Mr. Speaker, it is both a delight and a disappointment to join this debate on Bill C-18 today. It is a delight because it offers a wonderful opportunity to celebrate again the magnificent accomplishments of Parks Canada and the agency's pioneering protection and innovative conservation of precious Canadian spaces for the past 125 years. It is a disappointment because the amending legislation before us contains a sad and unacceptable compromise of Parks Canada's conservation principles and practices, a compromise clearly intended by the Liberal government to provide federal political cover for the petty partisan obstructionism of the Ontario Liberal government in its refusal to transfer provincial lands to our Conservative government to complete the magnificent new Rouge National Urban Park.
I will speak first to my delight. It was an honour to serve in a government that, in barely 10 years, increased Canada's protected areas by almost 60%, with new national parks, new national park reserves, and marine protected areas. Many of these additions involved remote wilderness areas, such as Nahanni, Nááts’ihch’oh, and Sable Island, similar to Canada's original wilderness mountain park, Banff National Park.
Then, building on a decades-old dream of a broad range of passionate and dedicated conservation-minded citizens, community groups, and far-sighted local, provincial, and federal politicians, came Canada's first urban national park, not quite in the centre but certainly surrounded by the Canadian metropolis, the greater Toronto area.
In the 2011 Speech from the Throne and the 2012 budget, our Conservative government announced a commitment to work for the creation of a new national park in the Rouge Valley, and $143.7 million were assigned to a ten-year plan to create the park, with a provision for $7.6 million per year thereafter for continuing operations. Parks Canada's unparalleled expertise and creative talents were brought to bear to meet the challenge of developing and delivering this entirely new concept. The challenges were considerable, unlike anything in Parks Canada's history.
The Rouge Valley, from the shores of Lake Ontario to the Oak Ridges moraine more than 20 kilometres to the north, is a once pristine natural area that has witnessed more than a century of intense human activity. There are ancient first nations sites but also a former landfill site and an auto wrecker's yard. Surrounded by residential communities and businesses, the Rouge is criss-crossed by hydro transmission lines, railway lines, highways and secondary roads, and waste-water sewers. In the north, there are 7,500 acres of class 1 farmland worked by 700 farmers, who were uncertain of their future for decades, on lands expropriated more than 40 years ago by a Liberal government for an airport that was never built.
Despite all these realities, so unlike Canada's traditional wilderness parks, the Rouge is still home to marvellous biodiversity: rivers and streams, marshes, a Carolinian ecosystem, and evidence of some of this country's oldest indigenous sites, human history dating back more than 10,000 years.
When the Rouge National Urban Park is completed, it will provide exceptional protection for all of the Rouge's approximately 1,700 species of plants, animals, and marine life. This includes full, uncompromised protection for all of the valley's threatened and endangered species. Unlike past well-intended but unfulfilled plans for the Rouge, species recovery plans will be mandatory and non-negotiable and under the strongest protection of Canada's Species at Risk Act.
Rouge National Urban Park will provide, for the first time in its history, year-round, dedicated law enforcement through Parks Canada's storied park wardens. As with other of our national parks, they will have full powers to enforce a single set of park rules and regulations.
The uncertainty experienced for so long by farmers in the Rouge created by short-term one-year land leases will be eliminated. Farmers will have access to long leases. With that predictability, they will be able to invest in repairs to farm infrastructure. They will be able to apply best farming practices and continue to both contribute to the local economy and provide an enduring and productive farming presence in this rich portion of the Rouge for visitors from far and near to see.
That brings me to the delightful importance of the Rouge National Urban Park's accessibility. It is located amidst fully 20% of Canada's population. While it takes many hours and many of thousands of dollars to reach some of our traditional national parks, the wonders of the Rouge are easily and inexpensively accessible by road, rail, and public transit. Visitor information centres, guided hikes, and kayak touring are available to schoolchildren and to Canadians, old and new.
