Thank you, Mr. Chair.
My name is Larry Noonan, and I am honoured to be here today to talk about Bill C-40.
I am the chair of the Altona Forest Community Stewardship Committee. Altona Forest is a preserve in Pickering that has provincially significant status. Our committee has designed more than six kilometres of interpretation trails in the forest, along with guides and maps. Among other projects, we have restored one wetland and created another wetland, which has resulted in the natural return of five species of amphibians into the forest. Altona Forest is very close to the Rouge and has a connection to the Rouge Park Orchard Trail via a hydro corridor.
I have contributed to the City of Toronto and Pickering environmental initiatives, served on the Rouge national urban park trails committee, and I am presently researching aboriginal connections to the Rouge and interviewing residents of the Rouge watershed. Some of these families have been there for over 150 years. Some arrived in Conestoga covered wagons. The purpose of these interviews is to preserve their stories as part of the cultural heritage and farming tradition of the Rouge watershed and the new national urban park. I am very happy to see that both the cultural heritage and the farming communities of the new park are encouraged and supported by Bill C-40.
My connection to the Rouge started around 40 years ago, while visiting to see fall colours and skiing at Caper Valley. About 30 years ago I started hiking in the Rouge, and over the last several years I have made it a point to hike at least once a week on one of the Rouge trails. I lead adult groups and school classes into the Rouge Valley for enjoyment and studying the environment. The latest group of hikers consisted of 55 students in grade 7, on October 22 of this year.
The previous stewards of the area have done a fine job in preserving much of the environment of the Rouge while restoring sections and assembling watershed land to include in the park. However, the time has come to place an additional level of protection on the Rouge watershed, along with new stewards who have the experience and funding to make a great positive impact on the park. I have been involved in planning processes of parks, trails, and other environmental initiatives, but rarely have I seen such extensive consultations with the public and stakeholders and regular visitors to the Rouge as I have seen done by Parks Canada. The legislation reflects this thorough consultation process.
Some people have questioned why we need a different act for the Rouge. The Canada National Parks Act covers wilderness and near wilderness parks, such as Bruce Peninsula and Banff, which have small settlements inside a large park and little fragmentation and urban infrastructure. The Rouge national urban park’s wilderness sections are fragmented by many things, from highways to villages to gas pipelines to the largest former garbage dump in the greater Toronto area. When examined in this way, it is clear that a new act is needed for urban national parks, one which contains sections such as definitions, strategies, and timelines that are appropriate for this unique position as a park inside an urban setting.
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...”.
Ecological integrity cannot be applied to an urban national park. 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. Instead, Bill C-40 refers to “the maintenance of its native wildlife and of the health of those ecosystems”. The Rouge national urban park and the management plan lay out strategies for attaining the highest possible level of health for the park's ecosystems.
The Province of Ontario has asked that the new legislation meet or exceed existing legislation or other protections. Bill C-40 does this. For example, in the protection and recovery strategies for species at risk, the Rouge Park management plan of 1994 states that “rare species will be monitored. Specific protection or recovery programs to ensure their continued presence in the park may be undertaken as necessary”. This is moderate protection at best.
Clause 60 of Bill C-40 amends the Species at Risk Act, subsection 58(2), to include the Rouge National urban park and, by this, gives the plants, animals and ecosystems of the Rouge National urban park the full protection of the Species at Risk Act.
Section 6 of that act states:
The purposes of this Act are to prevent wildlife species from being extirpated or becoming extinct, to provide for the recovery of wildlife species that are extirpated, endangered or threatened...and to manage species of special concern to prevent them from becoming endangered or threatened.
Paragraph 7(2)(a) states that the appropriate ministers must provide the preparation and implementation of action plans.
Through the connection with the Species at Risk Act, Bill C-40 requires immediate action to identify species at risk and implementation of recovery strategies, and not just monitoring, or action may be taken. As an example of how this will work in the future, on June 30, 2014 Parks Canada, along with the Toronto Zoo, the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority, and the environmental group called Earth Rangers, took action and reintroduced 10 Blanding's turtles—a provincially and nationally threatened species—into the Rouge.
A common concern about the Rouge Park as it is now is that policing and enforcing of rules is not practical under the existing management. Clause 23 of Bill C-40 provides for policing, and wardens have already been hired and are making themselves familiar with the park. However, they have no authority until Bill C-40 is passed. Then policing will be visible and active in the park every day. This, along with consequences outlined in Bill C-40, makes policing far better than exists now. It is clear that the legislation in Bill C-40 exceeds safeguards developed to protect the park.
Another concern raised in the local newspaper was the place of farming in the Rouge. One quote that particularly upset many farmers was that the interests of a few people are being put above the interest of the public.
Bill C-40 supports the farming community, and so, it appears, does the Ontario government. In reply to an e-mail to Brad Duguid, Ontario’s Minister of Economic Development, Employment and Infrastructure, about farming in the Rouge, I received the following reply from his office: “We also want to ensure the Rouge Park acknowledges the important role of agriculture in the development of southern Ontario and that agriculture remains an on-going activity in the park.”
For the protection of the Rouge Park, I hope that Bill C-40 is passed sooner rather than later.