Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-40. I was not expecting to speak to it because it concerns the urban area in Toronto. However, as my colleague mentioned, we do have some urban parks, although not as connected as what is intended for this park, and we see the importance of having an urban green space available to citizens.
The more things change, the more things stay the same. For example, the Conservatives now want us to think that they have all of a sudden become environmentally conscientious and conservationists overnight. They introduced Bill C-40, which is ironically called “an act respecting the Rouge National Urban Park”, and I will touch on the irony of that a little later. However, the Conservative government continuously wants us to accept these sort of broad-stroke grand ideas and overlook the poison pill aspect of them.
Before I continue, I would like to inform you, Mr. Speaker, that I will be splitting my time with my dear colleague, the member for Newton—North Delta.
The Conservatives consistently want to say in so many cases, like in this case, that NDP members do not support the building of a park. They say that we do not support many things, and that we did not vote for this or that. However, they leave out the very important fact that all of these sometimes reasonable and even good things that the government may propose are wrapped up in blankets of harmful and sometimes mean-spirited bills. They are tied up in 500-page documents, and we have to vote once to change over 200 environmental protection laws.
Quite honestly, the Conservative government cannot be trusted with our parks. It is clear that the Conservatives do not believe in conservation or scientific monitoring, which jeopardizes the ecological integrity of our national parks.
As some of my colleagues alluded to earlier, in 2012, the Conservatives cut $29 million to Parks Canada, which meant a reduction of over 600 positions. Parks Canada was decreased by one-third of its capacity in scientific research.
I heard my hon. colleague across the way say that $120 some-odd million was not a drop in the bucket. Yes, it is a lot of money, but is it enough? There was a $29 million cut that meant the loss of 600 positions and one-third of Parks Canada's capacity for scientific and ecological exploration, which is harmful. There are 600 less people to help and guide Canadians through our parks. The parks are opening later and closing earlier as a result, which limits access for Canadians to these parks. The lessened ability for scientific research means that we are put in a position where we are reacting to ecological threats and potential diseases in our parks as opposed to being proactive with these issues. This is concerning to us.
Bill C-40, an act respecting the Rouge National Urban Park, is not even accepted by the Ontario government. The Ontario government is refusing to release the lands to the federal government to create this park because the bill would diminish some 11 existing laws that currently protect this territory, namely the Ontario Provincial Parks and Conservation Reserves Act.
This act is to:
...permanently protect a system of provincial parks and conservation reserves that includes ecosystems that are representative of all of Ontario’s natural regions, protects provincially significant elements of Ontario’s natural and cultural heritage, maintains biodiversity and provides opportunities for compatible, ecologically sustainable recreation.
Bill C-40 would not do this. It does not embrace the strong foundation of conservation policy provided under the existing legislation. In fact, as written, Bill C-40 threatens the ecological integrity and health of the Rouge River.
It seems that our job here is to do things right, and that does not seem to be happening with the current government. There seems to be a consistent desire to rush headlong into creating bills with catchy titles and catchy sound bites rather than bills of substance. When the Ontario government, which the federal government is supposed to be collaborating with, says this bill does not work, the Conservative government needs to listen.
There has been a lack of listening by the government on many other issues, including in the courts, where attempts to establish minimum mandatory sentences have repeatedly been overturned. In this case, the government has created a bill that is supposed to protect a park, but in fact the bill threatens the very area that it claims to want to protect.
If the government wants to create a space for Canadians to enjoy and for future generations to visit and if it wants to protect the thousands of species of wildlife and fauna that currently call Rouge River home, then why not abandon this window-dressing bill and support the ideas and thoughts of the New Democrats and the bill that we will be presenting shortly to the House, which would work with the province in order to create an environment that Canadians and the community are looking for? As I said, New Democrats will be introducing a bill that would answer that question. The bill before us does not go far enough and, as I have said before, would actually diminish what already exists.
The role that we take on as legislators is to draft laws that are meaningful and move our society forward. It is a shame that the government constantly squanders its opportunities to create bills of substance, instead creating bills that pander and have little substance other than catchy sound bites.