Madam Speaker, before the last election, I had the privilege to serve on environment committee as chair. At that time, we heard from many witnesses throughout the course of several meetings on Bill C-40, an act respecting the Rouge National Park. When I found out that the Liberal government was returning to this legislation, I was surprised. Bill C-40 was great legislation. Our previous Conservative government did so much for Rouge National Park which was supported by experts and members of many different environmental organizations.
In the 2011 Speech from the Throne, our Conservative government committed $143.7 million, over 10 years, to the creation of Rouge National Park. It appears to me that Bill C-18 is simply political cover by the federal Liberals for the Ontario Liberal government for not transferring the provincial portion of the lands before the 2015 election.
Bill C-18 does not include the transfer of parklands that were expropriated by the federal Liberals in the early 1970s for an airport, which has yet to be built, or the additional $26.8 million over six years and $3 million annually thereafter in funding that our Conservative government announced in 2015. The Liberals have not yet followed through with this commitment.
Provincial infrastructure Minister Chiarelli secretly demanded a $100 million payment for the land transfer, which was rejected on principle by our government. Following this, provincial Minister Duguid wrote a letter as political cover stating that the Ontario government would not transfer lands until Rouge National Urban Park was amended to ensure that the first priority of park management was ecological integrity. Parks Canada disagreed with the ecological integrity designation as it was unrealistic for an urban park.
The true environmentalist's definition of ecological integrity would include letting forests burn, letting floods run their course, and wildlife survival without human intervention. The Rouge sits alongside residential neighbourhoods, has highways, power lines, and a pipeline across various parts of it, with working farmland, a former landfill dump site, and an old auto wrecker yard within its borders. For these reasons, any attempt in Bill C-18 to define our actions as ecological integrity would be nice sounding words only.
Allow me to quote from one of the witnesses we heard from when we were studying Bill C-40 in the last Parliament. This quote is from Larry Noonan, chair of the Altona Forest Stewardship Committee. He said:
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 simply 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.
Furthermore, setting ecological integrity as the first priority of park management would be an opening to the interference or even the removal of farmers from the park. The former environment minister, the Hon. Leona Aglukkaq, shared with our committee that “Applying in the legislation the concept of ecological integrity as we do in national parks would make it impossible to permit the type of sustainable farming that has been taking place in the Rouge for centuries.”
Speaking more about farmers, Alan Latourelle, the former Parks Canada CEO for 13 years, also shared with our committee that “in the Rouge national urban park, a significant component is the land that we've agreed on and are working productively with the farmers. That, for example, would not be able to achieve the ecological integrity objective within that context”.
It would be a shame if we, through Bill C-18, ended the rich history of sustainable farming in Rouge Park.
Another witness we heard from in our committee meeting was Mr. Jay Reesor, a farmer in the GTA who farms within the Rouge area. Let me quote part of his testimony:
The creation of the Rouge national urban park is something very important to me, as my wife and I have lived and worked in the federal portion of the land designated to become park since 1985. In fact, my Reesor family has lived and farmed in the current park area since 1804, when they emigrated from Pennsylvania in search of good farmland and good government and settled in the Rouge area.
He goes on to say:
Productive food-producing land is a valuable natural resource, just as a Carolinian forest or wetland is a valuable natural resource. The founders of the former Rouge Park had a vision for a property, a park, that protected nature and gave no real protection or encouragement to food-producing land, but they ran into obstacles. Unable to fulfill the dream for various reasons, they came to Parks Canada as the logical next step to help them implement their vision.
I am very pleased that our park system, in their draft management plan, has shown their intention and commitment to sustainable food production in this exciting new type of park. If the federal park system doesn't intentionally protect the natural resource of productive food-producing land, who will?
The agricultural community and our farmers are some of the best environmentalists. Let me quote a few more witnesses from our committee who spoke about farming and agriculture in the Rouge.
Mr. Alan Wells, chair of the Rouge Park Alliance said:
Parks Canada has continued to recognize agriculture as an important part of the park. The work has gained the confidence of the farming community both in the park and through regional farm organizations. Parks Canada has proposed plans that reflect the need to improve the trail system in the park. Draft trail plans included in the draft management plan build on the planning work recently done by the Rouge Park Alliance. The number of volunteer hike leaders has increased significantly over the last two years to 50 in total, and there is strong support for recreational users.
