Mr. Speaker, it is an honour and a pleasure for me to support the establishment of the Rouge national urban park. Indeed, the creation of Rouge national urban park is a proud and historic achievement for all residents of the greater Toronto area, Ontarians, and Canadians, from coast to coast to coast. Its creation is a major element of our government's national conservation plan, which aims to conserve and restore nature in ways that provide meaningful opportunities for Canadians to connect with our country's vast natural heritage. This Canadian first is the latest example of pioneering conservation work undertaken for over a century by Parks Canada under a vision that was first established by Sir John A. Macdonald.
In 1911, Canada became the first country in the world to create a dedicated national park service, then known as the Dominion Parks Branch. It was the very first of nearly 100 dedicated national park services that are found today all over the world. Canada is recognized as having one of the world's most extensive and best national systems in the world. Moreover, Canada protects more acres of land and federally managed protected heritage areas than any other country in the world.
Recently, our government has worked to add two important jewels to Canada's rich family of national parks: Sable Island National Park Reserve, in Nova Scotia, established in 2013; and Nááts’ihch’oh national park reserve, in the Northwest Territories, now before Parliament as Bill S-5.
These initiatives provide important protection for rare sand dune ecosystems in the Atlantic, and several endangered species in the north, such as woodland caribou and grizzly bears.
In 2009, in partnership with local first nations, our government also made the single largest act of conservation in this country in a generation, by expanding Nahanni National Park Reserve to six times its original size, making it roughly the same size as Switzerland. Today our government once again reaffirms our long-standing commitment to protecting Canada's heritage, with Bill C-40. With the creation of Rouge national urban park, our government is building on a legacy of the many passionate and dedicated community groups and citizens who have given their time and worked diligently to conserve the area. We now honour this legacy by bringing Parks Canada's expertise to bear in the Rouge to create a new type of protected area, one which is tailored to the Rouge's urban setting and which is intended to set a new standard for urban protected areas around the world.
I would say to all members of the House that the designation afforded to the Rouge sets a new and different standard than exists in our national parks. Our bold and innovative approach elevates the level of protection to new heights, by protecting not only the park's natural resources but its cultural and agricultural resources as well.
The opposition brought forward motions to amend Bill C-40, many of which were based on the mistaken notion that the national park concept of ecological integrity should or could apply to the Rouge. Testimony was brought forward at committee that the concept of ecological integrity is inappropriate for the Rouge national urban park. Not only is 75% of the parklands in a disturbed or altered state, but the park's close proximity to a large urban centre makes the application of this concept impossible to apply. Some of the amendments proposed by the opposition would have been problematic for the farmers, first nations, and cultural elements within the park. If we were to manage the Rouge as we do in the national parks, it could mean evicting farmers who have been responsible stewards of the land for over a century. It appears that the opposition do not understand the practical realities of this new urban park, nor how a new and different approach would provide the strongest protection possible.
Let me make clear for all members and all Canadians how strong our protections would be. The Rouge national urban park act would provide exceptional protection for a multitude of plant and animal species. This exceptional protection also extends to the Rouge's endangered and threatened species, which for the first time would be under the strong protection of Canada's Species at Risk Act. All threatened and endangered terrestrial and aquatic plants and animals would be protected. In addition, killing, harming, harassing, or possessing threatened and endangered species would be strictly prohibited, along with the destruction of their habitat.
Parks Canada would draw on its internationally celebrated expertise to conserve, monitor, and, wherever possible, restore the diverse habitats within the park upon which the park's 1,700 species, plants, and animals depend. Actions taken would sustain, and in many cases increase the diversity of native species in the park.
Information gathered through ecosystem monitoring would be used to both report on the condition of ecosystems and their components, and to make the very best management decisions to improve the health of ecosystems in the park across its diverse natural, cultural, and agricultural landscapes.
Key management objectives for the Rouge national urban park would be to enhance, buffer, and connect habitats for a wide range of species. A better connected landscape will also increase the resilience of wildlife populations, allowing them to move freely across the landscape. Parks Canada would also explore rigorous and innovative scientific approaches to control and eliminate non-native invasive species.
Our government's proposed protections for the Rouge go much further. Drawing on years of expertise, Parks Canada is working with public landholders, local stakeholders, and governments to enhance habitat quality and connectivity. Current efforts are simply not addressing these issues.
While the Rouge national urban park has yet to be formally established, our government has already realized several important environmental and ecological gains for it, including work with the Toronto Zoo to release ten endangered baby Blanding's turtles into the Rouge in June. We also recently worked with the City of Toronto to construct a safe road crossing for the rare frogs, toads, and salamanders in the park. We have been working with park farmers to rehabilitate park streams and enhance park wetlands.
As other levels of government improve roadways, Parks Canada will work with them on improving connectivity for wildlife by improving and adding culverts, and, in the future, by finding other innovative ways to improve wildlife movement to allow a multitude of species to move more freely on the landscape.
