successor Ontario infrastructure minister took another tack. The provincial Liberals claimed Parks Canada's carefully crafted plan and legislation was inadequate. It was not good enough for Ontario.
I will get to that fabricated untruth in a moment. First, allow me to transition from my delight in participating in this debate to my disappointment with the legislation before us in Bill .
Bill C-18 would amend legislation containing the sort of agency housekeeping that Parks Canada performs every year or so. Two of the amendments, as we have already heard today, are fairly routine. They would mean a slight change in the boundaries of Wood Buffalo National Park and changes in the Parks Canada Agency Act regarding property considerations and compensation in protected areas. However, the main amendment is an insult to Parks Canada's well-deserved international reputation. As I said at the outset, it is a sad and unacceptable compromise of Parks Canada's conservation principles and practices.
The Liberal government would add to the Rouge National Urban Park Act the condition that it be enforced under the principle of ecological integrity. Ecological integrity does not have a universal definition, but Parks Canada has long considered it applicable only to our wilderness parks, largely untouched by civilization. For example, in Banff National Park, where barely 4% of its territory has been disrupted by the Trans-Canada Highway, town sites, and ski hills, ecological integrity means that forest fires or floods are allowed to occur naturally, except where communities or human life may be threatened. A succession of conservationists spoke to this term during House and Senate committee consideration of Bill . A strong majority rejected ecological integrity as an appropriate guiding principle for the Rouge National Urban Park.
For example, Mr. Larry Noonan, from the Altona Forest Stewardship Committee, said:
Some people have asked why the term ecological integrity is not in the act. The Canada National Parks Act states that “ecological integrity” includes “supporting processes”. As a further clarification of part of this definition, Parks Canada defines “ecosystem processes” as “the engines that make ecosystems work; e.g. fire, flooding...”.
Mr. Noonan continued, saying, “Ecological integrity cannot be applied to an urban national park.” He picked his words carefully, and with his usual calm authority said:
We cannot allow fires and flooding in the Toronto, Markham, and Pickering urban environment. The Rouge national urban park act cannot have this term included, or there would have to be a list of exceptions to the definition, which could serve to lessen its impact in the Canada National Parks Act.
I will turn now to the thoughts of Alan Latourelle, Parks Canada's CEO for 13 years, from 2002 until his retirement just last August after 32 years of distinguished service to Canadians. Alan was responsible for the Rouge-enabling legislation. He wrote a powerful farewell message last August that was originally posted on the Environment Canada website. It has since been removed. I wonder why. However, I think this House might reflect on a few of his thoughts in that letter, because I believe it clearly defends the original Rouge National Urban Park legislation and says that the consideration of ecological integrity is inappropriate and unacceptable.
Mr. Latourelle said:
...I feel compelled to set the record straight with respect to this important initiative.
As you may be aware, some environmental non-governmental organizations (ENGOs) have made several negative and incorrect statements concerning Parks Canada and our commitments under the federal provincial agreement to establish Rouge National Urban Park.
Alan continued, referring to the then and still now conditions in the provincially controlled lands. He stated:
There is currently no...specific provincial legislation governing the day-to-day management of the regional park. As a result, aggregate mineral extraction, destruction of species at risk habitat and limitless reduction of park lands for transportation purposes are not currently legally prohibited, and there is no law that ensures that the land mass connecting Lake Ontario to the Oak Ridges Moraine is protected for future generations.
In contrast, all lands to be included in the Rouge National Urban Park...will legally preclude all of the inappropriate uses mentioned above and will ensure that the vision of linking Lake Ontario to the Oak Ridges Moraine becomes a reality.
Furthermore, Parks Canada's budget to protect and present this exceptional place is 75 times greater than the operational investment made by the Province [of Ontario] over the past decade and includes a significant conservation budget in the areas of science, dedicated law enforcement and restoration. As a result, for the first time in its history, citizens of the GTA are assured that the Rouge will be protected for future generations and that its trail and visitor facilities will also be brought to a higher standard.
Then Mr. Latourelle drove home a powerful truth when he said:
Any organization that implies that the Rouge National Urban Park Act does not meet current provincial legislation is misleading the public. There is simply no act...passed by the Ontario legislature that places ecological integrity as the first priority on Rouge lands owned by Ontario.
Therefore, while Parks Canada wardens, scientists, and support staff have been working for more than a year and a half on federal lands transfer to Rouge National Urban Park, the provincial Liberal government, by its petty partisan obstructionism of withholding the transfer of provincial lands under false pretenses, has left those provincial lands neglected, unpoliced, unprotected, and subject to speeding, to poaching, and to garbage-dumping.
The federal Liberals, by providing political cover for their provincial cousins, are not only attempting to inappropriately apply ecological integrity but are planting a possible poison seed in the Rouge National Urban Park Act with this term. Recognizing this glaring contradiction in Bill , the government offers an assurance in the bill that ecological integrity would not prevent the carrying out of agricultural activities as provided for in the act.
However, the long-abused farmers are not sure. They are worried. The York Region Federation of Agriculture joins the majority of conservationists, taxpayers, mayors, deputy mayors, and counsellors across the GTA who strongly oppose this amendment, fearing it may one day open the door to improper retrograde changes to the park.
Rouge National Urban Park will eventually be a truly national treasure. It will be at least 13 times the size of Vancouver's Stanley Park, 16 times larger than New York's Central Park, and 33 times larger than London's Hyde Park.
Too much time has been wasted on petty political partisanship, and I urge the minister and her government to reconsider. I urge the minister to remove this regrettable amendment. I urge the minister to encourage the provincial Liberal government to simply transfer the land once and for all, and to complete the Rouge National Urban Park.
I would just like to say as a postscript to my remarks on Bill that, in July a year ago, former prime minister Harper made a visit to the park and made a commitment to enlarge federal lands already committed to the park, which are recognized again today in this amendment. He made a commitment to add even more of the Pickering expropriated lands, 21 square kilometres, which I hope the government will follow through on eventually, after its consultation-cum-procrastination. I would hope that the Liberal government will follow through on former prime minister Harper's commitment to add 21 square kilometres of expropriated land on the Durham side of the York Durham Line, which once completed and added, would increase Rouge National Urban Park by 36% to 79.5 square kilometres.
At the same time, the former prime minister announced the addition of another almost $27 million to rehabilitate, manage, and convert these additional farmlands in the Pickering appropriated area to add to the park, to protect this category one farmland in perpetuity. This is in addition to the almost $144 million committed by our former government to establish the Rouge National Urban Park over 10 years and almost $7 million for operational costs afterward. It would be made accessible to the farmers to grow crops of their choice to contribute to the local economy and local food consumption. However at the same time it was to make those properties available to urban visitors, many of whom would have never set foot on a farm. As Canada's farmland rapidly diminishes, particularly around the greater Toronto area, these farmers, recognizing the benefit that they would receive in a continuing predictable existence on their farms that have been farmed for many years, would make their lands available. They would allow and encourage visitors to experience the joys and amazement of visits to their various types of farms.
I will leave it there, but I will once again reiterate my closing remarks. I urge the and her government to reconsider and remove the regrettable amendment imposing ecological integrity on the Rouge National Urban Park; and to encourage the provincial Liberals to simply transfer their lands and, once and for all, complete the Rouge National Urban Park.
Mr. Speaker, it is always a privilege to rise in the House to represent my constituents of Kootenay—Columbia. It is an honour as well to be the advocate for national parks for the NDP. I prefer “advocate” to “critic”, as I have spent my life working for parks, and I am very much an advocate for them.
I am also happy to speak to Bill and the importance of protecting Canada's national parks. The New Democrats have long called for strong legislation that gives Rouge National Urban Park the same legal protection as our other national parks.
Rouge is one of the most biologically diverse areas in all of Canada. It is home to a rare Carolinian forest, more than 23 federally designated species at risk, and more than 1,700 plant and animal species. It also provides the only ecological connection for wildlife between the Oak Ridges Moraine and Lake Ontario. Rouge also has great cultural significance, containing a national historic site, an active agricultural community, and some of Canada's oldest known indigenous historic sites and villages.
For decades, community groups, such as the Friends of the Rouge Watershed, have worked tirelessly with local and provincial governments to protect the existing parklands with effective conservation management plans. It is our hope that all of this work will now result in the creation of a strong Rouge National Urban Park, one that may serve as a model for other parks to come.
While Bill does make big strides forward in prioritizing ecological integrity, there is still more work to be done. As lawyer John Swaigen of Ecojustice noted, “Notably missing from Bill C-40”, the Conservative's Rouge legislation, “was a commitment to preserve ecological integrity.” He went on to say:
...Also missing from the bill were a commitment to preserve the parkland for future generations, requirements for a strong science-based ecological approach to park management, and requirements for public and scientific consultation to help create and implement the park management plan...Despite this important progress [in Bill C-18], there is still room for improvement — none of the other recommended amendments to the Act have been made.
The New Democrats agree. Additional amendments are required to give the legislation sharper teeth and to ensure that the government's commitment to ecological integrity is more than just words. The New Democrats believe that the legislation for Rouge should ensure that all activities which may affect the park undergo thorough environmental assessments, and that greater opportunity should be mandated for regular public and parliamentary oversights to hold the government accountable to its promises and its stated priorities.
In addition, there has already been a great deal of work done by the Ontario government and local stakeholders on ecological management plans for Rouge. In fact, part of the land transfer agreement between the province and the federal government requires that the federal legislation for Rouge must meet or exceed the existing provincial legislation protecting the park.
