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Rouge National Urban Park Bill

Hon. Nicole Eaton moved third reading of Bill C-40, An Act respecting the Rouge National Urban Park.

Honourable senators, it is a privilege for me to speak at this time in support of Bill C-40 establishing Rouge National Urban Park.

Honourable senators, this proposed legislation enables creation of a remarkable new entity and the first of its kind in Canada, a national urban park located within the Greater Toronto Area, Canada's largest and most culturally diverse metropolis. In so doing, our government has put in place key strategies that will guide the new national urban park category and Rouge Park is the first such designation. This proposed legislation achieves three things.

First, it contributes tangibly to the application of the Government of Canada's National Conservation Plan. The bill's provisions and the draft management plan flowing from it speak to the three priority areas outlined in the 2014 National Conservation Plan as follows: Conserving Canada's lands and waters; restoring Canada's ecosystems; and connecting Canadians to nature and to Canada's network of protected heritage areas.

Second, it enables enhanced protective measures for Rouge Park. The bill assigns clear priority in respect of protection of nature, culture and agriculture. There will be prohibitions of mineral extraction and hunting will not be allowed. The removal of plants, animals and other natural and cultural resources will also be prohibited. Penalty and fine structures similar to those in place in other national parks will be applied for those who pollute, harass wildlife or poach.

Most importantly, Bill C-40 and the draft park management plan provide the means for equivalent or higher degrees of protection than under provincial statutes and policies, both now and in the future as the park expands.

It provides a fair deal for farmers. Agriculture and farming are key components of the Rouge National Urban Park. Following expropriations in the 1970s, farmers were faced with the reality that only one-year farm leases were offered. This restrictive measure provided an unlevelled, if not fallow, playing field for farmers, making it nearly impossible to plan past the next 12 months. Bill C-40 provides the means for long-term leases, and with it better conditions for business planning and crop management for Rouge Valley farmers.

Colleagues, these are the immediate highlights of this legislation. Allow me to share more of the broader story with you.

The legislation before us today will establish Rouge National Urban Park as the newest category of protected areas managed by Parks Canada, alongside national parks, national historic sites and national marine conservation areas. It will thus carry on in 2015 the distinguished legacy begun in 1885 with the creation of Banff, Canada's first national park, and continued with the establishment of the first national historic site Fort Anne, Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia as well as the recognition of the first marine conservation area, in 2001, Fathom Five National Marine Park of Canada and the deep and sparkling waters of the mouth of the Georgian Bay.

Honourable senators, this will be a national park unlike any other; an urban park in the heart of Canada's largest metropolitan area. Through this new and ground breaking designation, Parks Canada will be able to build on the Rouge of today, which owes its very existence to the collective and co-operative efforts of local visionaries and stewards, citizenship organizations, governments and countless volunteers. The Government of Canada is proud to pay tribute to their nearly three decades of hard work and determination to create one of the largest urban parks in the world.

Furthermore, we must definitely recognize the hundreds of municipal and provincial stakeholders, First Nations members and the thousands of individuals who contributed to the vision and planning of the first national urban park in Canada.

As honourable senators will observe, Bill C-40 provides a legislative framework that will enable Parks Canada to manage the park's natural, cultural and agriculture resources while recognizing the opportunities and challenges that its urban context brings.

This new designation status of national urban park will allow Parks Canada to provide the strongest protections ever for this unique place, encompassing such a remarkable mix of landscapes, including: deep river valleys and glacial features, 1,700 species of plants and animals, precious class-one farmlands and a rich assemblage of archaeological resources. These include heritage buildings and cultural landscapes, with aspects ranging from local to national significance, including Bead Hill National Historic Site, an archaeological site comprising the only known remaining and intact 17th century site in Canada of the Seneca indigenous people, as well as the Toronto Carrying-Place trail, also known as the Humber Portage and the Toronto Passage, which was a major portage route in Ontario, linking Lake Ontario with Lake Simcoe and the Northern Great Lakes.

