Mr. Chair, hon. members, and ladies and gentlemen, thank you for the opportunity to speak to the Rouge urban national park act. This is a key initiative to support the national conservation plan which the Prime Minister launched in May.
The bill would establish a Canadian first, a national urban park in the heart of Canada's largest city. It would provide the opportunity for millions of Canadians to connect and enjoy our rich natural heritage. To support this, Canada's 2012 economic action plan has allocated $143.7 million over 10 years and $7.6 million each year afterwards for this park.
I would like to highlight how this bill would strengthen the protection of the land that would become the Rouge national urban park.
This bill would give the park the highest level of legal protection. It was crafted to go well beyond the existing provincial laws and policies governing the land that makes up the future park. The bill would allow for the expansion of the park and protect more land. Once completed, this park would be much larger than the existing regional park and about 16 times the size of Central Park in New York City. The bill provides clear legislative protection and powers on mitigating and preventing pollution, as it would be covered by the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.
Let me go through a number of ways the Rouge national urban park act would improve the current provincial laws and policies. The bill directly prohibits activities such as mining and hunting on all lands in the park. This is not the case right now under the province. The bill directly prohibits the removal of native plants and fossils on all lands in the park. This is not the case right now under the province. The bill provides full protection under the Species At Risk Act to lands within the park. This means that species that are threatened under this act would receive full protection. This is not the case now under the province. The bill provides fines for illegal activities, such as poaching, that are equivalent to those in national parks. Again, this is not the case under the province.
To ensure that there is strong enforcement of these clauses full time and year-round, dedicated law enforcement officers would patrol the park. I don't mean to repeat myself, but this is also not the case under the province.
Parks Canada's 2014 draft Rouge national urban park management plan strengthens and supports provincial goals including the ecological link between Lake Ontario and the Oak Ridges Moraine. Given the unique setting of this national urban park, Bill C-40 provides an approach that is tailor-made for the park location in Canada's largest metropolitan area. As many of you may know, the park contains major highways, rail lines, homes, businesses, and hydro corridors, as well as farmland.
In designing a national urban park for this area, it was important for us to find a balance between all these factors. Clause 6 of the bill would specifically require me to take into consideration the protection of natural ecosystems and cultural landscapes, the maintenance of native wildlife, and the health of the ecosystem. This is an approach that recognizes the park's urban surroundings. This new model embraces an integrated conservation approach that strives to maximize the ecosystem health of the park without isolating one value or area at the expense of another. It would be managed in such a way that it remains healthy and strong, while respecting the fact that it is located in an urban centre.
In all of this, we need to remember that there are families of farmers who have lived here for a very long time. Our government's legal and policy protections would also extend to the Rouge's rich agriculture heritage. It would ensure that farmers could continue to work the land and implement best farming practices.
Earlier this year I met with some of the farmers, and I can say that they are very pleased with the discussions that are happening on the draft management plan and leasing strategy. We would provide long-term leases so that they could plan and be sustainable long into the future.
Working with the farming community and others, Parks Canada would develop a set of best management practices for agriculture in Rouge national urban park. These practices would be aligned, to the extent possible, with those in existence provincially and regionally to avoid duplication of efforts.
In a letter that was sent to my office, Paul Reesor, president of the York Region Federation of Agriculture, said:
The farmers in the Rouge National Urban Park already use Environmental Farm Plans incorporating best management practices as part of their ongoing stewardship of the farmland they have been caring for for generations.
The farmland in the park needs to preserved so that future generations of farmers can produce food for their surrounding urban neighbours.
We recognize that the future potential and viability of farms in the park are tied to the protection of natural and cultural heritage and the evolving needs of nearby communities. This means that Parks Canada must work in a collaborative manner to achieve all purposes for the Rouge.
There are a few other features of this bill that I wish to point out.
First, clause 7 of the bill addresses the protection of national historic sites. This means that for the first time national historic sites are receiving this kind of legislative protection. This means that the Bead Hill national historic site within the park will enjoy greater protection than ever before.
Parks Canada has made a strong commitment to work with the first nations in the protection and preservation of heritage places. Parks Canada has met regularly with first nations groups with historical connections to the Rouge Valley. An advisory circle was put in place to provide Parks Canada with input from 10 aboriginal groups on parks planning, presentations, and management. All members are supportive and keen to be involved.
Parks Canada has conducted extensive public consultations over the last two year, which have involved close to 150 provincial, municipal, aboriginal, agricultural, and community stakeholders and have generated positive comments from nearly 11,000 Canadians. This extensive engagement has continued. Since June of this year, the agency has conducted consultations on a draft plan for the management of the park. At the recently held public open houses throughout the greater Toronto area, we received tremendous support for the management plan.
Going forward, the Rouge national urban park act will ensure that the public will continue to have a voice in the management of the park by making public participation a requirement for the development of the management plan. In addition, the bill provides for the establishment of a committee to advise the minister on aspects of the park's management.
With the creation of the Rouge national urban park, Rouge lands will be protected with this strong federal law. This park is one of the greatest conservation achievements in our nation's history, and I'm very pleased to be a part of its creation.
I would like to conclude by reading a quote from Wade Luzny, executive vice-president of the Canadian Wildlife Federation. He said:
It gives us great pleasure to provide our solid endorsement of bill C-40 for the formal establishment of the Rouge National Urban Park....The future Rouge National Urban Park is sure to be a national treasure for generations to come.
That concludes my remarks. I'd be happy to take questions. Thank you.