It was the previous Conservative government's failure to meet this requirement with the initial Rouge legislation that caused the provincial government to withdraw its support for the land transfer agreement. The current government, of course, enjoys a greater level of support from the Ontario provincial government, and so the deal is back on the table. However, this does not change the fact that we have a responsibility to ensure that Rouge's guiding legislation meets or exceeds existing levels of protection.
Part of that means ensuring that ecological integrity is prioritized in the legislation, as reflected in Bill , and part of that means incorporating and complementing the excellent science-based work that has gone on before. We want Rouge Park's management plan to be nimble and able to respond to issues identified by ongoing scientific monitoring and planning. However, we also do not need to reinvent the wheel when so much good work has already been done to effectively manage this important ecosystem.
In 2013, Canada's environment commissioner found that important gaps existed in Parks Canada's systems for maintaining and restoring ecological integrity. There is certainly no need to widen these gaps by ignoring the existing ecological management plans.
The environment commissioner's report points to a larger issue facing all of Canada's national parks, and facing Canada's larger conservation plan, in fact. There is a growing concern that the federal government is falling down on its commitments on ecological integrity and on conservation as a whole.
Over the past few months, I have been proud to participate as the NDP representative of the environment committee study on protected areas and conservation objectives. This study has focused on Canada's progress in achieving its conservation targets and how we move forward in the future.
In 2010, the Conservative government signed on to the Aichi biodiversity targets, which commit us to the goal of protecting 17% of our land and 10% of our marine territory by 2020. These are ambitious goals, but a number of countries around the world have already achieved or even exceeded them, including Brazil, the Czech Republic, Costa Rica, Botswana, Austria, Colombia, Spain, and others. By contrast, Canada's progress on these targets to date has been abysmal. We have currently protected only 10% of our land and just 1.1% of our marine areas. With just over three years until 2020, the new Liberal government has committed to meeting these targets, but we have a very long way to go.
The witnesses who have appeared at the environment committee virtually all agree that the federal government has a major leadership role to play in ensuring that Canada's conservation objectives are met. This includes providing predictable ongoing funding, and a consistent coordination effort across the network of protected areas, including but not limited to Canada's national parks.
As Silvia D'Amelio of Trout Unlimited Canada told us:
There is a strong need for a national strategy—not just an agency one—for the management and identification of future protected areas. This requires collaborative strategic planning and the linking of various protected area initiatives by Environment Canada, Parks Canada, and Fisheries and Oceans Canada into a cohesive integrated planning initiative that would direct a longer-term protection program.
However, so far, this coordination effort has been lacking in Canada.
John Lounds of the Nature Conservancy of Canada said, “the range of federally protected areas is not currently integrated in any formal way to achieve Canada's targets and objectives, and nor are they coordinated with provincial, indigenous, or privately protected areas.”
The lack of true federal leadership when it comes to conservation has left us far behind when we need to meet our objectives. The federal government must turn its promises into considered action in order to make real progress on achieving the Aichi targets.
At the same time, the witnesses at the environment committee told us that while every effort should be made to reach Canada's conservation targets, the government must not prioritize quantity over quality. Instead, conservation science and the protection of biodiversity must be at the centre of policy surrounding protected areas, a greater emphasis needs to be placed on ensuring that conservation and ecological protection is meaningful, and a minimum standard of protection should be put in place for protected areas.
Here, again, the government does not have that great a track record. The environment commissioner told the committee:
In our fall 2013 audit of protected areas for wildlife, we found that Environment Canada had not met its responsibilities for preparing management plans and monitoring the condition of its protected areas.
Only about one quarter of national wildlife areas, and less than one third of migratory bird sanctuaries, were assessed as having adequate or excellent ecological integrity.
In addition, 90% of national wildlife areas did not have adequate management plans, and these plans were more than 20 years old.
Finally, monitoring was done sporadically. The department could not track ecosystem or species changes and address emerging threats.
Alison Woodley of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society concurred: “There is an urgent need to refocus Parks Canada on its first priority by law of maintaining and restoring ecological integrity.”
Moving forward, we need a renewed commitment to making conservation about effective ecological protection based on the best science available.
Dr. Stephen Woodley of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature told the committee:
Often people interpret [the Aichi biodiversity] target 11 as being only about achieving 17% on land and 10% on water, and this would be a misinterpretation of the target. It's also very much about protecting areas of particular importance to biodiversity and ecosystem services to ensure that these areas are effective and equitably managed, that they're ecologically representative, and that they work together as a well-connected system. Those elements are fundamental.
Designating a large chunk of land as a protected area only goes so far. That designation must bring with it a commitment to scientific monitoring, planning, and good policies, based on the protection of that ecosystem. These commitments must also be backed by the resources necessary to effectively implement them, and by the transparency and oversight that hold the government accountable to fulfilling them. Without these things, our protected areas are reduced to lines on a map. This is as important for Rouge National Urban Park as it is for any other protected area in Canada.
Another major theme from the witnesses at environment committee was that conservation can and should be a key component in reconciliation with Canada's indigenous peoples. We heard clearly that the federal government's conservation objectives must involve thorough consultation and collaboration with first nations, and that indigenous rights and traditional knowledge must be respected and embraced.
Bill includes a modification to the boundary of Wood Buffalo National Park that will withdraw 37 square kilometres from Wood Buffalo to create the Garden River Indian reserve. This measure honours a long-standing commitment to the Little Red River Cree Nation, and is certainly welcome.
However, there remains much to do. When we look at some of the concerns, particularly around Wood Buffalo right now, which is under investigation by UNESCO in terms of whether the park should retain its world heritage site, we know there is a lot more to do to protect our national parks.
I was very heartened, though, during our discussions across western Canada, and Canada as a whole, to learn that first nations were interested in creating more conservation areas. They felt it would help both conservation and reconciliation, assuming that these are done in partnership. As Chief Steven Nitah of the Lutsel K'e Dene First Nation told committee, “Every Canadian has a treaty in this country, whether you are indigenous or non-indigenous. If you live in Algonquin territory, there is a treaty with Algonquins. Therefore, as Canadians, you have to respect and support that treaty, so that this government respects those treaties.”
Our protected areas have an important role to play in fostering nation-to-nation relationships with our indigenous peoples. It is incumbent upon all of us, as parliamentarians, and as Canadians, that we consider the role of conservation in reconciliation as we move forward.
As we look to the future, it is important to note that a large number of the witnesses in the environment committee's protected areas study told us that the current Aichi targets are just a starting point. They are, after all, political targets, not targets based on conservation science. The witnesses told us that we need to be thinking more “big picture” when we think about conservation planning. We need to think more about connectivity.
Bill includes a measure that will broaden Parks Canada's ability to pay out funds from the new parks and historic sites account under the Parks Canada Agency Act. This change will provide the government with greater flexibility in paying out funds for the acquisition of land to expand existing national parks, not just to establish new ones. It is our hope that this change will open up possibilities for the government to think on a larger scale when it comes to parks planning.
It is clear that we must expand our scope to think about ecosystems and how protected areas can connect with each other for better ecological outcomes. As Peter Kendall of the Earth Rangers told committee, “Species and habitats don't exist in silos, and neither do the solutions to their protection...”
If we are going to look beyond the current Aichi targets to what makes sense on an ecosystem scale, then we are going to need to broaden our thinking about protected areas, particularly in highly populated regions of the country. Urban national parks may well be a part of that answer.
Rouge National Urban Park provides us with an incredible opportunity to set a bold precedent and solid foundation for the future of urban national parks across Canada. With approximately 20% of Canada's population living within one hour of the park and public transit access, Rouge also provides us with the opportunity to connect a larger number of Canadians with our environment, and to engage them in the important work of preserving and protecting our natural heritage.
As we look ahead to the Aichi biodiversity targets and beyond, the development of urban national parks may have an important role to play. It is therefore essential that we commit to making effective conservation a true priority for Rouge Park, and for all of our national parks.
Bill would make some important strides forward by bringing the legislation governing Rouge National Urban Park in line with that of Canada's other national parks. For that reason, it has earned the well-deserved support of a broad group of stakeholders. At the same time, there is more to do to ensure that the language about ecological integrity is backed by scientific monitoring and public oversight and accountability.
The NDP will be supporting this bill at second reading with the hope of strengthening it at the committee level, so that Rouge National Urban Park can set a solid precedent for urban national parks moving forward, and so that we, as parliamentarians, can live up to our obligation to protect Canada's natural heritage for generations to come.
Mr. Speaker, it is my honour and privilege to speak today in support of Bill , an act to amend the Rouge National Urban Park Act, the Parks Canada Agency Act and the Canada National Parks Act.
Today I will spend my time focusing primarily on amendments to the Rouge National Urban Park Act. I will be splitting my time with my good friend from .
I must admit that this debate is one that is very close to my heart, not just because the name of my riding includes Rouge Park but because it is a place where many of my life's memories were created. It is a park where my two daughters planted trees and where we often go bike riding together in the summer. It is where we, as a family, go to see the colours change in the fall.
I am not alone. Rouge Park is a place of great significance for people from all across the greater Toronto area. It is located within one hour of 20% of Canada's population. For those who have discovered it, it is a place of serenity, which was famously captured by F.H. Varley, a member of Canada's Group of Seven, and one where over 1,700 species of plants, birds, fish, mammals, insects, reptiles, and amphibians live. For the majority of people who have not been to the park, it is theirs to discover.
Last spring our was at Rouge Park for the annual Paddle the Rouge with his partner, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, and their daughter, Ella-Grace. They were joined by the and the . At the event, our said of the park:
It's a natural haven in the middle of a large city. That's pretty amazing. And it's something that should be protected.
