Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today to join the debate on Bill C-40, an act respecting the Rouge national urban park.
This legislation would create the first national urban park in Canada, which is a positive step forward for our national park system. Having an area of pristine wildlife so close to 20% of Canada's population will offer a great value to the entire nation.
While the proposed Rouge national urban park is not within my riding of Scarborough--Agincourt, I grew up only a few short kilometres away, and I can tell the House that the Rouge lands are truly a national treasure. I remember attending my first day camp near the metropolitan zoo in Toronto when I was about 8 or 9 years old, and in many ways this was my first exposure to the splendours of the Rouge Valley system. Because I came from an immigrant family without significant means, this was in many ways my first exposure to the outdoors.
More recently, over the past number of years I have had the pleasure of going back to the Rouge Valley as a cub pack leader and as a scout troop leader, participating in programs such as the 10,000 trees for the Rouge program and planting trees in the Rouge park to add to the wonderful biodiversity found there.
My family has taken significant advantage of the Glen Rouge campground that is run by the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority.
It is a fabulous opportunity. We have heard from colleagues on all sides of the House about the tremendous accessibility that this potential national urban park would afford to many residents within the greater Golden Horseshoe. It represents one of the last great unspoiled wildernesses and also happens to be coupled with some of the most outstanding farmland in the country. For example, my family has also had the privilege of going on a number of occasions to Whittamore's Farm. Those were opportunities to expose my family to farming culture, particularly as we enter into the fall harvest season.
Let me simply join my colleagues on all sides of the House in expressing my excitement at the potential opportunity that the creation of this new national urban park would afford to our community and to all residents within Toronto.
I am also particularly pleased to see that the government is building upon the tremendous work that has been done by the provincial government with the establishment of the Greenbelt in 2005. The Greenbelt is one of the largest and most successful areas of preserved green space in the world and serves as a showcase for what an urban green space can offer on a large and significant scale. I had the privilege of being in the legislature as a staffer at the time, and I watched this wonderful legacy unfold.
Unfortunately, at that time the Ontario Conservatives wanted to allow continued development on this precious piece of land, as we may hear from certain members in this House, so it is heartening to see support from the government in the House today and to recognize that it is indeed time to establish a national urban park. I do want to recognize the tremendous work that has been done on all sides of the House and by many stakeholders over the last 20 years, work that has led to where things sit today.
The Rouge national park would provide important connectivity with, for example, the sensitive Oak Ridges Moraine leading to the shoreline of Lake Ontario. Earlier the member for York South—Weston highlighted the importance of creating linkages and connectivities between these various important spaces.
We support this particular bill, and it appears that essentially all parties across this House will likely be supporting the bill as it moves forward at second reading. However, like most things that the government does, its efforts to create this new national urban park, at least from our perspective, fall short in some key aspects.
This park is to be created using lands currently held by the Government of Ontario. In fact, lands being held by the Government of Ontario would represent approximately two-thirds of the total park lands if and when they were transferred to federal control. However, despite the fact that intergovernmental talks have been going on for a number of years and should be a shining example of intergovernmental co-operation, sadly, we have sometimes seen strife taking place between the two orders of government.
For example, when the government was supposed to have engaged in a positive announcement last summer when it was signing the memorandum of agreement to create this national park, it unfortunately turned out to be a bit of a public relations nightmare.
I do not necessarily want to diminish the long-standing efforts of the many people who have been the driving force behind this park or on the long consultative process that has occurred, but if the government was truly committed to building a first-class national urban park, we have to ask why so many environmental groups are applauding the recent actions of the Ontario government.
In this debate I have heard the accusation that the Government of Ontario is playing politics with the formation of the Rouge national park, but the question is who is playing politics with whom. For example, it was this government that blindsided the provincial government when the announcement was made last year about the ongoing development of the Pickering airport at the same press conference, and the Government of Ontario was not given a heads-up that it would be happening.
Let us be frank: it is not as though the government has a reputation for sound environmental bona fides. Members could just read, for example, the Commissioner of the Environment's report that was issued yesterday, which was damning in its conclusion that we would not meet the Copenhagen greenhouse gas emission targets by 2020.
This is the same government that has also seen substantial reductions in Parks Canada staff, despite the fact, as I will acknowledge, that the government has set aside a significant amount of funds, in the order of over $140 million, for the creation of this new national urban park.
It is no wonder that the Government of Ontario and leading environmental groups just do not trust the government when it comes to acting in the best interests of the environment.
After a decade of environmental management of the Greenbelt, which the Rouge park will become an integral part of, the Government of Ontario requested some assurances from the federal government that it would continue to protect this land, as was befitting a national park.
Sadly, this is where the bill fails the people of Scarborough, the people of Toronto, and, frankly, all the people of Canada. In our view, this bill is missing some key details. For example, it is missing details about how endangered species will be protected, plans showing how heritage areas will be treated, details about how the park will be zoned for different uses, such as farming, hiking, and protection of natural habitats.
I stand with the provincial government in asking the government to honour the memorandum of agreement that it signed with the Province of Ontario. I do so because it is important that in establishing a first national urban park, we ultimately get it right.
Despite the fact that the Liberal Party will be supporting this piece of legislation on second reading, we strongly urge the members on the government side, particularly when it goes to committee, to support efforts on this side of the House. These efforts will be undertaken by the member for Halifax and the member for Scarborough—Guildwood, our party's environmental critic, who will attempt to work with members on the other side to fix this particular bill and strengthen the legislation that is required when it returns to this House on third reading.
While the Liberal Party supports the creation of this park and especially the significant expansion of a park system that the residents in this particular area already enjoy, it is critical that we get this right the first time. I ask the government to continue to work with the Province of Ontario and with key stakeholders to build the best possible legislation before this House. I ask the Conservatives to honour the agreement that they signed and to work with the requests that have been advanced by key environmental groups. I also ask them to simply be open to changes in order to build a bill that will have a lasting legacy for all of our children.
A national urban park in a major urban centre like Toronto can ignite the imagination of Canadians and bring joy and knowledge about the importance of the outdoors, just as it did for me when I was a young lad. However, it can only be done if we get it right, and it can only be done if we make the necessary changes to this bill.
Let me conclude by asking the members opposite to work with all sides of the House so that we can fix this bill.