Despite united opposition against the proposed National Urban Park, Conservative Bill C-40 passed third reading Monday. The legislation is now on its way to the Tory-dominated Senate for further review.
The passage of Bill C-40 in Ottawa earlier this week, creating the country’s first National Urban Park in Toronto’s Rouge Valley, is not the cause for celebration a large number of its proponents hoped it would be.
Many of the countries leading environmental groups — including Ontario Nature, Environmental Defence, the David Suzuki Foundation, CPAWS Wildlands League and Friends of the Rouge Watershed — lamented the fact that in failing to sufficiently protect the ecological integrity of the park, Stephen Harper’s Conservative government has created a park in name only.
“The proposed legislation fails to establish nature conservation as the priority in park management, ignoring provincial, national and international standards for protected areas,” the groups stated in a joint press release.
Critics of the Conservative vision for the 10,000 acre park east of Toronto claim the watered down parks legislation compelled the Minister of the Environment who oversees Parks Canada only to “take into consideration” the ecological integrity of the parklands, home to dozens of Ontario’s endangered species.
They and the opposition New Democrats, Liberals and Greens (who all voted against the legislation) pressed the government to tighten the language in favour of environmental protection by bringing C-40 in line with existing Parks Canada legislation which says the Minister “must” consider the ecological integrity of the park as a primary objective.
Ontario Hold Out
The Ontario government remains a key player in this issue. In September 2014, Economic Development Minister Brad Duguid, speaking on behalf of Ontario Premier Kathleeen Wynne, informed Ottawa the province was not pleased with the legislation as written.
Unless it was modified as the coalition of environmental groups wished, Duguid informed federal Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq the province would hold on to the 25 square kilometres of land they own in the park, cutting its total size by more than half.
Part of Ontario’s hesitance is the simple fact that existing provincial legislation — such as the Greenbelt Act and the Oak Ridges Moraine Act — already offer stronger environmental protections for land slated for inclusion in the park. Why turn the valuable land over to Ottawa if the province is a better environmental steward, many asked?
With the passage of C-40, the bill now moves to the Senate for further review. Environmental critics of the Conservative plan for the Rouge National Urban Park will now turn their attention to convincing the Tory-dominated Senate to do what their MP colleagues refused to do — namely, prioritize ecological protection.
They also hope to convince Senators from outside the Toronto area that C-40 sets a dangerous precedent for how Ottawa can create National Urban Parks in other regions of the country with equally weak ecological protections. In many way, the Rouge was simply the test case for how future NUPs could be formed across Canada.
“The flawed Rouge National Urban Park Act represents a missed opportunity to protect this ecological treasure for Canadians today and into the future,” the coalition wrote. “It is our hope that the Senate will amend the draft park law to prioritize nature conservation and meet international standards for a protected area.”
More to come.