He went on to say,
You know, when I talk to people about what it means to be Canadian, and the so-called “Canadian identity”, there are a few things that are echoed right across the country. Whether I'm in a big city or a small town, people always talk about nature, parks, and enjoying the great outdoors.
It is this Canadian identity that we are strengthening today, and what better way to remind Canadians of this identity than the lead-up to our 150th birthday next year. What a great gift to the people who surround the park and to all Canadians.
Rouge park is nestled in the Rouge River valley between Scarborough and Pickering and expands north into Markham and the township of Uxbridge. Once completed, this beautiful park will span 79.1 square kilometres. It is Canada's first national urban park, and it is the result of countless years of work by community advocates.
Let us take a moment to look at the history of the park and why Bill is needed.
The Rouge National Urban Park Act was passed by the previous government in 2015. However, the legislation did not meet, let alone exceed, protections that already existed under provincial law, thereby preventing the Province of Ontario from transferring its lands to Parks Canada.
The existing act requires the minister, in the management of the park, to take into consideration the protection of its national ecosystems and cultural landscapes and the maintenance of its native wildlife and the health of those ecosystems. It fell fall short of ensuring that the ecological integrity of the park was protected and left safeguarding the park's ecology to the discretion of Parks management.
The current committed to ecological integrity. The Government of Ontario rightly refused to transfer its lands for the creation of the park until this commitment came to fruition.
By passing Bill , our government will improve the Rouge National Urban Park Act and achieve the vision that park supporters have been developing for decades: a park where ecological integrity and environmental sustainability is central to its management.
The Rouge Park is one of the very few locations left in southern Ontario where Carolinian forest still grows. The park contains incredible biodiversity and houses several threatened species, including the Blanding's turtle, also known as the smiling turtle, and the red-shouldered hawk.
The Rouge Park is also a place of great significance to the indigenous people who lived on this land. The ancestors of the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation lived in the park, and the remains of some of the oldest known indigenous villages in Canada are found in it. Our government has worked closely with the Mississaugas of the New Credit and its current chief, Stacey Laforme, in discussions leading up to this legislation.
The preservation of these lands is not only important for the continuance of its ecological integrity but for protecting the unique culture it gave birth to.
The bill recognizes some of the farmers in the park whose families have worked this land for generations. The bill will allow those farmers to continue to farm with some level of certainty. It will allow them to invest in much-needed equipment, to borrow money for this equipment, and to work on their farms like the generations before them. This legislation ensures that while farmers can continue to farm on their traditional lands, it must be consistent with our objective of preserving the park's ecological integrity.
Bill will expand the park and ensure that no development occurs in the forests and farmland within its borders. It will ensure that this land remains green amidst the ever-growing pressure for development from a growing population. By putting ecological integrity at the core of the Rouge National Urban Park's management, we can protect the health of the Rouge River valley in perpetuity.
Mr. Speaker, I am obliged to thank a number of people, as this legislation is really lifelong work for many. Permit me to take a moment to thank the generations of people who have worked to bring us to this day, when we will expand and protect this national treasure for the future.
The largest urban park in North America, in one of the most populated cities in the world, did not happen by accident. It came together because over the years, our governments, communities, and people worked hard to preserve and protect these lands.
I want to start with Lois James, long considered the mother of the Rouge for her tireless advocacy. On August 5, 2003, she received the Order of Canada for her advocacy on the environment. At her induction ceremony, her work was summarized as follows:
Lois James is a champion of the environment and a nemesis to those who seek to destroy it. She rallied and sustained public and political support in order to safeguard the Rouge Valley's flora and fauna, watershed and wetlands.
The Rouge remains the life work for many like Lois James, including my friends Jim Robb, Kevin O'Connor, and Gloria Reszler, from the Friends of the Rouge Watershed. I want to acknowledge their work and intense advocacy on this issue. I know that FRW would have wanted us to go further in establishing an ecological corridor, but I sincerely believe that our commitments on environmental protection, as stated in this legislation, go a long way in meeting this objective.
CPAWS and the many environmental organizations that have advocated to protect the Rouge have worked very hard over the years. Many local community organizations, including the West Rouge Community Association, the Centennial Community and Recreation Association, and the Highland Creek Community Association are integral partners in this endeavour, as the park surrounds them, and so are the dozens of other organizations that predate me but are all nonetheless essential players, including the Save the Rouge Valley System coalition.
Most of the local politicians in Scarborough over the years have played a very important role in protecting the Rouge. I want to acknowledge my predecessors who represented the former riding of Scarborough--Rouge River for their hard work over the years. I want to thank my good friend, mentor, and colleague, the hon. member for , along with my Scarborough caucus colleagues and the members of Parliament who surround the park for their persistent efforts.
Our and her staff, along with the , have worked hard to ensure that this park becomes a legacy of our Canada 150 celebrations.
Let us admit that we would not be here if it were not for the great work of my friend the Hon. Brad Duguid, the Ontario Minister of Economic Development and Growth, and Glen Murray, the Ontario Minister of the Environment.
The Province of Ontario is to be commended for protecting our environment and for acting as the custodian of our park. Today they are satisfied that our legislation meets or exceeds the provincial threshold for environmental protection. I give my most heartfelt thanks to all those who have made this happen.
Ultimately, I want to thank the people of for believing in a grander vision for our community and those who worked hard, and at times alone, to achieve this vision. They never gave up, and while we have achieved a milestone today, it is only the beginning. Their efforts need to continue as the park takes shape over our lifetime.
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for for his kind remarks and for stealing all my thunder. He has been a tireless advocate for this park since he arrived here. This is a good day for both him and me and it is a good day for all of us in the eastern GTA area. Many folks have worked hard on this park.
Up front I want to declare a conflict of interest. I live about five kilometres away from the mouth of the Rouge River and I use this park quite regularly. I and my family enjoy the Rouge Park and all of its amenities. On Thanksgiving weekend my wife Carolyn and my children Caitlin, Rachael, and Sarah and their respective husbands and boyfriends and my grandchildren Nolan, Quinn, and Thatcher all went for a walk on one of the trails in the Rouge Park on a glorious fall day where we kicked leaves around. Those of us who are fortunate to live in that area know what it is to literally bike to the front of the park and start walking or bike right through the park. It is a wonderful treasure that we really do need to preserve.
The evolution of the park and for us to get to this day has been really driven by a citizens movement that actually does move politicians to do things. This did not happen over the course of the last decade or the last two decades or even the last three decades. It has been in some instances almost a lifetime to preserve this area of the eastern GTA for future generations, such as my own grandchildren. Without those dedicated folks, many of whom were mentioned by my hon. colleague from , we would not be here today. It simply would have been paved over or built upon or filled in or something egregious. These lands are very valuable lands. Those farms are very valuable pieces of acreage. We are in a fortunate situation to be able to even talk about having a large urban park in this area.
There are a couple of names that my colleague missed, I am surprised, but I want to add into the names that he did mention Professor Bruce Kidd from the University of Toronto, Scarborough Campus. Both Centennial and Scarborough Campuses at UTSC have been immense contributors and will continue to be immense contributors to the whole concept of how we do ecological integrity in this park.
In addition, I want to mention a number of politicians who have been quite helpful in the creation of this park. One of my predecessors, a former Conservative environment minister, Pauline Browes, the hon. member for , and Toronto's perfect mayor David Crombie, who I believe was a Conservative. Members may have noticed that I just mentioned three Conservative politicians, all of whom can make a legitimate claim to participating in the creation of this park. In addition, councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker and, as my hon. colleague has said, the minister for the Ontario government Minister Brad Duguid, who stood firm when this legislation was initially proposed by the previous government that frankly did not get it done.
Regardless of how management evolves on this park, this will be a challenge to ecological integrity. If I may I would like to take a moment to just walk members up from Lake Ontario north through the park. The first thing one would notice when walking north through the park is that the CN rail tracks and a GO train run through it.
Next up is Highway 401. Next up from that is Steeles Avenue. Next up from that are the CN tracks that come down from north Markham, through the park, and then out through Pickering. Next up from that after Steeles Avenue is Highway 407. Next up from that is Highway 7.
I mention all of this because these will be challenges for any park management and will be challenges for the whole concept of ecological integrity. Contained within the park, we have mentioned farms, but there are also businesses, and there is also a landfill site. That is going to be a challenge in and of itself. The Toronto Zoo is within the confines of the park. This will be a considerable challenge for whoever ends up with the responsibility to manage this park.
Ideally, this legislation would have been completed with the last government, but the previous government's stubborn insistence on a watered-down ecological integrity scared off the key partner to this endeavour, namely the Government of Ontario, and it basically torpedoed the legislation. At this point, the park is more of a parkette than anything else, and this is where the limitations of the House rules are such that I cannot show members what actual lands are in the park as we speak this very day. However it does not amount to much more than maybe two or three square kilometres. With this legislation, we would be adding a further 17 square kilometres, and with this legislation and the framework and the content of the legislation, the Government of Ontario would convey its land, as would the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority and other owners of the various lands throughout.
It is a pity that I cannot show this because it does show, in a very dramatic fashion, the immense amount of land that would flow from just a simple change to the legislation. I remember being in this House in the last Parliament and saying for the member for that this is a simple amendment that can be done in a heartbeat. Yet the stubborn insistence of the previous government of not doing it meant that essentially what came out the other end of the framework legislation was a parkette rather than a park.
I also want to thank my Scarborough caucus colleagues, at both the provincial level and the federal level, for hanging tough through this. It is an important initiative for the eastern GTA, and I would say this is where political integrity meets ecological integrity.
