Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to speak to Bill C-40, and I thank the minister for bringing it forward. The name of my constituency is Scarborough--Rouge River. The Rouge River and the largest piece of the current Rouge Park are in my constituency.
We are excited about this legislation, but we have some concerns. When I say we, I am referring to myself and thousands of activists who have worked for over 35 years in the community to create the current Rouge Park. We have called for national protection of the park and national park status. It started many decades ago with people literally sitting down on these lands and hugging trees. Conservatives do not like tree huggers and environmentalists, but these people feel they have to protect the park's natural habitat.
Rouge Park is the northern most point of the mixed woodlands and the Carolinian forest. Activists on the ground felt they had to protect this land from being handed over to developers who might plan to build condos.
I am privileged to have this park in my community. Many of my constituents have the luxury of living with the Rouge River, or the Duffins Creek or Rouge Creek running along their backyards.
The minister has shown concern about who has read the bill and who has not. I have the bill in my hand and I have read it.
My first concern about the legislation is with respect to the section dealing with management of the park and factors to be considered with the management of the park. Clause 6 says, “The Minister must, in the management of the Park”, and this is the concerning part, “ take into consideration the protection of its natural ecosystems and cultural landscapes”.
This clause looks like it makes sense on the first reading of it. It looks like it is a responsible measure. However, the language is weak compared to the existing legislation, which has stronger language.
Let me read section 8(2) of the existing Canada National Parks Act. It states:
Maintenance or restoration of ecological integrity, through the protection of natural resources and natural processes, shall be the first priority of the Minister when considering all aspects of the management of parks.
I note the words “shall be the first priority”. This is far stronger language than what is in Bill C-40, which is “take into consideration” the protection of natural ecosystems.
Let us look at the Provincial Parks and Conservation Reserves Act. section 6, which reads:
Ontario’s provincial parks and conservation reserves are dedicated to the people of Ontario and visitors for their inspiration, education, health, recreational enjoyment and other benefits with the intention that these areas shall be managed to maintain their ecological integrity and to leave them unimpaired for future generations.
The important words here are “shall be managed to maintain their ecological integrity”. Let us compare that with what is proposed in the new bill, which states “take into consideration the protection of natural ecosystems and cultural landscapes”.
The Canada National Parks Act states “shall be the first priority”. In the Provincial Parks Act it is “shall be managed to maintaining ecological integrity”. In the proposed bill it is “take into consideration”.
The Conservative government, under the guise of this bill, “an act respecting the Rouge national urban park”, somewhere refers to making life better for everybody in the country as well. That is what the Conservatives do with omnibus bills. I am joking. I have actually read the whole bill and it does not talk about the economic action plan once, which is pretty awesome because the Conservatives usually like to talk about immigration, economic action and job creation in every bill. That does not happening with this one. I congratulate the government for not making this an omnibus bill about 75 different pieces of legislation.
However, what the government is doing is weakening the protection of my and the people's park in Scarborough. That is what I do not like to see, especially because so many people have worked for so long to create this park and to protect it.
Just this past year, I have taken groups of schoolchildren and community activists to plant more trees and bushes in this park. We did it to ensure the sustainability and ecological viability of it. We have planted spruce, dark cherry and bushes. We have taken students and gone in and removed invasive species that are not naturally occurring in this area, so the trees, bushes and plants can actually thrive.
Activists and people who care about this park are the wardens of it. We are the ones who take care of it. I and my constituents in Scarborough—Rouge River want to ensure that the park has higher protection through the creation of national park status, rather than disintegrating the quality of it.
I can read more from the Rouge Park management plan of 1994, which was cabinet approved, by the way. The cabinet approved the Rouge Park management plan in 1994. I will read excerpts from sections 6.1 and 10.3.
Section 6.1 reads, “The vision of the park has, as its primary focus, the continuing health and integrity of natural systems and habitats”.
Section 10.3 reads, “protecting the ecological integrity of the Rouge River watershed”.
Once again these are stronger words than “take into consideration the protection”.
Section 3.2.1 of the Greenbelt plan says:
The Protected Countryside contains a Natural System that provides a continuous and permanent land base necessary to support human and ecological health in the Greenbelt and beyond...support biodiversity and overall ecological integrity.
All of this is much stronger than clause 6 of the bill, which states “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”.
Let us look at clause 4 of the bill, which is on the establishment of the park. The minister wrote or oversaw the writing of this bill. It is funny because the bill lists the purposes of the creation of the Rouge national urban park and the first thing identified is protection. However, when it goes into the implementation and the factors to be considered in the management of the park, there is weak language.
Let me read part of clause 4. It says:
Rouge National Urban Park...is established for the purposes of protecting and presenting, for current and future generations, the natural and cultural heritage of the Park and its diverse landscapes, promoting a vibrant farming community and encouraging Canadians to discover and connect with their national protected heritage areas.
Once again, the government talks about protection, but in reality it weakens the protection for the park.
I would like to talk a bit about the responses since the bill has been tabled. We know that the idea of the creation of Rouge national urban park was mentioned in a couple of throne speeches. It got us all excited in the community, but then we saw there was no real financial commitment. We pushed and pushed and we saw some financial commitment, which is great. We then saw that somebody from Parks Canada had been assigned.
