Harper announces expansion of Rouge National Urban Park

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The federal government plans to more than double its initial land contribution to Rouge National Urban Park, according to Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

In Pickering on Saturday, Harper announced that 21 square kilometers in Pickering and Uxbridge are being added to the park. The additional land, which is part of what was expropriated by the federal government in the early 1970s for an airport that has yet to be built, will increase the park’s boundaries by 36%, to 79.5 square kilometers. That would make it one of the largest city parks in North America – 19 times the size of Stanley Park in Vancouver and 22 times the size of Central Park in New York City.

The new area includes forests, meadows, streams, streams, important archaeological sites and large tracts of agricultural land, some of which will continue to be cultivated.

The law creating the park, first announced in 2011, was passed in the House of Commons last January and came into force in May.

“Today’s announcement will provide greater opportunities for families in the Greater Toronto Area and visitors from coast to coast to coast to enjoy Canada’s great outdoors,” said Harper. “The expansion of Rouge National Urban Park will also ensure that current and future generations of Canadians remain connected to an important part of Canada’s rich natural and cultural heritage.

The creation of the park did not come without controversy, especially during a clash with the Ontario government, which controls about two-thirds of the 58 square kilometers originally planned to be part of the park, including a wide swath owned by the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority.

Ontario Economic Development Minister Brad Duguid recommended in March that the province not cede these lands to the federal government, agreeing with environmental groups that the legislation creating the park did not provide sufficient environmental protections and did not did not meet the standards of the existing Greenbelt, Oak Ridges Moraine. and the plans for Rouge Park.

“It’s good that they added more land to the park, but the outstanding problem, the central problem, still remains… We still do not have legislation worthy of a national urban park, it still does not respond. to the international standard for protected areas, ”said Anna Baggio, director of conservation planning for the Wildlands League of the Canadian Parks and Nature Society (CPWS).

Current legislation needs to be changed so that nature preservation is the top priority in park management, Baggio said. This would mean that if city planners wanted to develop a road or a parking lot, for example, they would have to do so in such a way as to have the least harmful impact on the park. The emphasis on nature first is particularly important because Rouge National Urban Park is surrounded by densely populated urbanized areas.

“We have to help nature as much as possible here, and therefore legislation has to be consistent with national standards,” Baggio said. “And it can be. There is no reason that it should not be. There is no reason that they cannot correct the law.

Friends of the Rouge Watershed Executive Director Jim Robb said he’s happy the government has expanded the park, but in addition to changing the legislation, there is still a lot to do. The group calls on the government to incorporate more public land into the park to bring its total area to 100 square kilometers and to eliminate the threat of building an airport in Pickering “that would waste taxpayer dollars, create food. irreplaceable ”. land and green spaces, increase pollution and fuel dangerous climate change, ”Robb said in an email.

Harper attempted to respond to these criticisms in his speech, asserting that “the new Rouge National Urban Park will have the highest level of environmental protection. It will also allow the farmers who have been responsible stewards here for over a century to continue to work this land, as it is only fair. No one has an excuse not to support Rouge National Urban Park because that’s what the people of the GTA want.

Harper was vague about what might happen to the remaining expropriated land north of Highway 407, despite the announced relaunch of the moribund airport plan in 2013, which also blinded the province. “Our government will only support projects on these lands, including an airport, if they are supported by a solid business plan and are in the best interest of this community,” he said.

With files from Jackie Hong and The Canadian Press

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