Over the last 20 years, cultural heritage through the preservation of historic buildings has been neglected due to a lack of funding and commitment. Parks Canada has the mandate, experience, and resources to address this issue and has included cultural heritage in Bill C-40.
Mr. Ian Buchanan, manager, Natural Heritage and Forestry, Environmental Promotion and Protection, Regional Municipality of York, stated:
It is encouraging that Bill C-40 presents clear direction in key areas, specifically clauses 4 and 6 dealing with the park's establishment and management; recognizes the unique setting; and reflects a multi-purpose focus, including natural and cultural heritage, farming, and an emphasis on healthy ecosystems, which we feel is the right balance. Parks Canada, municipalities, and partners have demonstrated a commitment to protecting and restoring the natural environment. York Region has recently invested $6.5 million in the park, creating wetlands, grasslands, forests, and trails connecting people with nature.
From Mr. Larry Noonan, chair of the Altona Forest Stewardship Committee:
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.
Finally, from Mr. Ian Buchanan:
Through you, Mr. Chair, they are part of the solution. If we don't acknowledge that the farming community is the front line of environmental protection, we're missing the point. We've worked with farmers for many years, as well as many of the conservation organizations like Ontario Nature, Ducks Unlimited, and had some very significant wins, as York Region has had, through our greening strategy. Thanks for mentioning that. We've had some great successes there. We both learn and the environment wins. That is going to be an integral part of Rouge Park moving forward.
I want to highlight that first part of the quote: “If we don't acknowledge that the farming community is the front line of environmental protection, we're missing the point”.
As I said at the beginning of my speech, farmers are some of our best environmentalists. As I drive through my riding, I can attest to this fact as I look at the cover crops that have been planted where normally at this time of year we would simply have bare land with some stubble. Today when we drive through the area, we see green cover crops. These cover crops are essential to reduce erosion, help with carbon sequestration, and water retention in the soil, which leads to better soil quality by improving and increasing organic matter in the soil.
In addition to cover crops, we see that many of the farmers in my area are no longer doing deep tillage. They are not ploughing, discing, cultivating, and harrowing. Rather, they are going to a no-till application, which simply inserts the seed into the ground. The ground maintains better soil integrity, better water retention, and improved soil quality. In addition to that, because the farmers are not now passing over the land multiple times with their tractors, they are reducing their fuel consumption. This increases our ability to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and also reduce fuel costs.
Along the streams and rivers in my riding, in almost every one, members will see a buffer zone where previously cattle or other wildlife and livestock might have had access to the streams and rivers. These buffer zones now create an area where, first of all, water runoff is filtered by the grass next to the stream. Trees are growing in the buffered area, and so the streams are being protected by the trees. The shade of those trees reduces the temperature of the water. We are seeing fish come back into these streams and an improved water quality, which not only benefits the stream and river right there but, as those of us in the Great Lakes area know, makes a great contribution to preserving our environment and improving the water quality in our Great Lakes.
I could also speak about wetland conservation, and we see that wetlands are great filters for water. They act as sponges during flood time, as they absorb that water. Carbon sequestration is a big part of not only preserving the wetlands but in many cases restoring wetlands that had previously been drained and were in crop production. They are now being returned to wetland production.
In addition to driving through my riding and seeing these great examples of good environmentalism on the part of our farmers, just recently, in October, I hosted a round table in my riding with farmers and agroforestry people to get an idea of the kinds of initiatives the farmers are taking to improve our environment. This speaks to the fact that, in addition to the work that we are doing in the Rouge Park, we know that our farmers will be co-labourers in our work of protecting our environment. If I have time at the end of my comments, I would like to read a few comments from that round table.
I would like to inform Canadians as to what Bill C-40, the previous rendition of the Rouge Park act, actually included. I think when we listen to some of the things that were included in Bill C-40, Rouge National Urban Park Act, Canadians will understand the great work that was done in producing this act, which will protect the Rouge National Urban Park.
