Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise to speak on a bill that deals with my hometown of Scarborough.
The possibilities and, as the parliamentary secretary said, the promise of this national urban park is certainly something for all of us to get excited about. It is a new type of park for a new era. With 80% of Canadians now living in urban environments, we need to have some national urban parks. This is really the test bed, the thing that any future endeavour is going to be measured against. It is incredibly important for us to get it right from the beginning.
The member was talking about political games being played by the provincial government, having delayed the decision until November 2015. This was an election promise that the Conservatives made in 2011. It was in the throne speech, and yet it has taken three years to get here.
Just like many other items, including trade deals, the Conservatives are announcing that the mission is accomplished before they have all the ducks in a row, before they have got the land from the province.
When my colleague from Halifax asked the question about hitting the pause button until we actually know what park we are dealing with, she asked a very relevant question. Given all the uncertainties, I am not sure how, once we get past second reading, into committee, and then come back for third reading, any member in this House could turn around and vote in favour of a park when we do not even know what the boundaries would be, without resolving this issue with the provincial government first.
If all the concerns can be addressed and a deal reached, then that would be the appropriate time to continue to move forward with the bill.
I find it interesting that we are hearing all these accusations of political games, when the Conservatives are playing the same games.
Over and over again, we heard about the Trudeau government in the 1970s expropriating land from the farmers and how much it hurt farmers. After Trudeau there was Joe Clark, and after Joe Clark there was Turner, and after Turner there was Mulroney, and after Mulroney there was Chrétien, and then Paul Martin. Now we have had eight years of the current Conservative government, and none of them have taken the steps to address that harm to the farmers that happened 40 years ago. None of them have taken the time to address those issues and to actually get that land farmed.
The member incorrectly stated that most of the land in the Pickering airport lands is being farmed right now. I would recommend that he take a drive around the area again, because most of the land is lying fallow. Many of the homes are falling down because the government has not maintained its responsibility to keep them in good repair. It is ignoring it.
The member should speak to Land Over Landings and take a drive around with its members. They are not scary people.
I know the government likes to play the game of friends and enemies game, and the game of “you are with us or you are against us”.
When the member for Oshawa was introducing the bill, and when I asked questions about the Friends of the Rouge Watershed's concerns that the protections would not match what is there now, he completely ignored it and dismissed the Friends of the Rouge Watershed as a fringe group.
Nothing will ever be accomplished in Rouge Park without buy-in from the Friends of the Rouge Watershed. They are the ones who have been there on the ground. They are the volunteers who have cared for and loved that park for 40 years. They are not going to let it be torn apart. They are not the fringe. They are the stakeholders. They are the people who are invested in that park already and have been for generations. Getting them onside is also critically important.
They went to the provincial government because they found there was nobody at the federal level who was willing to listen to them. I wish the provincial government had made this point before the last provincial election. That would have been a good time to make a stand on this and would have pushed all the leaders of the parties on that issue, and would have brought a really important Scarborough issue to the forefront.
I think that would have been really good for the debate and for making sure that this park that is going to be created is actually going to be the park we want and the park we need.
I have some personal experience with the park over the years, from visiting there as a child with my grandmother. Probably not many members of this House know, but for the first five years that I worked, from age 15 to 20, I worked in a daycare. I worked for Not Your Average Daycare in Scarborough. It has several locations across Scarborough.
They really had an innovative program. During the summertime, they used to take all the school-age programs from the different daycares and put them into one central location to basically create a summer camp. For the vast majority of the kids who were attending daycare, it was far beyond their families' financial means to send them away to camp, to have that experience in nature. By bringing all these school-age programs together, we would be able to give them a summer camp. It was still in the city and it was in a school, but we were able to take them to different places, so they could have some of those experiences.
One of the most important trips was the one out to Rouge Park. It is just magnificent when one comes into the park, because one sees that blend of urban and rural, of park and city. At the entrance to the park, it is abutted against the CN tracks, and then there is a beach. There is the fabulous Rouge beach. There is the lake, the beach, and then the train tracks, and of course all the myriad sounds that go with it.
