Mr. Speaker, I am really saddened that I will not be able to support this legislation moving forward, because I was one of the people at the very first visioning exercise for the creation of the Rouge national urban park. I was the youngest person in the room, and being the youngest person in the room, I knew that I would be the one to get to enjoy the park the most. I was super excited about it.
I will be sharing my time with a colleague.
While I will not be able to support this legislation brought forward by the government, I do support creating Rouge Park as a nationally protected park. We want this land to be protected. We want it to be a national park that everyone can enjoy for generations to come. This legislation would decrease protection.
I was so excited when I heard in the throne speech that the government planned to make the Rouge Park a nationally protected park.
I went to the day long visioning exercise. For years I have worked for the conservation and protection of the existing Rouge Park. The Rouge River is in my riding of Scarborough—Rouge River. The largest piece of the current Rouge Park is in my constituency. I am blessed to have this park literally in my backyard.
The Rouge Park is special in being located in an urban setting. Roadways, highways, hydro corridors, railways, and oil pipelines are all within the Rouge Park. It is a special park because most of our national parks do not have all of those things within their protected areas.
People on the ground affected by this park had a vision. We knew we could make it happen. We knew we could make it work. We could envision a nationally protected urban park that would include farmers, conservationists, environmentalists, highways, roadways, railways, and hydro corridors. Obviously these things could not be moved. We all thought there was real potential for a 100 square kilometre national park that would be called Rouge national urban park. We were excited about it because it is designated within the greenbelt natural heritage system. It is the northernmost point of the endangered Carolinian and mixed woodland life zones. The Rouge Park is the largest public park within the southern Ontario region that is close to 25% of the population in the greater Toronto area. A lot of us were excited.
Our party was happy to push the bill to committee at second reading. We believed that the government would have good faith at committee. We thought we would be able to put forward amendments that would strengthen the legislation now in front of the House.
I will talk about three items: ecological integrity; maintaining or exceeded the current protections already afforded within Rouge Park; and the 100 square kilometres. First, I will speak about ecological integrity.
The Canada National Parks Act states:
Maintenance or restoration of ecological integrity, through the protection of natural resources and natural processes, shall be the first priority of the Minister when considering all aspects of the management of parks.
Clause 6 in Bill C-40 states:
The Minister must, in the management of the Park, [and here is the catch] take into consideration the protection of its natural ecosystems and cultural landscapes and the maintenance of its native wildlife and of the health of those ecosystems
The difference is the strong piece that already exists in the Canada National Parks Act, which says that maintenance and restoration and protection of our natural resources should be the first priority of the minister.
In contrast, the new legislation put forward by the government would water it down so much that although the minister must take it into consideration and think about it, he does not have to do anything about it.
Let us look at it as people on the ground who love this park would. I am in the park at least once a week or, if not, once every two weeks. It is part of my life. We want to see it protected. We want to make sure that it can last for generations to come. This bill would significantly water down the protection of the ecosystems and would not really help in maintaining the ecological health or integrity of the park.
I want to make it abundantly clear that the NDP supports the creation of a Rouge national urban park, but not if it means that the protection of its ecological integrity is risked. That is what would happen with this bill, and that is why, sadly, I cannot support it moving forward as the Conservatives have outlined it.
I know that I only have 10 minutes, so I will move to my next topic, that of meeting or exceeding the existing protections. My colleague who spoke on this bill earlier mentioned the memorandum of understanding between the Province of Ontario and the federal government that was signed in January, 2013. The federal government signed this memorandum of agreement to “meet or exceed” Ontario's existing policies, which included the greenbelt and the Oak Ridges Moraine conservation plans, during the drafting of the legislation and management plan for the Rouge national urban park.
The provincial greenbelt plan provides provincial policy status to the Rouge park and watershed plans. I know that the current protection for the park is a patchwork of about 11 different policies and plans. The federal government agreed to meet all of those existing plans. I agree that they are patchwork, but the federal government agreed that it would ensure that the new legislation, Bill C-40, would meet or exceed the protections provided for this park.
The provincial minister sent a letter to the federal minister, who, I must add, has not yet spoken on this bill once. We have reached third reading, the last stage of this bill, and the current minister of the environment who is responsible for this has not even spoken on the bill once, which I think is absolutely shameful. I have digressed a little.
I will paraphrase a letter that the provincial minister of economic development, employment and infrastructure wrote to the federal minister, as I do not have time to quote it. He basically said that the protections for the park in Bill C-40 are much less than what already exist in Ontario through the existing provincial policies and plans. The current state would enhance the ecological integrity of the proposed Rouge national urban park. The provincial minister said that he would not be able to transfer the 5,400 acres of lands currently owned by the provincial government for the creation of the Rouge national urban park.
That takes us right to my third point of the 100 square kilometre park. The community dreamed of a 100 square kilometre park, which would be absolutely amazing, but then the government proposed a study area of 58 square kilometres. Now, with the provincial government not willing to transfer more than 25 square kilometres of land, this new national park would be less than one quarter of the size all of us on the ground had dreamed of for decades.
I am going to read a little bit from a letter that was sent to all members of Parliament from seven different environmental organizations. They asked us not to support Bill C-40 at third reading. They said that they had attempted to make it better, to work with the agricultural community, environmentalists, and the government. They opposed passage of this flawed bill, saying that it would not be good for the Rouge national urban park.
Mr. Speaker, that is why I am giving you and all the people who care about the Rouge park my word today that I will be working on writing a new private member's bill that would improve this bill. I look forward to being able to table that in the House and eventually seeing it become legislation once we have an NDP government.