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Canadiana, Environment, Federal Politics, Ontario Politics

Environmental Groups Pin Slim Hopes for Rouge Park Changes to Senate

Rouge Park in autumn.

Rouge Park in autumn.

Canada’s Rouge National Urban Park Act began second reading in the Senate earlier this week after sailing through the House of Commons is just six months.

Tobias C. Enverga Jr., a Stephen Harper appointed Senator for Ontario, is acting as the bill’s sponsor in the Senate.

On Monday this week, Enverga Jr. spoke on the bill, urging all Senators to offer their support. “One hundred years from now I am confident that the decision to preserve this remarkable place as our country’s first national urban park will be viewed as one of the most innovative and progressive acts of urban conservation of our time,” he told the Red Chamber. “One destined to define Canada long after we are gone.”

Not everyone hopes the bill passes through the Senate as-is.

“It’s probably a one in a million chance that the Senate will change it,” said Jim Robb, head of the Friends of the Rouge Watershed. But they have to try. His group is supportive of creating a National Urban Park in the Rouge, a 58 square kilometre green space on Toronto’s eastern edge — but they fundamentally reject the way in which Harper’s Tories have dramatically de-prioritized protecting the park’s ecological integrity.

Science has been the Achilles heel of this government, Robb told Reeves Report, offering advice the Tories have been not only hesitant to take but downright hostile towards. “They seem to have this distrust or perhaps they feel that science won’t point the ship of government in the direction they want.”

RELATED: Contentious Rouge Park Bill Passes Third Reading

So while Robb has little reason to believe the Tory-dominated Senate will amend the bill in positive ways, his group and others fighting the weak park legislation will continue to try and use ecology and other hard sciences to convince the Senate that the Rouge deserves better.

Ontario, meanwhile, which owns a majority of the land originally slated to become part of the park, has signalled its unwillingness to hand over any of the land to Parks Canada’s control. The province believes the protections it already offers the park through the Greenbelt Acts are stronger than what’s on offer from Ottawa.

Economic Development Minister Brad Duguid, himself a long-serving Scarborough MPP, told the Scarborough Mirror last week this was a “wasted opportunity” to accomplish something in the Park.

CONCERNS WITH PARKS CANADA STEWARDSHIP

Once created, the Rouge National Urban Park — the first of its kind to created with the new NUP designation — will be directed under the auspices of Parks Canada who administer the country’s other national parks, marine conservation areas and historic sites.

The federal agency, operating under Environment Canada, may be a well-suited long-term custodian of the Rouge, Robb believes. But from his own dealings with the agency, he’s worried the public information they’re disseminating is more spin than fact.

Moreover, while Harper has given control of the Rouge to Parks Canada, in 2012 he and then Finance Minister Jim Flaherty slashed more than $60 million from Environment Canada’s budget. These cuts have disproportionately affected the agency’s scientists.

Jacques Gérin, who worked at Environment Canada between 1977 and 1985 and served three years as deputy minister, warned in 2012 the ministry was being gutted. The cuts amounted to a “lobotomy” of Parks Canada in particular.

“These are highly-educated public servants with decades of experience in ecological restoration and understanding natural systems,” Gérin told the Globe and Mail of those being fired. “These are the people who know what is happening to Canadian ecosystems and how to restore endangered species.”

But Pam Veinotte, Field Unit Superintendent for Rouge National Urban Park, told Reeves Report in an emailed statement last week the agency will protect the Rouge “like never before.”

“What the Government of Canada is proposing is a tailor-made approach to provide an unprecedented level of protection for the Rouge that goes much further than protections provided by the Province of Ontario,” she said.

The federal government is obligated, through this legislation, Veinotte said, to protect the Rouge’s natural ecosystems, cultural landscapes and maintain native wildlife through year-round enforcement.

Lisa Gue, senior science researcher with the David Suzuki Foundation in Ottawa, told Reeves Report the broader concern with the Rouge is how the government and Parks Canada have comported themselves through the process.

“I think this legislation, though specific to the Rouge NUP, sends a concerning signal about the direction that the government is willing to take parks management,” she said. “I think that’s another reason for all Canadians and our representatives to be concerned.”

CHANGES AFTER 2015 ELECTION?

Despite his dismal hope the Senate will live up to its name as the Canadian chamber of sober second thought, Robb is optimistic in the long-term that the flawed Rouge NUP legislation will be amended and strengthened in the long-term. The 2015 general election could provide that second chance.

“The opposition parties have said the current legislation is so flawed that they plan to, if given the opportunity, to revise it and bring in something different,” he said. “This may come back.”

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About awreeves

Geography MA Environmentalist Citizen

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