Thank you very much. It's a pleasure to be back on Parliament Hill.
I'm happy to see colleagues from the Scarborough area. It's a pleasure to be at this particular committee meeting as we discuss the Rouge national urban park.
I'd briefly like to share with you some of the background of the 30 years that I've been involved with the Rouge.
In the early 1980s action was brewing to save the Rouge Valley. The community was restless and enthused, and crowds of people jammed into the municipal council chambers wanting action and official zoning bylaws to preserve the Rouge. Much of the land was in public ownership by the province, since it had been land-banked for a green space between the proposed Pickering airport and the urban area of Toronto; however, there was a great threat of subdivisions, garbage dumps, and high-rise apartments in the Rouge.
I was the federal member of Parliament representing Scarborough Centre at the time, and representatives of the organization to save the Rouge, Glenn De Baeremaeker, Jim Robb, Ron Moeser, Cathy Gregorio, came to my constituency office to seek help on how they could save the Rouge. This is a magnificent wilderness area with breathtaking vistas of the banks of the Rouge and Little Rouge rivers, heritage and cultural areas, significant flora and fauna, and white-tailed deer running free throughout the area. It will be just a short distance from the largest urban area of Canada. Yes, indeed, it needed to be protected and preserved.
The task was to find a way. The Minister of the Environment at the time, in 1987, was the Honourable Tom McMillan, and I was his parliamentary secretary. The minister had commissioned a study concerning Parks Canada, and from that study came a recommendation stating that there may be important geographical areas in Canada that should be preserved that don't necessarily fit into the criteria of the national park designation. Yes, that was all we needed. The Rouge fit perfectly into that criteria.
There was a great need for finances to protect the Rouge. With many meetings and interventions, Minister McMillan in 1988 announced on behalf of the Mulroney government that $10 million would be provided to protect and preserve the Rouge as a park.
In 1990, as the first item of business in the House of Commons for that calendar year, I had the opportunity to present a private member's motion, seconded by my Liberal colleague Derek Lee, to have the Rouge designated as a park. The motion passed unanimously in the House of Commons. That was another step in the right direction.
At the same time, the Honourable David Crombie published in his royal commission report on the Toronto waterfront that the Rouge should be protected and established as a park. This was a major boost for the initiative. What followed is that the Province of Ontario took action and appointed an advisory group to consider this.
Later, David Crombie formulated the governance structure, which was the Rouge Park Alliance, with representatives from all the municipalities in the Rouge watershed, the Rouge Valley organization, the TRCA, the Toronto Zoo, and the federal and provincial governments. That $10 million was transferred to the royal commission, and later to the Waterfront Regeneration Trust, of which I am a member. That's where the finances have been for the park.
The interest on that federal financial contribution has been about $450,000 annually. That's been the main source of funds for the Rouge park during the Rouge Park Alliance's term. I might state that out of that $450,000, about $100,000 was given to Jim Robb of Friends of the Rouge Watershed every year.
Significant work has been accomplished. Thousands of trees and wildflowers have been planted, wetlands created, marshes and endangered species protected, and farmland, the trail system, just to name a few things. Meanwhile the province under every political party in a non-partisan way designated more and more land to enlarge the park. David Peterson, Bob Rae, Mike Harris, Dalton McGuinty: they all helped to create what we have as the park.
Over the years the Rouge Park Alliance has discussed how to get different governance and more money, finances, to protect this park. We reviewed all the options. Should it be a provincial park? Should it be a municipal park? Should it be a conservation park? Should it be a national park?
All the criteria...after all the deliberations, looking at all the policies, it was stated that the Rouge should be a national park, which would provide the largest, greatest, and highest protection for the park to stretch from Lake Ontario to the Oak Ridges Moraine.
Every municipality in the Rouge watershed passed a motion endorsing the proposal, as well as the TRCA, to urge the federal government to establish a national park. The Government of Ontario publicly and enthusiastically supported that recommendation. The community supported the recommendation. The information was forwarded to the federal government, and with the assistance of the Honourable Michael Chong, who was a representative of the Rouge Park Alliance, and under the watch of the Honourable Peter Kent and the late Honourable Jim Flaherty, the Rouge national urban park was included in the Speech from the Throne and subsequently allocated the extensive financial resources and the budget, which was absolutely thrilling. The agreement has been signed with the provincial government to transfer those publicly owned lands to Parks Canada.
This legislation is before you. Parks Canada, a heralded organization of experience and very competent individuals, has been assigned the responsibility of the permanent protection and preservation of the natural, cultural, and agricultural aspects of the Rouge national urban park. In particular I would like you to look at clauses 4 and 6. I have read the debates that each of you have made in the House of Commons and I am impressed by what you have been saying, but the language of these two clauses is clear and self-explanatory. These clauses will allow the minister to make the decisions based on the identified purposes for which the park is being created and the factors which must be taken into consideration. Pitting the elements against each other by putting one as a priority, as my friend has mentioned, would really create conflict. I would ask you to consider the natural, cultural, and agricultural aspects, and I mean the cultural aspects with the aboriginal issues and the archaeological issues. When I was a member we did some archaeological digs in the park and we found a 17th century French coin. There's a lot of cultural heritage within this park.
I appreciate being here. You are participating in some historical work in the creation of Canada's first national urban park. I invite you to visit the national park and I urge you to proceed with the passage of this legislation.