Parks Canada's carefully developed plan for Canada's first urban park is exactly what conservationists and the Rouge Park alliance, the former provincially appointed managing authority of the lands, have requested for decades. That plan was the result of consultations with 150 stakeholder groups and 11,000 Canadians, and had the endorsement of all the municipal and regional governments that have committed lands to the Rouge National Urban Park.
However, there was one notable foot-dragging exception. That was the Liberal Government of Ontario. That government, through successive infrastructure ministers—not parks ministers—refused to allow conservation experts at the Ontario Parks agency to evaluate and respond to the Parks Canada plan. At one point, one infrastructure minister even demanded of me what was effectively a ransom. These were lands, incidentally, that the province had been neglecting and trying to get rid of for years. He said they would transfer the provincial lands for the payment of $100 million. Of course, our government refused to pay, considered the demand a bit of temporary madness by a cash-short, badly managed government. Then as our federal legislation to create the Rouge National Urban Park, Bill C-40, approached passage into law, a successor Ontario infrastructure minister took another tack. The provincial Liberals claimed Parks Canada's carefully crafted plan and legislation was inadequate. It was not good enough for Ontario.
I will get to that fabricated untruth in a moment. First, allow me to transition from my delight in participating in this debate to my disappointment with the legislation before us in Bill C-18.
Bill C-18 would amend legislation containing the sort of agency housekeeping that Parks Canada performs every year or so. Two of the amendments, as we have already heard today, are fairly routine. They would mean a slight change in the boundaries of Wood Buffalo National Park and changes in the Parks Canada Agency Act regarding property considerations and compensation in protected areas. However, the main amendment is an insult to Parks Canada's well-deserved international reputation. As I said at the outset, it is a sad and unacceptable compromise of Parks Canada's conservation principles and practices.
The Liberal government would add to the Rouge National Urban Park Act the condition that it be enforced under the principle of ecological integrity. Ecological integrity does not have a universal definition, but Parks Canada has long considered it applicable only to our wilderness parks, largely untouched by civilization. For example, in Banff National Park, where barely 4% of its territory has been disrupted by the Trans-Canada Highway, town sites, and ski hills, ecological integrity means that forest fires or floods are allowed to occur naturally, except where communities or human life may be threatened. A succession of conservationists spoke to this term during House and Senate committee consideration of Bill C-40. A strong majority rejected ecological integrity as an appropriate guiding principle for the Rouge National Urban Park.
For example, Mr. Larry Noonan, from the Altona Forest Stewardship Committee, 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...”.
Mr. Noonan continued, saying, “Ecological integrity cannot be applied to an urban national park.” He picked his words carefully, and with his usual calm authority said:
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.
I will turn now to the thoughts of Alan Latourelle, Parks Canada's CEO for 13 years, from 2002 until his retirement just last August after 32 years of distinguished service to Canadians. Alan was responsible for the Rouge-enabling legislation. He wrote a powerful farewell message last August that was originally posted on the Environment Canada website. It has since been removed. I wonder why. However, I think this House might reflect on a few of his thoughts in that letter, because I believe it clearly defends the original Rouge National Urban Park legislation and says that the consideration of ecological integrity is inappropriate and unacceptable.
Mr. Latourelle said:
...I feel compelled to set the record straight with respect to this important initiative.
As you may be aware, some environmental non-governmental organizations (ENGOs) have made several negative and incorrect statements concerning Parks Canada and our commitments under the federal provincial agreement to establish Rouge National Urban Park.
Alan continued, referring to the then and still now conditions in the provincially controlled lands. He stated:
There is currently no...specific provincial legislation governing the day-to-day management of the regional park. As a result, aggregate mineral extraction, destruction of species at risk habitat and limitless reduction of park lands for transportation purposes are not currently legally prohibited, and there is no law that ensures that the land mass connecting Lake Ontario to the Oak Ridges Moraine is protected for future generations.