As the Rouge park is the first national urban park in Canada, Parks Canada has welcomed the feedback of more than 20,000 Canadians and 200 organizations. This legislation would ensure that the park would have its ecological integrity as the first priority. As I said earlier, that is going to be a challenge, given all of the incursions and intrusions into the park.
The location of this park is the entrance point to the eastern element of Toronto. On one side we have Toronto, and on the other side we have Durham Region. Certainly thousands of people and possibly tens of thousands of people cross the park each and every day, so it would be a challenge to maintain ecological integrity. I do not doubt it. However it is absolutely necessary to do so. If we do not set the bar high, the pressures on the park to compromise on building permits, to compromise on roads, and to compromise on various other issues that will inevitably come up would be a challenge for anyone, no matter how willing he or she is to do the right thing.
For those who feel that we could have done better, let us not make perfection the enemy of the greater good. We have come a long way. Citizens have moved governments, and governments get us to where we are today.
Madam Speaker, I enjoyed hearing the previous speaker. It is always great to hear people, who have never taken any courses in the science of ecology, talking about the science of ecology. It showed.
I am very proud to rise in this House today to speak on Bill , an act to amend the Rouge National Urban Park Act, the Parks Canada Agency Act, and the Canada National Parks Act.
Canadians recognize that it was the previous Conservative government that created Rouge National Urban Park by passing Bill on May 15, 2015. I was proud to be part of that government.
In the 2011 Speech from the Throne, our previous government also committed $143.7 million over 10 years to the creation of the Rouge National Urban Park. We understood the importance of this park and did not play politics with it.
However, the Ontario Liberal government thought it could play politics with the creation of this park. After Liberal provincial infrastructure minister Chiarelli secretly demanded a $100 billion payment for the land transfer, which was rejected on principle by our Conservative government, Liberal provincial minister Duguid wrote a letter as political cover, stating that the Ontario government would not transfer lands until the Rouge National Urban Park Act was amended to ensure that the first priority of park management was ecological integrity.
If we go back to what our act said, in that section, we see it said:
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.
That pretty much covers it all. Clearly, this ecological integrity ploy by the Ontario government was nothing but a ploy.
We now see, of course, that the federal Liberals are thanking their provincial cousins for their political assistance and are moving forward with the ecological integrity designation. It is important to note that the former CEO of Parks Canada, Alan Latourelle, disagreed very strongly with the ecological integrity designation, as it was an unrealistic approach to an urban park, which it is.
Mr. Latourelle was the CEO when Rouge National Urban Park was created. He says:
....all lands to be included in the Rouge National Urban Park Act will legally preclude all of the inappropriate uses—
He is referring to Ontario parks.
—mentioned above and will ensure that the vision of linking Lake Ontario to the Oak Ridges Moraine becomes a reality....
Any organization that implies that the Rouge National Urban Park Act does not meet current provincial legislation is misleading the public. There is simply no act that has been passed by the Ontario legislature that places ecological integrity as the first priority on Rouge lands owned by Ontario.
He went on to note:
In developing its management and legislative approach for Rouge National Urban Park, Parks Canada was guided by the IUCN’s Urban Protected Areas: Profiles and best practice guidelines. It is important to underline the fact that Rouge National Urban Park very clearly meets or exceeds all 30 of the IUCN’s urban protected area guidelines. In fact, based on the Agency’s review, the Rouge National Urban Park Act is the strongest legislation governing IUCN urban parks in the world.
It is clear that the way our government had set the park up was world class.
I will be supporting the legislation in principle, but it will need to be amended at committee for that support to continue. Let me explain why.
It is my strong belief that our national parks are about people. They are for people. They are about allowing people to have access to and explore nature. As well, national parks protect certain ecosystems and the biological, chemical, hydrological, and physical processes that are required by healthy ecosystems.
At the time of the park's creation, our government determined that the integrated approach was the most appropriate for the Rouge Park. There were three very clear interconnected priorities when it comes to protection: nature, culture, and agriculture.
This model is what Canadians and the Rouge Park Alliance, the former provincially appointed managing authority of Rouge Park, had asked for. This would allow the Rouge's natural, cultural, and agricultural resources to receive the highest level of protection now and far into the future.
Ecological integrity as the first priority of park management could be an opening to the interference with or even the removal of farmers from the park, which would be a real travesty.
The purpose of the Rouge Park, at least when we created it, is not to force farmers off the land, but these amendments could have that effect. Furthermore, the term “ecological integrity” implies a “leave it alone” approach to park management.
The leave it alone approach to managing lands is usually advocated by people who do not spend any time in nature. Farmers, ranchers, trappers or hunters know there is no such thing as leaving nature alone.
I will again go back to the previous act, which states, “The Minister must...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 important to also recognize the need to manage nature to achieve desired outcomes and to protect cultural landscapes. This is in direct opposition to the leave it alone approach advocated by many activists, most of whom have spent no time in nature at all.
Cultural landscapes in the Rouge National Urban Park refer to the agricultural operations that are currently operating within the park. Furthermore, there is no such thing as a static environment. Nature is changing all the time. There are droughts, floods, fires, invading species, plant successions, and so on. There are times when humans must “step in and actively manage nature”.
Back home in western Manitoba, we have been enduring years of high rainfall and floods. The ecosystem has changed dramatically, as have the wildlife species. Therefore, we are building drains and trying to manage water. Again, there are times when human beings must step in to manage nature.
A few years ago I purchased whose title intrigued me, and I have referred to it a number of times. It is called The God Species and is authored by environmental Mark Lynas. It is about how the planet can survive the age of humans.
Lynas states that human beings have become such a planetary force that we must step in when things are going wrong, and we have an obligation to step in to manage lands to deliver ecosystem health.
[Working] at a planetary level is essential if creation is not to be irreparably damaged or even destroyed by humans unwittingly deploying our new-found powers in disastrous ways. At this late stage, false humility is a more urgent danger than hubris....we must help it regain the stability it needs to function as a self-regulating, highly dynamic and complex system.
He goes on to note:
Most importantly, environmentalists need to remind themselves that humans are not all bad. We evolved within this living biosphere, and we have as much right to be here as any other species.... The Age of Humans does not have to be an era of hardship and misery for other species; we can nurture and protect as well as dominate and conquer. But in any case, the first responsibility of a conquering army is always to govern.
As a person who owns a farm and spends a lot of time in nature, what Lynas is talking about is stewardship. Stewardship is a very good, benign, and positive word when it comes to what human beings do with the environment.
The idea of pristine nature is largely a myth. William Denevan, from the University of Wisconsin, wrote a paper called, “The Pristine Myth: The Landscape of the Americas in 1492”. In it he noted this with respect to the Latin American forest:
Large expanses of Latin American forests are humanized forests in which the kinds, numbers, and distributions of useful species are managed by human populations.
Aboriginal people lit prairie fires on a regular basis to keep the woody species down and ensure lots of grass for the bison herds that they depended on. One of the management strategies for wetlands is to draw wetlands down periodically and allow the soil to dry out and improve the health of wetlands.
On my farm, because I liked having wildlife around, I have created openings in the forests, and I am able to improve wildlife populations.
The recreational fisheries community, working with fishery biologists, create new fish spawning areas. The Miramichi Salmon Association, through our recreational fisheries conservation program, creates cold water refugia for Atlantic salmon so they can survive warm water temperatures. Therefore, active management of landscapes and the environment is more common than not.
Europe, for example, is one completely managed landscape, designed to deliver certain ecosystem services to people, from agriculture to forestry to wildlife. Therefore, rural Europe is one big managed garden.
Again, only in North America can we have this peculiar conceit about pristine landscapes. We are the only place in the world that talks this way. The rest of the world has to actively manage landscapes to deliver certain ecological outcomes. However, we are actually getting pretty good at this now, although it has taken many years. Our knowledge is growing all the time and we are making better decisions all the time.
Getting back to Rouge National Urban Park, it is a highly impacted park. It is surrounded by development. The term “ecological integrity” very much implies a leave it alone and hope things work out approach. We will have invasive species in there. We will perhaps have the hydrological cycle disrupted because of the way the highway patterns are. A whole bunch of things are going to happen in there. Will the government do anything about it? The traditional Parks Canada approach is to leave it alone.
Interestingly enough, there are many instances where human beings have touched the earth very lightly and created conditions that are better ecologically than otherwise would have been. Let us take Grasslands National Park in Saskatchewan, for example. I have had the honour of visiting it a few times.
Grasslands National Park was created by ranchers. If it were not for the ranchers grazing, and the way they grazed, that national park would not have the attributes it has now, and it would not have had the attributes that would have made it a desirable place to create one of Canada's most unique and important national parks, which creates unique, rare, and important plant and animal communities. It is all because of what the ranchers did.
Parks Canada's initial view when the park was being created was that the ranchers had to go. However, it quickly realized that it was grazing that kept the park's ecosystem intact. I check recently and cattle ranching has continued to be part of the management of Grasslands National Park.
As I said earlier, I have the honour of owning a farm, 480 acres, with 320 acres under a permanent conservation easement with the nature conservancy. Therefore, I have my own mini-Rouge Park with a bit of agriculture in it, forest, wetlands, and wildlife. From personal experience, there are ways to touch the land very lightly and deliver the things people want.
My riding also happens to encompass Riding Mountain National Park. I live very close to that park. In fact, it is one of the reasons I moved there.
