Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Haldimand—Norfolk.
When I last spoke to this legislation, I remarked that it was both a delight and a disappointment, and I must echo that same qualification today as I join this final debate on Bill C-18.
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 more than a century and a quarter.
It is a disappointment because the unnecessary and mis-applied conservation principle imposed on Parks Canada contains a sad and unacceptable compromise of that great agency'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. My disappointment is mitigated somewhat, because the Liberals have finally brought Bill C-18 to the point of passage.
I will speak first, again, 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, 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 national park, Banff National Park.
Then came Canada's first national urban park, 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. It is not quite in the centre, but it is 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 10-year plan to create the park, with the provision thereafter for $7.6 million per year 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 park, and the challenges, as I am about to address, were considerable, unlike anything in Parks Canada history.
I had the pleasure of wandering one of the trails in the Rouge this past weekend, and I would recommend to colleagues in the House and to any Canadians or new Canadians watching our proceedings today on television to do the same at the first opportunity.
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 nation 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 A 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 of these realities that are so unlike Canada's traditional wilderness parks, the Rouge is still home to marvellous biodiversity: rivers, 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 approximately 1,700 species of plant, animal, and marine life of the Rouge. 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 Park 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. They will be able to invest in repairs to farm infrastructure, apply best farming practices, and continue to both contribute to the local economy and provide an enduring and productive farming presence in the rich portion of the Rouge for visitors from far and near to see.
Parks Canada's carefully developed plan for this first urban park is exactly what conservationists in the Rouge Park Alliance, the former provincially appointed managing authority of the lands, have requested for decades. The plan was the result of consultations with 150 stakeholder groups and 11,000 Canadians. It has the endorsement of all 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, and not one parks minister, refused to allow conservation experts at the Ontario Parks agency to evaluate and respond to the Parks Canada plan. I would remind the House again, as I have in the past, that 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, trying to be rid of for years. The minister said that he would transfer the provincial lands to the national park for the payment of $100 million. Of course, the Conservative government refused to pay.
There are other stories as well, but in the end, in the corridors of Queen's Park, the provincial Liberals said they would not transfer the land the province had been trying to get off its books for decades. They would not transfer the land until they could give it to fellow Liberals. With the outcome of the 2015 election, the Liberals paid back their provincial cousins, with the political cover that Bill C-18 so unfortunately provides.
Bill C-18 contains a bit of 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: 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.
No rational conservationist would allow fires and flooding in the Toronto, Markham, and Pickering urban environments. Alan Latourelle, Parks Canada's CEO for 13 years, from 2002 until his retirement two Augusts ago, after 32 years, was responsible for the Rouge-enabling legislation and he opposed very vigorously the injection of ecological integrity into the legislation.
I am delighted the legislation is now close at hand, which will see, finally, the much-delayed transfer of the Ontario provincial lands. The Rouge National Urban Park, when it is completed, 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. It is time to make this park a reality. Although disappointed in the way that would happen under Bill C-18, I look forward to voting tomorrow for completion of this wonderful new national park.