Rouge national urban park will provide, for the first time in the Rouge's history, year-round dedicated law enforcement, through Parks Canada's highly esteemed park wardens. These wardens will have full powers to enforce one set of clear park rules and regulations. With this unprecedented level of protection for the park's natural, cultural, and agricultural resources, and with provisions clearly articulated in Bill C-40, Parks Canada will have the legal tools and resources to impose stiff fines and penalties for long-standing issues in the Rouge. This includes pollution, dumping, poaching, and harassing of wildlife, and the unlawful removal of plants, fossils, and artifacts.
Our government's protection of the Rouge's natural heritage and enhancement of ecosystem health meets and exceeds current protections that are in place. However, it is very important to note that our government's legislative and policy protections would also extend beyond national heritage to the park's rich cultural and agricultural heritage. Our government would provide protection for the Rouge's agricultural lands, which encompass approximately 62% of the Rouge national urban park study area.
The York Federation of Agriculture represents 700 farmer members in the region. Kim Empringham, director of the federation, recently testified at the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development. She said that the farming community in the Rouge national urban park comprises the same farming families that have been caring for the land and growing food for the people of Ontario for the past 200 years. She also said that farmers in the park use environmental farm plans, incorporating the best management practices as part of their ongoing stewardship of the farmland that they have been taking care of for generations.
Farmland produces food, carbon sequestration, climate regulation, improved air quality, wildlife habitat, hydrological functions, groundwater recharge, and buffering protection to natural heritage features.
Our government fully intends to collaborate with the farming community, academic institutions, and other experts to realize that all conservation gains are possible, and to work with the farming community to develop the best agricultural practices for the park in ways that support and enhance biodiversity in the Rouge. Our government's integrated approach to conserving biodiversity in a way that supports a vibrant local farming community would further allow us to provide the strongest level of protection for agriculture and nature in the Rouge's history.
Ian Buchanan, the manager of forestry at the Regional Municipality of York, also testified at the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development. He said that farmers are indeed a part of the solution of maintaining a healthy environment. Ian Buchanan stated:
If we don't acknowledge that the farming community is the front line of environmental protection, we're missing the point.
Mike Whittamore's farm is a large 220-acre fruit and vegetable farm nestled beside the Rouge River valley in Markham. He testified at the committee that Bill C-40 and the Rouge national urban park draft management plan clearly acknowledge the importance of agriculture in the Rouge
The plan demonstrates that agriculture, culture, and nature are all equally important contributors to a vibrant urban park, and agriculture can and will play a role in the future, to reach those goals and objectives of the Rouge national urban park.
With respect to cultural heritage, our government's conservation approach will see us identify cultural heritage values and opportunities throughout the Rouge and set conservation priorities. We will also seek opportunities to respectfully repurpose, rejuvenate, and conserve some of the Rouge's neglected built heritage, including old farmhouses and barns.
Parks Canada will continue to work with first nations and local communities to ensure important landmarks and built heritage are commemorated, protected, and celebrated. We will also commit to providing strong protection for Bead Hill National Historic Site and the Carrying Place National Historic Event.
Our government's holistic approach and commitment to the conservation interpretation of the Rouge's cultural heritage and living history will allow us to provide the strongest level of protection for cultural heritage in the Rouge's history.
Let me also make it very clear what will not be allowed to take place in the Rouge national urban park. In stark contrast to some past and current regional land uses, Rouge national urban park will directly prohibit hunting, mining, logging, and mineral aggregate removal, thereby providing stronger and much clearer protections than those currently in place. There will be stiff fines and a full complement of park wardens to enforce any such unlawful and damaging park activities.
Under the Rouge national urban park act, the Government of Canada cannot dispose or sell land for private development. To meet current and future provincial and municipal requirements, Bill C-40 will provide the legislative framework needed in an urban setting. This framework will allow Parks Canada to effectively manage and protect the park, while allowing for future public infrastructure needs, such as utilities or transportation corridors.
The bill sets a strict limit of 200 hectares on the amount of land that can be removed and provided to former public landholders, and no other disposals are allowed, period.
Our government, through the trusted stewardship of Parks Canada, will manage the Rouge's natural, cultural, and agricultural resources in an integrated fashion, in a way that protects the park's natural ecosystems and cultural landscapes, maintains its native wildlife and the health of those ecosystems, while—and let me make myself very clear—providing a level of protection for the park that has previously not been achieved under current laws, policies, or practices.
With the creation of the Rouge national urban park, Rouge lands will be protected in perpetuity with this strong cohesive bill, now and for many future generations of Canadians to enjoy.
It is for these most compelling reasons that I urge all members of this House to provide their full support for Bill C-40 at third reading.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to take this opportunity on behalf of all citizens of Prince George—Peace River to wish you a merry Christmas.