Although Riding Mountain National Park is a rural park, it has some characteristics similar to Rouge National Urban Park. It is about 1,000 square kilometres, or maybe bigger, but it is a large park surrounded by a sea of agriculture. The park is very important, and it is one of the few aspen parks. It protects the very rare rough fescue prairie. The bird diversity is extremely rich in summer. There are high populations of elk, moose, deer, plus wolves and black bears. It is an absolutely wonderful place.
It started off as a Dominion forest reserve in the late 1800s as a source of wood for the settlers, and then it became a park. Forestry was allowed up until I think the 1960s and early 1970s, and then was eliminated, just like that. The people who cut wood on a sustainable basis were told to leave. As a result of that, the forest kept getting older and older. Keep in mind, there is no fire suppression in Riding Mountain National Park. Therefore, is this a natural ecosystem?
In the name of ecological integrity, grazing was eliminated in the park. There were a number of ranchers who were allowed to graze their cattle in the park, but I think it was in the mid-1970s that they were all summarily told to leave, at great cost to individual farmers, and with no compensation whatsoever.
In the 1970s, the Liberal government kicked the farmers out of the Riding Mountain National Park, with no compensation. There was some great cost to wildlife as well. What haying and grazing did in that park was maintain the grasslands. Elk especially are a grassland species, so elk populations suffered because of this.
Adapting ecological integrity in the Rouge could see many Rouge farmers evicted from working farms that have been in production since as early as 1799.
If the Liberals say that they support both farming and ecological integrity, as it is legally defined by the Canada National Parks Act, they are at best naive, or misinformed or, at worst, misleading the farming community. These farmers, who have been responsible stewards of the economy for generations, must be allowed to remain in the park.
Interestingly, wildlife is always an attribute in national parks. People like seeing deer, for example, apart from the fact that they run in front of our cars. The point is that high deer populations are, by and large, well liked. People very much enjoy seeing Canada geese and waterfowl flying around.
What the farming in Rouge Park does, especially if the farmers are growing corn, soybeans and grains, is provide very important food for wildlife species. Some might say it is just artificial. It is not, because farming is part of the ecosystem of that park.
What Rouge Park has the potential to be a very diverse and wonderful place where ecological services and cultural amenities are conserved and protected.
During the committee hearings on Bill in the previous Parliament, we heard from Mr. Larry Noonan from the Altona Forest Community Stewardship Committee. He said:
Some people have asked why the term ecological integrity is not in the act. The Canada National Parks Act states that “ecological integrity” includes “supporting processes”. As a further clarification of part of this definition, Parks Canada defines “ecosystem processes” as “the engines that make ecosystems work; e.g. fire, flooding...
It is very important. Ecological integrity talks about letting it all happen, fires and floods.
It is clear, as Mr. Noonan continued that “Ecological integrity cannot be applied to an urban national park”. He was very clear, and he has the moral authority to stand by these words. Furthermore, he stated:
We cannot allow fires and flooding in the Toronto, Markham, and Pickering urban environment. The Rouge national urban park act cannot have this term included, or there would have to be a list of exceptions to the definition which could serve to lessen its impact in the Canada National Parks Act.
Only two of the 11 committee witnesses supported or espoused ecological integrity during the previous Parliament. Eighty-one per cent of the witnesses present did not ask for ecological integrity to be included, yet the Liberals chose to use it in the legislation before us.
The true definition of “ecological integrity” would imply letting forest fires burn, floods to run their course and wildlife to survive without human intervention. A number of species of wildlife are problematic, such as raccoons and skunks that carry rabies. Will this park be a reservoir for those species? Perhaps it is now.
The Rouge sits alongside residential neighbourhoods, has highways, power lines, a pipeline across various parts of it, working farmland, a former landfill dump site and an old auto wreckers yard. For these reasons, any attempt at calling our actions “ecological integrity” would be in words only.
Ecological integrity, as the primary guiding principle for the park, is an unrealistic measure for an urban park that was established to introduce Canadians to nature, local culture and agricultural, the first of its kind in Canada.
In real terms, if the government were to apply the concept of ecological integrity to the Rouge National Urban Park the consequences on local communities and municipalities could be dire. The creation of Rouge National Urban Park was a great accomplishment for which I am very proud of our former Conservative government. I would urge the Liberals to reconsider their adamant and unwarranted support for the inclusion of ecological integrity as the first priority of park management.
Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for .
As the member of Parliament for Scarborough Centre it is truly a pleasure to stand in the House in support of a bill that will ensure Rouge National Urban Park, a true Scarborough jewel, will be protected for generations to come.
With Bill , an act to amend the Rouge National Urban Park Act, the Parks Canada Agency Act, and the Canada National Parks Act, our government is fulfilling a key campaign commitment to the people of Scarborough and is ensuring that millions of people in the greater Toronto area and Canadians from coast to coast to coast will continue to have access to an even larger Rouge National Urban Park on the edge of Canada's largest city. In fact, over 20% of Canada's population lives within an hour's drive of the park.
I would like to thank the hon. for bringing forward this legislation so early in this government's mandate and especially for the open and consultative approach she and her team have taken in drafting this legislation.
Shortly after the government was sworn in last year, my fellow Scarborough members of Parliament and I reached out to the minister and her department to press the importance of acting swiftly to protect the Rouge and to remind her of the commitments our campaign made to the people of Scarborough to amend the Rouge National Urban Park Act. The minister's team immediately launched an extensive consultative process that included local environmental and activist groups, local farmers and business operators, the Ontario provincial government, and the indigenous community.
The also visited the park with me and other members of our Scarborough caucus to view this ecological wonder first-hand and to hear directly from Parks Canada employees, the local community groups working so hard to protect the park, and other stakeholders. This is a great example of this government's commitment to consultation with Canadians, and I applaud the Environment Minister for her leadership on Bill .
What is the Rouge National Urban Park? To me, most of all it is a piece of nature and natural wonder on the edge of Scarborough that offers urban residents, especially young people and middle-class families, a chance to experience nature and wilderness that is just a transit ride away.
On the edge of the concrete jungle, the Rouge Park is a green oasis. The Rouge National Urban Park stretches from Lake Ontario in the south, north to York region and the post-glacial Oak Ridges moraine.
Humans have been in the Rouge Park for more than 10,000 years, from paleolithic nomadic hunters to lroquoian farmers, from early European explorers to the modern urban explorers of today.
Within the park are two national historic sites. The Toronto Carrying Place was an important portage route created by the local indigenous people that was later used by European fur traders and settlers. The Bead Hill archaeological site is an intact 17th-century Seneca village, which has been minimally excavated and is protected from development.
The Rouge National Urban Park is a place for nature, for culture, and even for agriculture. It is a place for hiking and camping, for exploration and adventure. It is a place for paddling. This year, the and his family showed off their canoeing skills at the annual Paddle the Rouge. This year's event was the biggest yet with over 160 paddlers, including 50 young people, coming out to learn to paddle.
The Rouge National Urban Park is a place for family and for community. It is also a place for youth for field trips with their teachers to learn about ecology and nature, and exploration and adventure on the weekend with friends.
The Rouge National Urban Park is home to the Rouge Valley Conservation Centre, which runs amazing guided walks and environmental educational programs in the park, including summer camps.
While it has not been as often as I would like, I have visited Rouge National Urban Park several times with my husband and sons. It is great to have this place to reconnect with nature and the environment so close to the city. I would encourage more Canadians to take the time to visit Canada's national parks. I would remind Canadians, that as part of the 150th anniversary celebrations of Canadian Confederation, admission to all our national parks, national historic sites, and national marine conservation areas is free in 2017. Therefore, Madam Speaker, I hope to see you, and many other Canadians, in Scarborough for your summer vacation next year.
Our government is committed to expanding Rouge National Urban Park and ensuring it is safe from development, with stringent environmental protections. These goals are achieved by Bill . This bill will nearly double the size of the park. The strengthened environmental protections in this legislation were developed in close collaboration with the Government of Ontario, indigenous peoples, and local stakeholders, and will ensure that the park will be preserved for generations to come.
While this is the only urban national park in Canada, with Bill , the protections for Rouge National Urban Park are now as stringent as those protecting every other national park in Canada, from the Pacific Rim National Park in the west, to Cape Breton Highlands National Park in the east.
Bill will also enlarge the park, bringing it closer to its natural and eventual size, with the addition of another 17.1 square kilometres of land in the northern portion of the park being transferred from Transport Canada. At 79.1 square kilometres, Rouge National Urban Park will be 10 times larger than Vancouver's Stanley Park, and 22 times larger than Central Park in New York City.
We must be guided by the principle of ecological integrity. Ecosystems have integrity when their native components, including wildlife, native plants, waters, and ecological processes, are intact. In the past 12 months alone, Parks Canada has completed 15 ecological restoration, farmland enhancement, and scientific research projects.
I recognize that as far as Bill goes, it may not meet every request of every group that has an interest in the park. I know that the minister and her team have listened carefully to the concerns of all stakeholder groups, and they have done their best to craft a bill that addresses as many of their concerns as possible and balances the needs of all stakeholders. If groups have ideas to improve this legislation, I would encourage them to bring their concerns forward as Bill moves on to the committee stage. I would ask that these concerns be given careful consideration. However, I believe that in the spirit of balance and open consultation, Bill is a bill that meets our commitments to protect Rouge National Urban Park for generations to come.
Scarborough is happy to share Rouge National Urban Park with all Canadians, and I am proud to support this legislation, which will ensure that it will be protected for future generations to come.
Madam Speaker, we will see you in the Rouge.
Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the for bringing Bill before the House. As someone who has spent 34 years of my career working with Parks Canada in national parks and national historic sites, it is a real pleasure to be here speaking in favour of the bill. I grew up on a farm in Saskatchewan, in an area that was close to where Grasslands National Park was created.
We have heard about the importance of parks and conservation, so it is a real pleasure to see the continuation of Rouge National Urban Park proceeding through the House today. This is an opportunity to remind the country that while we have heard today how Rouge National Urban Park is important to the greater Toronto area, it is also really important to Canadians. This would bring it under the fold of protected areas under the management of Parks Canada. It is a great piece for protected areas in Canada.
The legislation is also an important administrative piece that would allow for efficient and effective management of Rouge National Urban Park, plus changes to the Parks Canada Agency Act and the National Parks Act regarding Wood Buffalo National Park. The bill deals with these three pieces.
I am going to begin by talking about the Rouge National Urban Park element. The park has been under consideration for a lot of years, going back to 1995, with the involvement of the Province of Ontario and many stakeholders whom we have recognized throughout the talk in the House today. The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society has been involved in this, as have other non-governmental organizations. Many of them need to be commended for getting the legislation under the previous government through Parliament. Now we are working on improving that, and making some improvements to the park.
We also heard about the importance that this area plays as a green space in southwestern Ontario. The Rouge River watershed is located within the park. It is the healthiest river running through the Toronto area. There are agricultural activities that date back to the 1700s. The legislation recognizes the importance of that agricultural tradition within this unique protected area. There are many places of interest, visitor facilities, and recreational opportunities.
What I was drawn to is the biodiversity. There are 726 plant species, with six of them being nationally rare, and 92 being regionally rare. There are 225 bird species, with five nationally rare breeding birds and four breeding birds of concern. There are 55 fish species within the park area, including two vulnerable species. There are 27 mammal species, and 19 reptile and amphibian species. There is great biological diversity. There are also 1,700 species of plants and animals that have been identified, including 23 species at risk. Therefore, the creation and further protection of the park is going to be a great thing for protected areas.
Within the greater Toronto area, this is the first-ever urban national park that will protect nature, culture, and agriculture. That is an exciting variation on what we tend to think of as national parks within the protected areas realm. When finished, it will be the largest and best protected urban park of its kind in the world.
There are elements being looked at today, which we talked about, and that I am going to speak on next, and they are ensuring that ecological integrity is the first priority in the management of the park.
On ecological integrity, I am going to start with a definition, just so everyone knows what we are talking about. The bill states:
Ecological integrity means, with respect to the Park, a condition that is determined to be characteristic of its natural region and likely to persist, including abiotic components and the composition and abundance of native species and biological communities, rates of change and supporting processes.
This is important. There are two additional elements in the legislation that are going to be looked at. First, under “Factors to be considered”, it states:
Maintenance or restoration of ecological integrity, through the protection of natural resources and natural processes, must be the first priority of the Minister when considering all aspects of the management of the Park.
Second, it says, “For greater certainty, [the subsection] does not prevent the carrying out of agricultural activities as provided for in this Act”, so it recognizes that agriculture is a historic activity that will continue into the foreseeable future.
I would like to talk a bit about ecological integrity. The members opposite on the Conservative side have raised concerns about this. As someone who has worked in the national parks system for decades and has seen ecological integrity brought into the discussion and into the National Parks Act during my career, I find it is a really useful management tool.
I have spoken about the richness of the biodiversity that is found in this area. By putting ecological integrity first, the bill is saying that this is something to which Parks Canada staff and stakeholders need to pay attention. There are biospecies that are at risk and may need support and management decisions to make sure that they continue. At no point does this mean that ecological integrity would preclude visitor use. So it is a positive way of making sure that we are able to put the processes and management structures in place to make sure that the biodiversity continues, that it will support our targets, hopefully as protected areas within Canada; and yet it still recognizes the unique area as a national urban park. It recognizes that there are going to be pressures that more remote parks do not face, but it says that we are able to face the issues that pose challenges to the future of this very diverse and rich area. This inclusion is critical to strengthening the legislation and ensuring that Rouge National Urban Park is poised to continue and play an important role into the future.
I am also going to note that Bill , which is before us, would add land to the park. We would see a nice piece of land in four parcels being brought into the protected area, and work is continuing with the Province of Ontario so we would see additional lands in the future. Again, that all helps as we strive as a country to meet our action targets related to protection of our diverse habitats in Canada.
Through this legislation, we are also looking at amending section 21 of the Parks Canada Agency Act. This would allow the new parks and historic sites account to be used for existing protected heritage sites that have attained full operational status. Prior to this proposed change under Bill coming forward, there were funds that were available from the Government of Canada for the establishment of parks, and that is great when setting up a new park. However, in many cases opportunities arise, as we are seeing with Rouge National Urban Park, in which there are discussions about lands that may be acquired. We also see it with other parks that have reached operational status, and I will use an example of an area that I worked in, Gulf Island National Park Reserve, where the park does not have the land base to achieve full protection of the ecological systems that it represents. So this proposed change under the Parks Canada Agency Act allowing the funds to be used for expansion of parks, adding lands to already-established sites, is a very positive step forward.
We also see that clause 5 amending part 2 of schedule 1 to the Canada National Parks Act would provide for the excision of lands in Wood Buffalo National Park and would see the creation of the Garden River Indian Reserve. I had the opportunity from 1986 to 1991 to work in Wood Buffalo National Park, and I see this as a very important part of our government's commitment to reconciliation. It is respecting the long-standing rights of the nation, so this is a very positive move, and I am glad to see that it is included in Bill .
With that, I will conclude my comments just by noting that this is a very important piece of legislation for continuing to ensure that we have protected spaces, and that Rouge National Urban Park would have its ecological integrity managed as its first consideration. The bill is dealing with expansion of other systems, making that easier through access to funds, and it is dealing with the Wood Buffalo National Park reserve issue for the Garden River Indian Reserve.
As my colleague did, I would also like to remind all Canadians that our Canada 150 celebrations next year in 2017 will see free admission to all Parks Canada properties, including national parks, national historic sites, and marine conservation areas. So I invite them to please take advantage of this opportunity, visit our parks, and love them dearly. I invite all Canadians. I will see them in 2017.
Madam Speaker, I am delighted to speak to the subject of the Rouge National Urban Park, because this is a park that I was pleased to see our government get established. As the former House leader, I had some challenges in getting the legislation through because the Liberals were resisting it, and I will say a bit more about that in a short period of time.
It was a tremendous accomplishment by the folks at Parks Canada and by many people in the community who worked in alliances over many years to make it happen. Those efforts to establish this national park, believe it or not, can trace their roots to the Mulroney government era, when one of our predecessor parliamentarians, the Hon. Pauline Browes, was a member. She played a considerable role as the member for Scarborough Centre in beginning to champion this issue. I can say, as someone who was active in politics in the Progressive Conservative Party in that day and age, that she was a force to behold as she went hither and yon, from person to person, lobbying and setting the agenda and saying that this was an important priority, that the Rouge Valley was a natural gem, that it was important to protect it, and all kinds of efforts had to be made, and the objective should be to have a national park established there, the first national urban park. Her work, along with that of many others in the community, continued for many years. Even after she left this chamber in 1993, her work continued in the community, as it did with so many other volunteers, so many folks from different organizations who cared about it.
That work made slower progress under the Chrètien government, but when we once again had a Conservative government, there was a good solid ear to the notion to establish this park. I was so pleased that the work was able to come to fruition, notwithstanding that the bill was filibustered, delayed, and obstructed by the Liberals as much as they could, as some members may remember. It was necessary, unfortunately, for us to use time allocation to get it through and adopted, but we were able to do that and get the park established.
However, as I said, there were some problems. Some political games were played. The Liberal government at Queen's Park, which I thought had more than its fair share of troubles and did not need to go looking for trouble, did go looking for trouble and created the basis for that delay and obstruction by its Liberal friends in Ottawa. It was fairly transparently understood by most people in the GTA and that was reflected in polling. They wanted to see the park, and they saw it as an effort to simply keep it from happening under the Conservative watch.
The argument was the notion of ecological integrity needing to be the guiding principle. I will remind members that the development of the park, the process, goes back to the 1980s and carried forward into the 2000s. We are talking about almost three decades of work. To throw out that three decades of work—including the agreement that existed between the province and the federal government—with this sudden curve ball at the end was objected to by many of the stakeholders who were an important part of developing the balance. It was unconstructive and unhelpful.
The provincial government went so far as to try to seek some kind of compensation before it would put its lands into it. It wanted to see all of the rules rewritten. It wanted standards that were higher than the ones it already applied to the regional park that it took care of there. It was an unusual circumstance, but the political motivation was transparent and understood by all. I was pleased that we succeeded and got through it. This legislation exists to provide a bit of cover for that kind of shameful piece of history on the part of the Liberal Party and what it did.
Where does this come from? Why do we even have this land in the first place? It actually goes back to another unusual chapter in big government liberalism back in the Trudeau area when lands were assembled for a Pickering airport that was apparently urgently required. The government expropriated the land for the purpose of this airport, all kinds of farmland, thousands of acres of high-value, high-productive, prime farmland in what is now the greater Toronto area, in Durham region primarily and a bit in York region. It was devastating to the local economy. The uncertainty continues to have an impact in that local economy.
The chair of Durham region would always point out the differences with Peel region, where there were highways hither and yon in every direction, but all they had in Durham region was a whole bunch of frozen land and the inability to do anything, an inability to have any kind of economic activity take place. It was a great source of frustration to the municipalities, it was a great source of frustration to the residents, but no greater frustration than to those farmers who lost farms which had, in many cases, been in families for many decades. They were productive, good, and valuable farms.