On the other side are magnificent wetlands and a pond that are just spectacular. Individuals could be in a canoe and close their eyes and feel they are in Algonquin Park or hundreds of kilometres away outside the city. They could decide to paddle up or down the Rouge River. People who have spent time in a canoe know the sounds of rapids and waterfalls, and they have to be alert because they do not want to encounter any of those when they are in a canoe. On the Rouge, they do not have that, but as they approach highway overpasses and roads, they get a very similar sound from the cars going across the roadway. It sounds very much like rushing water. They can actually merge the two forums here.
It presents unique challenges, because there are not too many national parks that have to deal with city-sized infrastructure, whether we are talking about sewers, roadways, or electrification. Rouge Park, I would think, would certainly be the park with the best cellphone access that we can imagine, and that presents challenges to enjoying nature, but it also presents opportunities and new mediums to educate the population. I am thrilled that Parks Canada is working on an interpretive program based on a cellphone app that would actually give people self-guided tours in Rouge Park, one of those ways to actually harness technology to enhance the experience within the park.
I spent a lot of time there myself, growing up, and I also like taking the train whenever possible in my travels between Toronto and Ottawa, but certainly I used GO Transit back and forth, visiting friends and family all across the east end of Toronto.
One of the most spectacular sights I have ever seen in Toronto—my colleague, the member for Scarborough—Guildwood, skated on it—is that pond in the wintertime when it is frozen, and all of a sudden Canada's national obsession takes over and a couple of nets get placed down and we get shinny and a skating rink on the pond, inside the boundaries of Toronto. It is a unique experience to have pond hockey happening in Toronto in the wintertime. It is not something anybody would think of, but it is just one of those unique facets of the park that make it a multi-use facility all year round.
There are also snowshoeing excursions in the wintertime, and my one experience of trying to do that did not result in much success, not because of the snowshoes and my falling down, although that would have happened many times, but actually because of one of the barriers to the park. Back then, I did not have a vehicle. My partner and I intended to take public transit on a Sunday to get there. The subway does not open until 9:00 a.m. on Sundays and the bus takes a long time, even from east-end Toronto, not even downtown or the west end. To get all the way out to Rouge Park via public transit can take two hours from the east end of town.
That is another problem that would have to be addressed, the public transit access to the park, because one of the main features is supposed to be public transit access. The public transit file is an absolute mess in Toronto these days, and certainly in the municipal election, one would have hoped that many new and great ideas would come forward.
Unfortunately two of the candidates, John Tory and Doug Ford, both have transit plans that end at the Scarborough Town Centre, that do not address anything in the eastern half of Scarborough. They do not even come close to addressing better transit access to the Rouge Park.
The only candidate who does have a plan that addresses improved transit in eastern Scarborough is Olivia Chow, the one person who uses public transit, and always has. She has never owned a car and every time she visits east Toronto, she takes transit out there, and I know how long it takes from all my years of using public transit.
Transit presents some unique challenges as well as some unique opportunities for the use of the park.
Other issues have come up.
I am sure that part of the reason why the province has decided to potentially hold up transferring this land, beyond the political games, is the environmental changes the Conservative government has made that have degraded environmental protections, in particular, the Navigable Waters Act.
Rouge River used to be a protected waterway, but it no longer has that protected status. Municipal infrastructure criss-crosses the park in different places. Line 9B pipeline crosses through the park. A few years ago there was an erosion where parts of the pipe were exposed. It took three days to get access to the pipeline. This means that if we ever have a spill at some point and it takes days before people get there to start to address the problem, then we need much more stringent environmental protections, even something as having stop valves on each side of the river.
If the Rouge River still had navigable waters protection, stop valves would be a required change with the reversing of the flow. We are dealing with a 40-year old pipeline and we have no additional protections. Approval has been given to run oil the other way and at a higher psi. This is problematic on old pipe.
Looking ahead at any other projects that might come forward, whether it is Energy East or anything else, we have to ensure that the strongest protections and measures are in place so that when pipelines cross crucial environmentally sensitive areas like the Rouge River, they will minimize and mitigate as much of the risk as is humanely possible.
It is just a fact of life that it is impossible to eliminate all risks in all situations, but we can do a lot to prevent problems from happening rather than simply picking up the pieces after a problem occurs. Unfortunately, with the changes to the Navigable Waters Act, this is the situation in which the federal government has left us. More effort is going to be put into cleaning up a problem than into preventing one from happening in the first place.
