Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my friend and colleague from Thornhill for sharing his time with me today.
I am honoured to rise in the House to speak to Bill C-18, an act to amend the Rouge National Urban Park Act, the Parks Canada Agency Act and the Canada National Parks Act. The Rouge National Urban Park is the first of its kind in Canada. We live in a country that is culturally diverse, but it is environmentally diverse as well.
It is important that all Canadians have an opportunity to experience the beauty of our rich environment and everything it has to offer, which quite frankly, is why this park was established, to introduce more Canadians to nature, local culture, and agriculture.
I would like to start by talking about the history behind the Rouge National Urban Park because it is important for the context of Bill C-18.
As has already been discussed by my hon. colleague from York—Simcoe, the establishment of the Rouge National Urban Park can be traced back to the days of the Mulroney government when members of the House and members of the community recognized the unique environmental landscape of the Rouge Valley area and decided they wanted to protect it for the enjoyment of future generations. However, it was not until 2011, under the previous Conservative government, that concrete action started to take place to secure the formation of the new park.
In the 2011 Speech from the Throne, the previous Conservative government committed $143.7 million over 10 years for the creation of Rouge National Urban Park. From there, legislation was drafted to ensure that the protection of the park was enshrined in law. In May 2015, the Conservatives passed Bill C-40, an act respecting the Rouge National Urban Park.
During that time, I frankly was shocked at the amount of opposition coming from my Liberal and NDP colleagues and the amount of political interference that came from the Ontario Liberal government at the expense of protecting the Rouge Valley area.
This leads me naturally to a few concerns I still have with Bill C-18. In my opinion, and this is one many of my colleagues share, Bill C-18 is being used by the federal Liberals as political cover for the refusal by Kathleen Wynne and the Ontario Liberals to transfer the provincial portion of the lands before the 2015 election.
The Liberals have consistently played political games with the Rouge National Urban Park. In fact, provincial infrastructure Minister Chiarelli, secretly demanded a $100 million payment for the land transfer, which as one would expect, was rejected on principle by the previous Conservative government.
Following this, provincial Minister Duguid wrote a letter stating that the Ontario government would not transfer the lands until the Rouge National Urban Park Act was amended to “ensure that the first priority of park management was “ecological integrity”.
That leads me to my second concern, which is the use of the term “ecological integrity”. The true environmental definition of ecological integrity implies letting forests burn, letting floods run their courses, and allowing wildlife survival without human intervention.
The Rouge sits alongside residential neighbourhoods. It has highways, power lines, and a pipeline across various parts of it, with working farmlands, a former landfill dump site, and even an old wreckers yard within its borders. For these reasons, any attempt at calling our actions ecological integrity would frankly be in words only.
The term “ecological integrity” as the first priority of park management could also provide an opening for the interference or indeed even the removal of the farmers from the park.
Let us be clear, this park is unique in its composition. Everyone who has spoken to this bill has recognized that. There are no other parks like it in Canada. In fact, an important part of its makeup, in my opinion, is the inclusion of farmlands. Coming from the agriculturally diverse part of Canada, I think that it is extremely important for all Canadians to understand the crucial role that farmers play in our daily lives.
Unfortunately, not everyone has the opportunity to walk out their door and see those farms in action. Having farmers as part of this park will expose many more Canadians to what they do and how they do it and, hopefully, garner more appreciation for the work they do for us.
Opening up the opportunity for farmers to be removed from Rouge National Urban Park would be a disservice to the park as a whole, and to those who visit it.
What is more, and perhaps most important, to protect the safety of Canadians living in close proximity to the park, ecological integrity cannot, and should not, be applied to an urban national park.
As I mentioned previously, part of the definition of “ecological integrity” allows for forest fires to burn and floods to flow freely. If this were to happen in this case, the lives of the people residing in the area could be placed in jeopardy. What exactly would that accomplish, at the expense of safety to Canadians?
Simply put, it is a designation that even Parks Canada has disagreed with, because it is an unrealistic approach to an urban park.
As members know, the safety of Canadians should be of utmost importance to any government. I am extremely disappointed to see this lack of respect for Canadians living in this area from the Liberal government.
Bill C-18, by the way, does not include the transfer of the parklands that were expropriated by the federal Liberals in the early 1970s for an airport that is yet to be built. Nor does it include the additional $26.8 million over six years and $3 million annually thereafter in funding that our previous government announced in 2015. I have to admit that I am very disappointed that the Liberals have not followed through on this either.
While Rouge National Urban Park is not particularly close to my riding of Haldimand—Norfolk, we in Haldimand—Norfolk are no strangers to wildlife or to environmental conservation. We are one of the first areas to develop ALUS, the alternative land use services incentive program, which just recently attained national certification, and our area is a biodiversity hotspot as part of the Carolinian life zone. This zone contains productive agricultural lands, forests, and wetlands, and provides habitat for nearly 25% of all of our species that are at risk. This part of our area is home to an extensive list of flora and fauna and, believe it or not, around 400 different species of birds.
In fact, UNESCO, in April 1986, designated the Long Point area as a world biosphere reserve, which was the third to be so designated in Canada, at the time. Today, it is one of 16 biosphere reserves in Canada and provides a great example of the Great Lakes coastal ecosystem and a unique blend of habitats.
I am proud of the hard work that residents in our area, and organizations like Bird Studies Canada, the Long Point World Biosphere Reserve, the Long Point Region Conservation Authority, and other agencies, do to promote the environmental sustainability of our area for people from across Canada and, indeed, from around the world, to enjoy.
These same principles and practices will be applied to Rouge National Urban Park, I hope.
To conclude, I would like to say that I support Rouge National Urban Park and I will be supporting this bill. However, as Her Majesty's official opposition, it is our duty to bring up these concerns. I hope that the Liberal government will not just consider them but take action on them.