Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak this morning on a very important subject, which is the creation of the Rouge national urban park. We are at third reading of Bill C-40, and I have to say that I am very saddened today that my colleagues and I will not be supporting this bill. While we believe that it is extremely important that we create this first national urban park, we are very distressed at how the Conservatives are doing it. We believe that they have fallen far short of what is expected and needed in the creation of this park.
Let me say that I am very proud to have in my riding of Parkdale—High Park the largest existing park in the city of Toronto, High Park. It was created by the very visionary John and Jemima Howard, who set out clear boundaries and responsibilities for this park. They were absolutely adamant that this park should exist for all time for the free use of the public and that the integrity, ecology, and environment of the park needed to be protected while recognizing that it would be an urban park and a multi-use park.
I want to publicly thank the Friends of High Park Nature Centre for its stewardship of this magnificent jewel on the waterfront of Toronto. All seasons of the year, this park is warmly treasured by people from Toronto and those who come from abroad, whether it is for the cherry trees blossoming in the spring or for skating on Grenadier Pond in the winter or other sports activities. It is a wonderful urban space.
I also want to recognize that the Humber River is the western border of the riding of Parkdale—High Park. It is the only federal urban heritage river. It is an important historic and ecological major waterway. The watershed of the Humber River stretches from the highlands far north of the city of Toronto. It is a very important waterway. Sadly, the federal government has undermined the protection of this river by changes it has made to environmental protection. Specifically, it has removed all of the Humber River, except the mouth of the river, from the Navigation Protection Act and federal environmental protection, which is very troubling.
I would like to thank my colleague from York South—Weston. He and I are working to have this river reinstated in the Navigation Protection Act because of its importance. We believe it is very shortsighted to remove the protections from the Humber River. We are working hard to try to get that reinstated.
I come from a perspective of someone who understands that when one is living in a city and has these treasures, one recognizes that they are a bit different from very remote parks and heritage areas because of their settings. People can get to the Humber River and High Park by subway in downtown Toronto, so they are very different from other protected areas.
The Rouge national urban park would certainly be the largest park in the city. It would be one of the largest parks in North America and the only national park that can be accessed by public transit. It is a unique situation. The government is still trying to assemble the land, but it is land that is already in use. There is farming. There are hydro rights-of-way. There are roads. There already are activities in this area.
Like High Park, in my neighbourhood, no one is expecting that this will be absolutely 100% pristine wilderness. It will not be. It will be special, because it will be an urban park.
We are strongly in favour of creating more parks, but we are most strongly in favour of protecting the ecological health of these national parks. We have to get this right. To do this, we need strong environmental legislation that recognizes that this is a multi-use urban park and that makes its ecology an absolute first priority.
The Rouge national urban park would be very rich. It has a diversity of ecosystems, including a rare Carolinian forest, numerous species at risk, and many agricultural and cultural heritage resources, including a national historic site and some of Canada's oldest known aboriginal historic sites and villages. It is a very special place.
This bill, because we are dealing with the first national urban park, would create a precedent. It would be a model for protecting other areas in urban settings. We need to get this right. This is a stand-alone bill that has been created just for this park. We have the opportunity, unlike with the grab bag of legislation that is thrown into omnibus bills, to study this bill in detail.
The result of Bill C-40, I am sad to say, would be to create weaker protections for Rouge Park than exist for all other national parks in Canada. They are weaker protections, in fact, than the provincial legislative framework that exists already for the park. Yes, it is an urban setting, but there is already a provincial framework that exists that should be improved rather than undermined.
In fact, the Ontario provincial government is refusing to transfer land to the federal government for the creation of this park. Why? It believes that the land would be jeopardized. To be included in the park, it wants to have stronger protections, not weaker protections, and it believes that the protection the province is offering will be stronger. That is why it is saying it is not going to transfer this land if it is going to undermine its ecological integrity.
I want to point out a key point here. The Canada National Parks Act already says:
Maintenance or restoration of ecological integrity, through the protection of natural resources and natural processes, shall be the first priority of the Minister when considering all aspects of the management of parks.
That exists in the existing parks legislation.
This bill would undermine it by saying that it must only “take into consideration” the ecosystems. There is nothing that gives it priority, that gives it precedence, over anything else.
We have tried to amend the bill. We proposed a number of changes. There was one key proposal that would have recognized that yes, there is farming, and yes, that farming would continue, but the ecological integrity would have to be respected. The Conservatives rejected all of this. We are very sad about this.
Because all of our amendments were rejected, we have been forced to create our own private member's bill that calls for the creation of a Rouge national park. It would incorporate the same national protections other parks have. It has broad support from environmental organizations, local community groups, and residents. I want to salute them, because they have worked and fought so hard to get this park created. They are heartbroken at what they see is this bill undermining the ecological integrity of this very prized piece of land.
We had to create our own bill that says that we support the Rouge Park vision, goals, and objectives and that we want to preserve the ecological integrity of this plan.
Sadly, my time is up, but I would be happy to answer questions.