Whereas the Rouge Valley contains some of the last remnants of the Carolinian forest in Canada, significant geological features and a combination of diverse habitats linking Lake Ontario to the Oak Ridges Moraine;
Whereas the foresight, dedication and engagement of community visionaries and various levels of government have laid the foundation for the creation of a park in the Rouge Valley, an area that is rich in natural and cultural resources and is readily accessible to the population of Canada’s largest metropolitan area;
I will stop for a moment on that area, just to point out that right at the doorstep of the GTA is an urban national park. Children who would not ordinarily have the option of perhaps visiting one of our national parks that are further afield will have the option to see, learn, touch, and feel these things that are in the national park, which would not ordinarily be accessible to them.
It goes on:
Whereas there is a unique opportunity to connect Canadians with the natural and cultural heritage of the Rouge Valley and with history of its early Aboriginal inhabitants and others who shaped its landscape; and whereas Parliament wishes to protect natural ecosystems and maintain natural wildlife in the Rouge Valley, to provide meaningful opportunities for Canadians to experience and enjoy the diverse landscapes of the Rouge Valley, to engage local communities and businesses, Aboriginal organizations and youth as well as other Canadians, to become stewards and ambassadors of the park.
We cannot overstate that part, seeing the co-operation that we have been able to achieve with the aboriginal organizations, youth, the local communities, and businesses to become stewards and ambassadors of the park, not just using the park but actually being able to promote the use of this park and its preservation. It goes on:
...to provide a wide range of recreational, interpretive, volunteer and learning activities to attract a diverse urban population to the park, to enable youth and other visitors to connect with nature in an urban setting, to protect the natural and cultural landscapes of the park and identify its heritage values to facilitate an understanding and appreciation of the history of the region, to encourage sustainable farming practices, to support the preservation of agricultural lands in the park and celebrate the agricultural heritage of the region, and to promote the park as a place of discovery, enjoyment and learning, and as a gateway to all of Canada's national protected heritage areas.
It continues in section 4 on the establishment of the park:
Rouge National Urban Park, which is described in the schedule, has established for the purposes of protecting and presenting for current and future generations, the natural and cultural heritage of the park and its diverse landscapes, promoting a vibrant farming community and encouraging Canadians to discover and connect with their national protected heritage areas.
I think members will see so many of the examples that I have read from many of the witnesses who appeared before our committee. I could go on and read from my report on the round table that we conducted, but I do not think my time will allow me to do that. I just wanted to point out the above from Bill C-40, the bill our Conservative government enacted.
I had the privilege of sitting on the environment committee as chair, listening to these witnesses, seeing the hard work that was done, including by the former Parks Canada CEO, Alan Latourelle, and his clear recommendation not to include ecological integrity within the bill.
These are solid principles on which the Rouge Park was established. The current protections provided to Rouge National Urban Park far exceed the protections provided by the Province of Ontario, specifically in prohibiting mining, logging, hunting, and in application of the Species at Risk Act and year-round dedicated enforcement officers.
The Liberals are continuing to play games with the park, which is why Bill C-18 is nothing more than an assortment of unrelated items with the intention of appeasing Kathleen Wynne and the Ontario Liberals in providing political cover for their pre-election political attack that has used Rouge National Urban Park as a political bargaining chip.
Ecological integrity as a primary guiding principle for the park is an unrealistic measure for an urban park, which was established to introduce Canadians to nature, local culture, and agriculture, a first of its kind in Canada.
In closing, the Conservative Party stands proud about the creation of Rouge National Park, described best by Alan Latourelle as:
Presenting a unique opportunity to connect residents of the GTA to nature, while demonstrating global conservation leadership under the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's Urban Protected Areas program, and showing respect to first nations and farmers who have cared for this land for countless generations, connecting resident of the GTA to the future.
It is a beautiful, breathtaking park, a sight to behold, and I hope all members will have the opportunity to visit it.
While we will be supporting this legislation going to committee, we hope the Liberal government will listen to stakeholders such as Wayne Emmerson, chairman and CEO of York region; Glen De Baeremaeker, deputy mayor, City of Toronto, and the mayors from Markham, Richmond Hill and Pickering; the York Region Federation of Agriculture; and individual farmers like Jay Reesor; and the Toronto Zoo and others.
As the committee looks at the bill, I am hoping it will amend Bill C-18 by removing the ecological integrity portion of this legislation.