The Ontario government is threatening to scuttle Rouge National Urban Park over fears Ottawa is not doing enough to protect sensitive lands, the Star has learned.
Delivering a potentially devastating blow to the creation of a reserve 16 times the size of New York’s Central Park, Infrastructure Minister Brad Duguid said federal legislation on the initiative is so environmentally inadequate that the Ontario is reconsidering its land transfer.
Duguid sent a letter to Federal Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq on Tuesday, outlining the objections of Premier Kathleen Wynne’s government to the plan.
“The current law is silent on the MoU requirement to meet or exceed provincial standards for ecological integrity,” he said of Bill C-40, the Rouge Urban Park, which was filed in June.
âI have heard from many stakeholders in Ontario, including the Friends of the Rouge Watershed, Environmental Defense and Ontario Nature, regarding Bill C-40 and the proposed park management plan that the federal government has released. for public consultation, âwrote the minister.
âAfter carefully considering this matter, I have decided that I cannot recommend that Cabinet release, extinguish or transfer its interest in the Rouge Park lands unless Bill C-40 does be modified, âcontinued Duguid.
âIn short, if these changes are not made, I cannot support the recommendation of measures to allow the contribution of 5,400 acres for the simple reason that I think this land will be better protected if it remains in the province of l ‘Ontario.
Last June, Aglukkaq noted that “the legislation provides the highest level of protection in the history of the Greater Toronto Area”.
Duguid’s salvo comes as a series of town halls are scheduled to begin Tuesday at the Markham Museum, followed by sessions at Royal Canadian Legion Branch 258 in Scarborough on September 10, the Pickering Recreation Complex on September 16, and the Gallery of Ontario Art on September 18.
In Budget 2012, Ottawa allocated $ 143.7 million over 10 years – and $ 7.6 million annually for operating and infrastructure costs thereafter – for Canada’s first national urban park, an oasis for 1,700 species of plants, birds, fish, mammals, insects and amphibians.
However, the project was beset by politics, intergovernmental wrangling and complications over ownership of the vast strip of land.
The current Rouge Park is 40 square kilometers in Toronto and Markham, but with the creation of a national park it would expand to 58 square kilometers.
Queen’s Park controls about two-thirds of the land in what would be Rouge National Urban Park, including much of it owned by the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority which cannot be sold without the approval of the province.
The federal government owns the remaining third of the land, with Toronto and Markham having small plots.
Ottawa boasts of being 13 times the size of Vancouver’s Stanley Park, 16 times the size of Central Park and 33 times the size of London’s Hyde Park.
However, in his letter to Aglukkaq, Duguid pointed out that he is simply doing what âstakeholders in Ontario, including the Friends of the Rouge Watershed, Environmental Defense and Ontario Natureâ want.
“These changes to Bill C-40 should make it clear that existing Ontario provincial policies and plans that improve the ecological integrity of the Rouge National Urban Park project will be met or exceeded,” the Minister wrote. .
âThe changes should also include a commitment that the federal government will comply with provincial policies such as the Greenbelt Plan. . . the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan, the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, and the Big Move, âhe said.
âThis is a position I arrived at after discussions with stakeholders, local citizen groups and staff. They agree that these changes are very important in ensuring that the ecological integrity of Rouge National Urban Park is maintained so that future generations can enjoy this unique and beautiful park.
Indeed, environmentalists have long expressed concern over whether wildlife, watersheds and forests would be protected under federal jurisdiction.