There are fish species in the river and there are migratory birds and endangered species. The endangered Carolinian forest is a very unique bit of forest in southern Ontario. The Rouge River is one of the only places in Canada that has that type of forest.
It is incredibly important that we do what we can to get things right. It is important that we have the right framework, the right protections in place to ensure that the park serves for generations to come. It is important that it set a really high standard that can be met for future national urban parks or even provincial and municipal urban parks that would follow.
Lots of folks on the other side forget that the federal government has a role to play with respect to leadership.The federal government should be ahead of the provinces and the municipalities when it comes to its thinking on environmental protection, so that thinking can filter down to other levels of government. We do not have that and we see that across the board with the Conservatives.
The Conservatives opposed a $15 minimum wage that would have sent a strong message toward fighting inequality in our country. They opposed it because they did not think it would impact a lot of people. It would not impact their people is more of the reason why they would oppose that.
I again bring attention to the fact that when introducing the bill, the member for Oshawa dismissed the Friends of the Rouge Watershed as an outright nuisance group and as radicals, as members on the other side so often do. Now that is coming back to bite them, because they now have a supporter in the provincial government.
The Conservatives want to lay blame at Trudeau's feet. Let us lay the blame at the feet of every Liberal and Conservative government that has followed for not addressing the issues of farmers for the last 40 years in that area.
My colleague from Beaches—East York, our agriculture critic and I toured the Pickering airport lands last year as part of a fact finding mission to see what we should do with this land. It is a tremendous track of green space. It is class A farmland that should be used for farming. It was taken away and has, in many cases, laid fallow for a really long time.
As I said, there is only one family farm left there, belonging to the Tapscotts, who emigrated from Scarborough many years ago. They have not updated any of their equipment or introduced any new practices in the last 40 years because the land could be taken away from them at any moment. As a result, they do not run as efficiently or as ecologically as they could, because successive Liberal and Conservative governments have failed to address the issue or at least give them the opportunity for a 10 or 15-year lease where they can invest back into the land that has provided for their family for generations. We would like to see that addressed at some point as well.
All of this consternation has really left us wondering if this park will ever be created. Under existing legislation, the province states that the protections are higher than those the federal government would put in place with the introduction of this park. Maybe the federal government could go back and talk to the provincial government to see about addressing these concerns. We will raise them here, and we will raise them in committee, but it is up to the Conservative government to act. It is the government.
The government is forging ahead without an agreement with the largest stakeholder in the province, which controls a huge amount of the land for this park. It is just incredible that it would steam ahead without having that agreement in place with the province. The parliamentary secretary said that we had an agreement, and that there was a memorandum of understanding. The province now thinks that the federal government is not upholding that standard and that the protections that would be put in place would not as good as what is there now.
The government is going say that it is better. Why does it not take the time to explain to Canadians why it thinks it is better than what is there now? Have those conversations with the provincial government.
I do not know why the government always seems to have so many problems discussing things with the provinces. It does not matter whether we are talking to health care, the environment or parks. It just seems to like to roughshod over everybody else. Frankly, the leader knows best, they will put it in place and everyone just has to trust them.
As one of my colleagues said, “just trust us” is not enough. That is not the barometer for any transparent or accountable government in our country. I would even argue that a future NDP government has to have opposition, effective critics and people on all sides of the argument, ensuring that they are coming together, because that is what makes bills and legislation.
In this case, it will make for a better park. Hearing from all sides and addressing as many of the concerns as humanly possible will ensure that we have a park that meets the best environmental standards. It will ensure that the farming continues to be allowed but that it is done in the most ecological manner possible, with the least amounts of phosphates and pesticides, and the most organic products available.
Let us use that area as a best example that we can share with other jurisdictions about how to coexist between farm and urban settings.We will need to have more of this in the future as more of Canada becomes urbanized and as we require more food to be developed locally. It is important for the future of our planet to ensure that more food is developed and produced locally so as to have fewer environmentally negative impacts.
We have a lot of problems with the bill as it is. I will be happy to see my colleagues in the environment committee eventually see this and study it further. I hope for once that we can actually see some compromise from the government so we can achieve what we all want to achieve, which is a national urban park in the Rouge Valley.