Parks Canada's long-standing commitment to First Nations' involvement in protected heritage places will also play an important role in Rouge National Urban Park. The link to our First Peoples is a truly historic one, as the name Toronto is derived from the Mohawk term toron-ten, meaning the place where the trees grow over the water.

National designation of the Rouge will facilitate collaboration between Parks Canada and the First Nations, providing opportunities for indigenous communities to celebrate their historical roots in the park and renew their connection to its landscape and waterways.

Colleagues, we readily recognize that Parks Canada's achievements in the realm of conservation are applauded worldwide. The agency is committed to bringing its more than 100 years of conservation knowledge and expertise to this new national urban park.

This chamber knows that the Government of Canada made a commitment in Canada's Economic Action Plan 2012 to invest $143.7 million over 10 years and $7.6 million annually thereafter to make Rouge National Urban Park a reality.

During the hearings conducted by the Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources as part of its study of this bill, an expert witness explained how this type of park and the legislation to create it are different and why they are needed.

Larry Noonan, Chairman of the Altona Forest Stewardship Committee, has been involved with the Rouge community for 40 years. His testimony gives voice to some of the reasoning around the creation of a national urban park and what makes it so unique:

Some people have questioned why we need a different act for the Rouge. Bill C-40 was written specifically for an urban park. When individuals state that national parks with infrastructure disturbances have ecological integrity and that, therefore, urban national parks should have the same standard, this is misleading.

The Rouge wilderness sections are fragmented by many things, from highways to villages to gas pipelines to the largest former garbage dump in the Greater Toronto Area. Seventy-five per cent of the current Rouge Park is disturbed, as opposed to 4 per cent of Banff National Park.

When examined in this light, it is clear to see that a new act is needed for urban national parks, one which contains sections such as strategies and timelines that are appropriate for their unique position as parks inside an urban setting. That is Bill C-40.

One would think that, on the basis of all this effort, with so much progress being made as we break new ground to bring about Canada's first national urban park, the road going on before us would be anything but fraught. But, as we know from what we've heard with respect of the debate at second reading of this bill in this chamber, and from witness testimony we gleaned at committee, there are potential roadblocks that could threaten to diminish the degree of success that Rouge National Urban Park aims to achieve.

Despite its having reached and signed a memorandum of agreement with Canada in early 2013, Ontario has since taken the view that unless and until three amendments are made to the proposed legislation, they will not see their lands, which, as Senator Eggleton pointed out to us at second reading, amounts to 44 per cent of the park's land mass.

Senator Eggleton also brought surprising clarity to Ontario's position by shedding light on its three main concerns.

Those are: their insistence on what they term "ecological integrity"; the province's demand for a larger park, 100 square kilometres in size, versus its current size of 58 square kilometres; and third, Ontario's insistence on there being greater certainty in clause 8 of the proposed bill, regarding the appointment of an advisory committee on the park's management.

Additionally, Ontario has also insisted that nature be prioritized over farming to the detriment of agrarian pursuits. I will speak to the important matter of farming again in a few moments.

One might wish to acknowledge Ontario's rigour in its role as the defender of the park's ecological integrity. One might consider the province's insistence on greater certainty for oversight of the park's management as noble and a protection of its interests. But sadly the facts suggest otherwise.

Again, despite its undertaking in the memorandum of agreement signed in January 2013, Ontario is the only jurisdiction that has yet to provide any feedback on the draft management plan for the park. This is despite a broad, widespread four-month consultation process that is the most extensive public engagement process in Parks Canada's 103-year history, that saw outreach to the public, stakeholders, organizations, government officials, First Nations communities, and comments gleaned from community events, public open house meetings in Toronto, Scarborough, Markham and Pickering, and online survey results.

Through this engagement process, and since our government announced its intention to establish this park in the 2011 Speech from the Throne, the views and perspectives of over 11,000 Canadians have been heard. More than 150 organizations engaged in the process. In short, it seems everyone has much to say about the proposed management plan — everyone, that is, except the Ontario Liberal government. It seems as if the Ontario government has a preoccupation with environmental stewardship at any cost. Yet, they have been silent with respect to comment on the draft management plan. What might be worth considering then, in the face of this, is the ongoing and considerable impact of Ontario's environmental overreach undertaken in the name of ecology.