In contrast, all lands to be included in the Rouge National Urban Park...will legally preclude all of the inappropriate uses mentioned above and will ensure that the vision of linking Lake Ontario to the Oak Ridges Moraine becomes a reality.
Furthermore, Parks Canada's budget to protect and present this exceptional place is 75 times greater than the operational investment made by the Province [of Ontario] over the past decade and includes a significant conservation budget in the areas of science, dedicated law enforcement and restoration. As a result, for the first time in its history, citizens of the GTA are assured that the Rouge will be protected for future generations and that its trail and visitor facilities will also be brought to a higher standard.
Then Mr. Latourelle drove home a powerful truth when he said:
Any organization that implies that the Rouge National Urban Park Act does not meet current provincial legislation is misleading the public. There is simply no act...passed by the Ontario legislature that places ecological integrity as the first priority on Rouge lands owned by Ontario.
Therefore, while Parks Canada wardens, scientists, and support staff have been working for more than a year and a half on federal lands transfer to Rouge National Urban Park, the provincial Liberal government, by its petty partisan obstructionism of withholding the transfer of provincial lands under false pretenses, has left those provincial lands neglected, unpoliced, unprotected, and subject to speeding, to poaching, and to garbage-dumping.
The federal Liberals, by providing political cover for their provincial cousins, are not only attempting to inappropriately apply ecological integrity but are planting a possible poison seed in the Rouge National Urban Park Act with this term. Recognizing this glaring contradiction in Bill C-18, the government offers an assurance in the bill that ecological integrity would not prevent the carrying out of agricultural activities as provided for in the act.
However, the long-abused farmers are not sure. They are worried. The York Region Federation of Agriculture joins the majority of conservationists, taxpayers, mayors, deputy mayors, and counsellors across the GTA who strongly oppose this amendment, fearing it may one day open the door to improper retrograde changes to the park.
Rouge National Urban Park will eventually be a truly national treasure. It will be at least 13 times the size of Vancouver's Stanley Park, 16 times larger than New York's Central Park, and 33 times larger than London's Hyde Park.
Too much time has been wasted on petty political partisanship, and I urge the minister and her government to reconsider. I urge the minister to remove this regrettable amendment. I urge the minister to encourage the provincial Liberal government to simply transfer the land once and for all, and to complete the Rouge National Urban Park.
I would just like to say as a post script to my remarks on Bill C-18 that, in July a year ago, former prime minister Harper made a visit to the park and made a commitment to enlarge federal lands already committed to the park, which are recognized again today in this amendment. He made a commitment to add even more of the Pickering expropriated lands, 21 square kilometres, which I hope the government will follow through on eventually, after its consultation-cum-procrastination. I would hope that the Liberal government will follow through on former prime minister Harper's commitment to add 21 square kilometres of expropriated land on the Durham side of the York Durham Line, which once completed and added, would increase Rouge National Urban Park by 36% to 79.5 square kilometres.
At the same time, the former prime minister announced the addition of another almost $27 million to rehabilitate, manage, and convert these additional farmlands in the Pickering appropriated area to add to the park, to protect this category one farmland in perpetuity. This is in addition to the almost $144 million committed by our former government to establish the Rouge National Urban Park over 10 years and almost $7 million for operational costs afterward. It would be made accessible to the farmers to grow crops of their choice to contribute to the local economy and local food consumption. However at the same time it was to make those properties available to urban visitors, many of whom would have never set foot on a farm. As Canada's farmland rapidly diminishes, particularly around the greater Toronto area, these farmers, recognizing the benefit that they would receive in a continuing predictable existence on their farms that have been farmed for many years, would make their lands available. They would allow and encourage visitors to experience the joys and amazement of visits to their various types of farms.
I will leave it there, but I will once again reiterate my closing remarks. I urge the Minister of Environment and Climate Change and her government to reconsider and remove the regrettable amendment imposing ecological integrity on the Rouge National Urban Park; and to encourage the provincial Liberals to simply transfer their lands and, once and for all, complete the Rouge National Urban Park.