We thought the community would have a say in the creation of what we wanted to call “the people's park”. I remember that at the first public consultation, as it was called, which happened at the University of Toronto Scarborough campus, the member of Parliament who had the largest piece of the current Rouge Park in their riding was not invited. That was me.
My constituency is home to the largest piece of the Rouge Park. However, when the government was holding public consultations, I was not even invited. I forced myself in to ensure I was there. This is the people's park. The Conservatives say that it is about consideration for future generations? I was the youngest person in the room, and I was not even invited. I make sure that my opinions, the opinions of my constituents and the opinions of those who have been activists on the ground were brought forward at that meeting.
The whole idea of “the people's park” came from that first consultation. I know we will probably hear Conservative members say that there was plenty of consultation, but if we speak to residents who live in the vicinity of the park, they will not even know that these consultations took place because not much notice was given to them. There needs to be a thorough inclusion of the constituents who will be affected in the area surrounding this park.
Recently, since the tabling or announcement of this bill in the House on June 13, CPAWS, which is the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, has issued a quick reaction to the tabling of this. I want to read a excerpt from the group's reaction. It says:
CPAWS recognizes and supports the importance of Rouge National Urban Park in connecting urban Canadians to nature and encouraging them to become nature stewards. It is imperative, however, that conservation is prioritized in the park’s legislation and management plan to ensure this remarkable natural area and its wildlife are not “loved to death” over time. Putting nature conservation first is also consistent with the international definition and guidance for protected areas.
On first glance, it’s not clear if the Bill accomplishes this as it only requires the Minister to take the health of park ecosystems and wildlife “into consideration” in park management. We also note there is very little information provided about how agriculture will be managed in the park.
The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society is concerned about the weak protection of the conservation of the park. It is the same point I mentioned about clause 6 of the bill, which states, “take into consideration the protection”.
The second issue the group identified was the agriculture in the area. We know that within the park boundaries, much of the land is leased to people for private interests. A lot of the agriculture and farming that happens in the parklands is cash-cropping. We know there is usage of pesticides, a concern for many environmentalists, activists and neighbours.
Residents whose water is drawn out of the watershed and who take their children to walk in the park are concerned about pesticides being used in a soon to be nationally protected park. That is a problem. We need to ensure that the agricultural development and investments in this community are done in a way that is sustainable. Also, we should be supporting organic farming or local community farming in Rouge Park. We want it to be known as “the people's park”.
I want to mention one other item. The parliamentary secretary mentioned that a lot of consultation was done and that this was the largest the park could be. We know that is not true because this park can be 100 square kilometres. What is being proposed is that it would be North America's largest urban park. Central Park is the largest as of now. We are going to make it bigger than that.
It is an historic moment for this country's national parks. I agree. However, why do we not make it the best park it can be? Why does it have to be a mediocre one?
I want to read from a motion from the city of Toronto. The city council actually passed a motion. It was passed unanimously by the city councillors who were present. I will quote from the recommendations with respect to what Toronto city council wanted to make sure was respected and conserved in Rouge national park. City council wanted to encourage the federal government to:
Ensure that the concept, legislation and management plan for Rouge National Urban Park respects, strengthens and implements the vision, goals and objectives of the City approved Rouge Park Plans (1994 and 2001) and current Toronto Official Plan, the Provincial Greenbelt Plan (2005) and the Rouge Natural Heritage Action Plan (2008); including incorporating the existing park vision
This is the current park vision:
the Rouge National Urban Park will be a special place of outstanding natural features and diverse cultural heritage in an urban-rural setting, protected and flourishing as an ecosystem in perpetuity. Human activities will exist in harmony with the natural values of the Park. The Park will be a sanctuary for nature and the human spirit
That sounds fabulous. I have so much more to say. The recommendations go on to say:
Respect conservation science, good planning principles and long term park ecological health and visitor potential, by including the 100+ km2 public land assembly within the Rouge and Duffins Creek watersheds as part of the Rouge National Urban Park study area;
iii. Ensure restoration of a large mixed-wood and Carolinian forest habitat system linking Lake Ontario to the Oak Ridges Moraine with public parkland and trails; and
iv. Include First Nations and other respected conservation NGOs on the Rouge National Urban Park Advisory Board.
The motion was passed unanimously by city council.
How does it make sense to create legislation to create Canada's first national urban park but to also push forward and support a pipeline that goes through this park, and then, to make this even worse, to not protect the main waterway that goes through this park and has the pipeline cutting across it? How does that make sense?
I put forward one of my private member's bills, Bill C-532, an act to amend the Navigable Waters Protection Act (Rouge River), to ensure that the Rouge River, from end to end, is a protected waterway so that the pipeline that cuts across it does not actually pollute the waterway, which is the main waterway for this entire Rouge park. It goes into the tributaries, the Little Rouge Creek, and the underground water tables.
How is it that the government seems to think it makes sense when creating a national urban park, and saying that it is protecting it with the most protection it has ever had in its history, to not protect the largest waterway that cuts through this park? The government supports having an oil pipeline that cuts through the park.
For about two years, there was exposed pipeline in the park. It took Enbridge, or the company that went to fix it, two weeks to set up to access the pipeline to fix it. Imagine if there were a disaster.
There are pieces in the bill about spills—