Consider, if you will, these stories in the public domain: Billions of taxpayers' dollars have been, and will continue to be, wasted for decades to come because of the Liberal government's blunder in wind energy; the government has rushed into this without any business plan, ignoring even the advice of its own experts that could have substantially reduced costs, the result of which is contributing to hugely escalating hydro bills and to the loss of 300,000 manufacturing jobs in Ontario. As a consequence, Ontarians are now locked into 20 years of paying absurdly inflated prices for inefficient and unreliable wind power, which still must be backed up by fossil fuel energy, meaning natural gas.

Add to this the Smart Meter fiasco in which the installation of hydro meters in 4.8 million homes — yes, it's environmental overreach, which is what their objection to this bill is — and businesses across Ontario is costing ratepayers nearly double what the government originally budgeted. Ontario's Auditor General revealed that it cost $1.9 billion to install Smart Meters, yet Ontarians were originally told the cost would be closer to $1 billion. The Auditor General also found that the energy ministry failed to undertake cost-benefit analysis for the program before it was approved by cabinet. This is no sterling record in the domain of ecological protection — except for such reckless pursuits having achieved continued and resounding success in costing Ontario taxpayers more money, and lots of it.

Now, let's turn from appearances and look instead at reality to the tenets of the already-approved memorandum of agreement to see what its provisions have to say regarding ecological stewardship. Clause 2.09 of the agreement commits to "develop written policies in respect of the creation, management and administration of the Park that meet or exceed provincial policies. . . ." In direct relation to this, opponents to this proposed legislation continue to cite Ontario's Greenbelt Act, 2005 as the principal statute applying to ecological matters around provincial lands. Minister Aglukkaq added a great deal of clarity in her appearance at committee when she compared Bill C-40 to the provincial statute. She said:

As much as we respect Ontario's Greenbelt Act, there is simply no comparison to be made. Bill C-40 is by far much stronger. In contrast with Bill C-40, Ontario's Greenbelt Act does not provide any law enforcement mechanisms to protect the park's resources, does not put any limits on the development of infrastructure, allows aggregated resource extraction, allows hunting, and contains loopholes that allow dumping of contaminated soil and the killing of endangered species.

To summarize, Bill C-40 will provide Parks Canada with the strongest-ever legislative framework in the Rouge's history, one that applies to the entire park, protects nature, culture and agriculture; takes into account the realities of the fourth largest urban area in North America; respects all agreements, commitments and dialogue with all public landholders contributing lands to the national urban park; and fulfills the vision of the Rouge Park Alliance by creating a much-enhanced protected area.

Colleagues, even opponents to this proposed legislation had to concede that the Greenbelt Act is silent in respect of any mention whatsoever of the notion of ecological integrity; and the Greenbelt Act does not contain provisions that prioritize nature.

How is it then that Ontario's Minister of Economic Development, Employment and Infrastructure, Brad Duguid, in a disappointing display of political brinksmanship, can state to the Federal Minister of the Environment that if his suggested amendments are not adopted, he would maintain his position that "the provincially controlled lands are better protected under the current provincial legislation."

What a baffling paradox it is that Ontario, so bent on protection of ecological integrity, would, if it does not get its way, opt to see land protected under its own statute that contains no provisions to ensure that which the province seeks, namely ecological integrity, and choose to offer no comment as yet on a proposed management regime from which any such protections could flow. I guess it's perhaps the same kind of logic that brought about ill-conceived decisions on wind energy, gas plant contracts and Smart Meters.

A fundamental point here is the distinction between "legislation" and "policies." Ontario seems to want the bill to include provisions and policies that meet or exceed existing provincial legislation. However, this is simply not the place for that.

In committee, this point of clarification was made several times to various witnesses. It bears reiterating that it is the management plan from which means of both ecological and other forms of protection will come. This plan integrates the four cornerstone elements of the park concept by conserving natural heritage, connecting people to nature and history, supporting a vibrant farming community, and celebrating the cultural heritage of this special place. The plan also embeds nine guiding principles developed by partners and stakeholders. As I've mentioned, this key piece is currently in draft form and is unfortunately still awaiting input or comment from the province, which is most regrettable as this lack of dialogue around it impedes progress.