How egregious was this kind of high-authoritarian approach of the Liberal government at the time in establishing it? Well, we can look at Mirabel, the Montreal example where the government actually went so far as to shut down that airport. Those land issues still remain a sensitivity. Here we are talking decades later, almost half a century later, and there is still no airport even built.
The government got to the stage where it understood the amount of land was so much more, so it just protected the stuff it would need if there actually was an airport built. A footprint was established and lo and behold, thousands of acres extra was available, which had been taken from farmers. It was then rented to the farmers who were willing to do it on a yearly lease; a year-to-year uncertain situation. Anybody who is involved in agriculture knows that it is not a good way to farm. One is not necessarily a good steward of the land if one might be kicked out the next year. There is no great incentive to make the kinds of investments that farmers make to the land they own themselves.
I know that those who do not understand farming do not understand the concept of how one invests in the land, but those are very real things to people who farm the land in this day and age, and I will say a little bit more about that.
In any event, the government concluded that there was an opportunity to do this, and that became part of the federal government's contribution, starting, as I said, back in the Pauline Browes championing era: Let us get this federal land contributed, let us get the provincial land that it had also put together in the area, as well as some municipal contribution to create this wonderful urban park. This is how we got to where we were, and the park was being established. Then along came this curve, and it is now being dealt with through the bill before us, of the notion that ecological integrity must be made the guiding principle for all decisions regarding the management of the park.
It sounds really good. If I were to think of a national park, I would say that, yes, ecological integrity should be a pretty important consideration. However, should it be the overriding and guiding principle? Well, when we start getting into the case of an urban park, things are little bit different.
Let us not make a mistake. This is not Central Park. It is not surrounded by high-rises on four sides. This park is kind of at the urban fringe in areas. There are parts of the park that are going to be a little more surrounded by urban development, but as I said, parts of it are farmland and surrounded by farmland. However, we see a whole range of activities. Going through it are things like major highway corridors, pipelines, transmission lines, and so on.
Therefore, if a new pipeline is to be established, is that going to run into trouble there? If the 401 and 407 have to be expanded at some point in the future, is that going to violate the ecological integrity? Members can bet their boots it will.
Are we putting ourselves into a straitjacket that will continue the punishment of this part of the greater Toronto area through its inability to grow, and to deal with the normal contingencies of urban development, population growth, and economic development that occur? Are we going to put it in that economic straitjacket? I think that is one of the concerns.
I am going to focus on that one activity that I was talking about so much, which is farming and farmland.
To those who are saying not to worry about this consideration, farmland is protected, they are quite right. In the establishment of the original park, farming was a protected activity. That was part of the careful negotiated balance between all the interests. There were some farmers who did not even want it, but people were pragmatic and flexible. They were willing to give and take, and they came to the give-and-take on the understanding that farming would be a protected activity and ecological integrity would not be the overriding principle.
Why is it a concern to a farmer on their land if the overriding principle on their land is ecological integrity?
Guess what? The simple act of plowing land is not respecting the ecological integrity. The normal process of agriculture is aimed at protecting the crop a farmer is growing, and we are just talking about cash crop and not other agricultural activities. The normal approach is that of eliminating competition for resources, such as competition from other plants, which farmers would call weeds, and competition from pests, such as insects and other animals that are going to consume a crop.
That is the normal ecological process for those weeds to go in. Would the spraying of a pesticide or even something a bit more benign like the use of Roundup as a fairly low-impact herbicide something that would be prohibited because it is interfering with the ecological integrity? Members can tell me that their opinion is no, but what would happen if an activist group starts taking farmers to court to challenge their ability to do this on the basis of a law that states that ecological integrity is the primary principle, and that means they cannot use Roundup on their land in their agricultural activity because it would interfere with that? We might say there is no need to worry because they would win the case. However, where would farmers get the money to fight the case to defend themselves against these activists who would try to assert this ecological integrity principle? It is not even land that the farmers own but land they are renting from year to year.
In the olden days, farmers would grow hedgerows and have fences because they had a lot of livestock, and so on. This land is now largely out of livestock and mainly cash crop. Now the normal practice is the removal of hedgerows. Ecological integrity would mean leaving those things alone and letting them expand to eat up the agricultural land. If they cut trees and seedlings at the edge of the field, are they violating that ecological integrity?
If farmers create driveways or pathways for agricultural equipment between adjoining fields because they have rented another one, are they violating that ecological integrity principle and, lo and behold, could face some private lawsuit asserting that they have broken this law in the National Parks Act, and have to defend themselves against that?
These are the kinds of things that farmers are quite legitimately concerned about. I could use all kinds of other examples, such as tile drainage or any kind of alteration of the land to ensure drainage. In the normal process, farmers who farm in an area with clay soil, as we find here, notice from time to time that through their plowing they have altered the grading a bit and have water pooling in their fields. They need to grade them to restore drainage to prevent it from happening again. Would that be objected to? Would farmers be forced to have their hands tied and lose all of their crops in a wet field condition in a wet year? I am quite sure that they would not be allowed to put in tile drainage as that is something that ecological integrity would dictate is not allowed.
Even if we changed it from yearly leases to giving farmers greater certainty and perhaps 10-year leases or something that would make it worthwhile to make that kind of investment, they would think twice or might not do it at all simply because of the fear that this would hurt them.
Let us suppose that farmers want to change what they grow, or even grow what they do now. Would they face activists who do not like genetically modified organisms or who do not like the use of genetics to produce better products? There are some in this House who feel that way. Would they suddenly get active and say, “If you're farming in this area where ecological integrity is the main principle, can you use some kind of new genetically modified crop, a new soybean or corn, that can resist a certain pest?” No, they cannot use it because that is not respecting ecological integrity. That is what the argument would be. These are the risks that farmers would face.
We can say offhandedly, “Don't worry, everything is going to be fine because the parks administrators will make sensible decisions”, and I do not doubt that as good, professional public servants they would make reasonable decisions because that is what we see happen, but we know that they are not the only players in the world out there. When we are talking about this park in particular and some of the players who have been involved on this issue of asserting this, we have some fairly aggressive folks willing to spend resources to assert their objective of ecological integrity. There are some people who think that what that means is achieving an end condition that is the prior condition, before we had European settlement here, meaning a Carolinian forest throughout this area. That is a wonderful idea, but there is no way that the transformation of this to a Carolinian forest can be considered consistent with protecting the rights of those farmers to continue their activities.
I say with respect that it is not a foregone conclusion that making ecological integrity a guiding principle will not hurt people. Other people talk about letting forest fires continue. I have talked about things like road widenings, or changes to putting guardrails along a road with a steep grade. Will that violate the ecological integrity, because if we put in a guardrail, are we suddenly keeping the deer or other wildlife from their normal migration route or travel route? Are we reducing the connectivity that the environmentalists say is so important as part of the ecological integrity? That is a life safety issue. Are we doing that, and putting those lives at risk by making that kind of activity?
When we are doing an urban park we have to do something different from when we are doing something like Nahanni National Park. We have people. We have economic activity. We have the agriculture I talked about, roads, all kinds of stuff going on. All of these things have to be taken into account, and I think that was the genius of the work of the Conservative government in this case, a couple of ministers of the environment and going, as I say, all the way back to the initial efforts of Pauline Browes to make this park happen. It was a genius that took into account all those stakeholders, all those different circumstances, the real challenges of an urban park, and tried to create a framework that respected that this is indeed different.
In fact, I can say, as House leader, as we were shepherding the legislation, we got it in later than I wanted because of some of the efforts to create an entirely separate category with separate criteria. The imposition through this amendment of ecological integrity, designed to create some patina of legitimacy for the obstruction and delay efforts and the kind of juvenile behaviour from the Ontario Liberal government on this over the past couple of years, is putting at risk all of that hard work of so many people and so many stakeholders, and, I think, creating a lot of unnecessary uncertainty.
I can simply conclude by saying that the Rouge National Urban Park is a tremendous accomplishment, something we are very proud of. Is this amendment a meaningful step forward? If it gets the Liberal government to co-operate and finally make the contribution that they were originally obligated to in terms of lands that would become part of this park, I suppose that is a gain. My concern is the price that is being paid for that gain, a largely symbolic one for those people with little consideration of the real consequences as a potentially, significantly negative impact.
I just want to conclude once again by going back to talk about Pauline Browes. She continues to be active on this issue. When we were dealing with it in the previous Parliament, she was right there, continually making calls, continually shepherding the process, continually making efforts to see that it would happen. I think that is a lesson to all of us about what it means to be a member of Parliament and have some kind of legacy, pick up a cause and continue with it, even after a member leaves this place, but using the wisdom they have, the knowledge they have and quite frankly the networks they have developed to continue to pursue that issue and achieve it for the sake of the public good. Doing something like this, a national urban park, has never been done before in a place where a lot of people have different ideas about what could be done. That is a pretty challenging thing to do.
Of course, in the case of government doing anything, it is often much easier to not do anything than to do something, but it was the persistence of the efforts of the Hon. Pauline Browes over all those years that got us to the point where we are today where we have the Rouge National Urban Park. I just want to pay tribute to her and all her work over those many decades of her public service as a member of Parliament and her time since. I hope the record will show that the role she played was very significant. I hope that the public will keep that name prominently in their minds as they reflect on this tremendous jewel, the asset that was created during our previous Parliament of the Rouge National Urban Park.
Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise to speak to this bill today. Obviously, it is no surprise to anyone, based on my constant promotion of it but also because Banff National Park is in my riding, that I am one of the proudest promoters and supporters of our national parks system. I am certainly pleased to have seen, through the work of the previous government and others, that Rouge National Urban Park, Canada's first urban national park, would provide opportunities for people in the GTA to experience our national parks by having one in such close proximity. I hope they catch the bug and want to experience our other national parks. What better place than the first and greatest national park in our country, Banff National Park? I certainly believe it will be a great promoter of that.
In fact, I know that the previous superintendent of Banff National Park has moved into Rouge and has become the superintendent there. She has brought that great experience from Banff with her to that job. We congratulate Pam Veinotte.
Because I am an opposition member, people would say my job is to oppose. I would disagree with that slightly. I would say it means that my job is to try to ensure that we give the government the opportunity to improve and we show it ways to accomplish better things. The minute the government members choose not to pick those up, we can show them to Canadians and they can choose something that will be better. If all else fails, our job is to oppose.
In that vein, I want to point out the area of concern I have with this bill. I will spend some time on why that should be a concern and offer an opportunity to the government members to do better.
The section I am concerned about is about ecological integrity. It says that it must be of the utmost importance, above all the other important parts of Parks Canada's mandate. Parks Canada's mandate is obviously to promote ecological integrity, but it is also to promote visitor experience and visitor opportunities. Those things are important, and they all go together.
When part of a bill says, “Maintenance or restoration of ecological integrity...must be the first priority of the Minister when considering all aspects of the management of the Park”, it indicates that the Liberals have the intention of making that part of the mandate the prime focus. That would mean forgetting about the fact that parks are there for enjoyment and use. People will point out, and I would be the first among them, that it is important that enjoyment and use be there for both current and future generations. That is part of the reason ecological integrity is important, but we have to be clear that those things have to be done in unison. They have to be considered as a package. It cannot be the first and only priority, because without the opportunity for people to enjoy parks, they are not able to meet their fullest use.
I recently attended a speech given by Rex Murphy, in Banff, at the annual gala for the Association for Mountain Parks Protection & Enjoyment. I am going to speak about the association in a bit, because it has a great role to play in ensuring that this balance is there. Its members have some great suggestions. That is what I will offer to the government in terms of suggestions.
Rex Murphy made a great speech on the importance of parks. I will paraphrase all of his speech into one short comment. Essentially, his point was that parks needed people as much as people needed parks. There is no question about both of those statements. People do need parks. It is where we can reconnect with nature, spend time with our families, enjoy the great outdoors, and discover part of our souls sometimes. We get so busy with day-to-day life that we sometimes forget to reconnect with ourselves. Through nature, we can find those opportunities.
However, it is also important for parks to have people. Without people to enjoy them, they are not serving their greatest purpose. That is why it is so important to find that balance.
I want to delve into the last time we heard these kinds of statements. Coincidentally enough, it was the last time there was a Liberal government. That was back in the 1990s. In 1994, the minister responsible for Parks Canada was Sheila Copps. If one were to say that name in Banff National Park today, people still curl up into a fetal position. They wonder what is coming next, how they are going to be hit, how the tourism industry is going to be damaged next. It was all based on this same principle.
This is a movie that people in Banff have seen before, and they do not like the way that it ends. In the last year of the Liberal government, they are seeing the start of a sequel. It looks very much like the original movie and they are quite concerned about the ending, whether it will be the same as last time. There are all kinds of signs that this might be the case. I want to give the government the opportunity to hear some of those concerns today. Maybe it will take up some of those concerns and see if there are ways it can do better and improve. That is certainly my hope.
When we look back at when Sheila Copps was the Liberal minister, the Banff-Bow Valley Study was undertaken. It provided a whole series of recommendations, not all of which were taken up but certainly many were. At that time, we could not be in Banff without hearing about this topic. It was on the minds of everybody. People were definitely concerned. I will talk about some of the issues raised at that time.
It significantly delayed a number of projects proceeding, things that would have helped to improve the visitor experience, for tourism to flourish, for visitors to best enjoy the area, things like improvements to ski hills. The biggest was the twinning of the Trans-Canada Highway between Castle Junction and Sunshine, something the Conservative government put in place. The twinning of that highway was completed, which is so vitally important for human and wildlife safety.
The Conservatives were able to accomplish this because of our balanced approach in ensuring all of the different parts of the mandate, but at that time, it was on hold. Unfortunately it took deaths along the highway for the Liberal Party to wake up. The Conservatives, once in office, were able to finish that project.
When people look back at that time and the concerns that developed as a result of the sole focus in this bill, being only on the ecological integrity and not about the experiences and enjoyment of visitors, I think about all the things that were accomplished by the Conservative government in its 10 years. I wonder if any of those things could be accomplished today with this kind of move.
Most important to mention is the Legacy Trail, which is a multi-use trail but mainly a cycling trail that leads from Canmore to Banff. This is an incredibly popular trail. When the government talks about limiting development in national parks, I wonder if this would have been able to proceed. I suppose one of the answers might be in the fact that last summer, prior to the election, there was an announcement of a lot of great projects that were warmly received by the people of Banff and by the visitors who experienced Banff. One was the ability to build and widen the shoulders on the Bull Valley Parkway, which goes between Banff and Lake Louise. Cyclists would have a safer route to follow from Banff to Lake Louise. When the Liberal government took office, it cancelled that project. Cyclists, who were greatly pleased about their improved safety, lost that opportunity. Those are the kinds of things we are seeing.
With my remaining time, I want to discuss the biggest issue on the minds of those in Banff right now, who are seeking to make their livelihoods through tourism. I should point out for all members of the House, because some might not be aware. For Banff, tourism is the economy. It is not a part of the economy. It is not even a large part of the economy. It is the economy of Banff. Tourism is what employs almost everybody in that community. It creates hundreds of businesses for people in that area, allowing them to thrive and succeed. It enables the approximately four million visitors who are received in Banff each year to have the greatest experiences they can have.
Tourists of course go to Banff to enjoy the national park, but we have to provide them with the experiences, the lodging, the places to eat, and all of the other opportunities that a guest looks to see in a tourism experience. That is what the people of Banff do. That is the livelihood of the entire community. When we are talking about things that will lessen the ability to develop, or improve their products or their offerings because of their leaseholds, we are talking about harming their opportunities to make a livelihood and the ability of visitors to have a great experience. I have great faith in the people, the business owners, and the employees who serve our tourists. I have no doubt that tourists will continue to have those great experiences no matter what the Liberal government does.
However, I will point out that there are some concerns right now in the ability to take in vehicle traffic. The mayor of Banff, and I spoke to her as recently as today, has concerns about the capacity for vehicle traffic and the need for solutions. I am going to quote some of the mayor's concerns. Banff is welcoming and open to more visitors, but the capacity for vehicle traffic is a concern. The mayor has raised some of these concerns on behalf of the people. At a council meeting in October, she said:
I am deeply disappointed that Parks Canada has not come to the table on offering ideas in partnership with us to manage this high probability of increases in traffic in 2017....At the end of the day...The world heritage site and Banff National Park are the draw and we are here to service those visitors...I get asked consistently, a few times every week, by residents about what’s going to happen in the summer of 2017 with free entry to all national parks, including Banff… I’m very concerned.
She goes on to say that the offer made by the Liberal government of free entry is a nice idea, and it is. However, no thought seems to have been given to the real logistics of managing the increased traffic, particularly for the popular parks like Banff and Jasper. She said that:
When this was announced, I guess I assumed that Parks Canada would be working with us on how to manage the consequences of this, and I was assuming that would happen very quickly.
It is nearly the end of November, and we still have a real concern about what those plans are going to be for next year.
I want to talk a little about some of the solutions that are being offered, and I know there is not a lot of time left. I want to talk about the group I mentioned earlier, the Association for Mountain Parks Protection and Enjoyment. The group advocates for what is really the mandate of Parks Canada to ensure that this balance is found, the balance I talked about earlier.
It wants to ensure there is ecological integrity, but it is there for visitor experience and for those of current and future generations, and that we can provide that quality tourism experience. When it talks about solutions, it is a group that needs to be listened to. It talks about some of the issues that we are facing them right now, and offers these following solutions.
The group believes there is a need for things like mass transit solutions that are in line with its environmentally responsible visitor experience. It is talking about bicycle trails to reduce vehicles and to provide environmentally friendly access. It is talking about ensuring sustainable development, engaging guests with an enhanced visitor experience, new opportunities to connect new Canadians, and those with limited mobility.
Those are the kinds of solutions being asked for and what we hear instead is a government that says that it will limit all development and put this one pillar as the only consideration. Unfortunately, that creates a situation where those who want to come, visit and experience cannot. Solutions are being put out there, and we are just not hearing anything back. We are not hearing any take-up. We are not hearing any concern about trying to provide those kinds of solutions and opportunities.
When solutions or opportunities are not offered, then we have a situation where the park will be at a capacity for vehicle traffic. Then it will come into the kinds of problems that are difficult to solve without some help and co-operation from the government and Parks Canada. I know I have had great interactions with Parks Canada, both at the CEO level and also at the local level, with our local superintendent and others. I believe they are eager to try to work with the tourism industry.
The government needs to have the political will to push those solutions forward so we can continue to best serve the four million guests, and likely far more next year with the free park passes. However, without the ability to deal with some of the new solutions that are needed to ensure proper vehicle access, we will actually have a really difficult time to best provide that experience for visitors.
As I said, I have great faith in the people and tourism operators of Banff. I know they will do that, but it would certainly be good if the government came to table to try to help ensure better opportunities in those regards.