Honourable senators, it bears stating for the record that under the proposed management plan there are no fewer than 12 areas of ecological protection policies inherent to Rouge Park, none of which were in place under the province. These include the provision of sustainable, long-term funding to support the management, protection and operation of the park; stability for farmers through provision of long-term leases; full application of the provisions of the Species at Risk Act; prohibition of hunting on all lands; effective enforcement of the prohibition on waste dumping; and the implementation of equivalent fines and penalties, such as those rendered in National Parks, for illegal activities such as poaching.

The protections for this park in Bill C-40 are better than those provided for in any other existing provincial law.

The province of Ontario should be nothing but encouraged by this legislation. Ontario should also get a boost from the benefits that Rouge National Urban Park will bring to agriculture.

It must be emphasized that the park's tradition of agriculture is a unique feature among nationally protected heritage areas. The presence of working farms is integral to the future success of Rouge National Urban Park. People will continue to live and work in the park's agricultural landscape as many families and First Nations communities have done for hundreds of years.

Honourable senators, indeed, good things do grow in Ontario. Let's all bear that in mind as, after all, the agri-food sector is Ontario's second-biggest economic driver. Farmers in the park have been living on yearly leases since the lands were expropriated forty years ago. Anyone who knows farming will tell you that it is the most complex of any multi-generational, home-based business.

Bill C-40 will, for the first time in nearly two generations, enable long-term leases for the farming community. This is being applauded by the park's farmers. The York Region Federation of Agriculture represents 700 farm businesses in York Region and Toronto, including those 40 farms in what will ultimately be the Rouge National Urban Park.

The federation is clear in its position with respect to Bill C-40. I quote:

We believe that this Bill provides the best protection of the 7,500 acres of Class 1 farmland and sustainable farming activities in the Rouge National Urban Park while at the same time improving the ecological health and preserving the cultural heritage of the area.

The federation is equally clear as it admonishes the province, stating:

What the . . . farmers want and need from you, Minister Duguid, is your support for the transfer of the Provincial lands to Parks Canada and your support for Bill C-40 and its swift passage in the Senate, without amendments.

So, colleagues, you can see that the efforts at achieving progress are made, that the means exist to overcome what the province feels are sticking points. We remain hopeful that the continued diligence of Parks Canada's dedicated officials will result in the current impasse being surmounted. Yet, we remain committed to moving forward. We are putting the legislation forward with a small selection of described parcels and, with it, the authority to add lands through an order-in-council process.

As I conclude, honourable senators, would you not agree that great cities have great parks? Central Park in New York, London's Hyde Park, the beautiful Bois de Boulogne in Paris, Phoenix Park in Dublin, Vancouver's Stanley Park, as well as Mont Royal Park in Montreal. Now, with the passage of Bill C-40, there will be a unique and groundbreaking national park within Canada's biggest city.

There is no better place to showcase and share our natural, cultural and agricultural heritage than in the Greater Toronto Area.

The unique blend of nationally significant natural, cultural and agricultural landscapes in this wonderful place offers unparalleled opportunities for connection, learning, stewardship, engagement and volunteering. To support this undertaking, there is a robust and collaborative management plan that maps the practical steps to making the dream of Rouge National Urban Park a reality, specifically designed to protect this diverse landscape in the heart of our nation's largest urban centre.

Finally, Your Honour, Alexander Graham Bell once said:

Leave the beaten track behind occasionally and dive into the woods. Every time you do so you will you be certain to find something that you have never seen before.

Honourable senators, we have before us a bill that will enable us to indeed dive into the woods and find something that has not been seen before, Canada's first national urban park, a place of which we can all be proud as federal, provincial and municipal legislatures, as stakeholders and nature enthusiasts, as agrarian and First Nation peoples and as new Canadians longing to experience and learn more about the place they have chosen to call home.

Colleagues, I commend this legislation to you and urge you all to support it. Thank you.