In the fall of 2011, politicians, farmers, environmentalists and local advocates gathered in Toronto to launch Canada’s first urban national park, in the Rouge Watershed on the city’s east side.
It was a remarkably diverse gathering. Senior federal government officials, including then Environment Minister Peter Kent, and provincial and municipal politicians from all parties met with representatives from agricultural and environmental groups, as well as local advocates who have fought for over 30 years to protect wetlands, farms and forests. stretching from the Greenbelt to Lake Ontario.
La Rouge has a rich indigenous, agricultural and ecological history and is home to more than 1,000 species of plants and animals. But proposed and existing urban encroachment, pipelines, highways, railways and other infrastructure threaten the park. In some places, pesticides and fertilizers from intensive agriculture could harm biodiversity.
Those who attended the inaugural meeting to create Rouge National Urban Park rolled up their sleeves and sharpened their pencils and, by the end of the day, had laid out 10 consensus principles to guide the creation and management of the most recent park. national of Canada. These principles addressed a range of issues, including ensuring progressive governance led by Parks Canada and promoting sustainable agriculture in the park. Government leaders, stakeholders and experts also stressed the importance of ecological health for successful park management. Principle 8 states: âMaintain and improve the ecological health and scientific integrity of the park. “
The concept of ecological health or ecological integrity is essential to sound park management and has been enshrined in best practice for the establishment of parks and protected areas around the world. Basically, this means that park managers must make the preservation and restoration of nature a top priority. As park expert Anna Baggio from the Society for Nature and Parks of Canada noted, âThis would mean that if planners wanted to build a road or a parking lot, for example, they would have to do it. in a way that has the least possible 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.
Despite the widely recognized importance of a nature-based approach to Canada’s national parks, federal law passed earlier this year to create Rouge Park makes no reference to ecological integrity. Instead, it contains a weak reference to ecosystem health and offers a highly discretionary approach to nature protection and restoration.
An Ecojustice legal review concluded that Rouge’s legislation offers much weaker protection of the natural environment than the Canada National Parks Act or Ontario’s Provincial Parks and Conservation Reserves Act . Unlike these laws which privilege nature, the Red Law only requires that the Minister “take into account the protection of its natural ecosystems and its cultural landscapes and the maintenance of its native fauna and the health of these ecosystems”.
Because the Rouge legislation does not meet provincial, national and international standards for protected areas, all three federal opposition parties have opposed it, as have major environmental groups in Canada. The Ontario government has also said it will not transfer provincial lands to Parks Canada to add to the park unless legislation is tightened.
It is important to stress that they all support the creation of the park but not the imperfect act that will govern its management.
Environmental groups have consistently praised the federal leadership in creating the park, as well as the recent federal decision to double its initial contribution by adding 21 square kilometers of federal land in Pickering and Uxbridge.
Rouge legislation reflects many core values ââthat have motivated politicians, stakeholders and local communities to come together to defend a national park in Rouge. And we’re almost there. But legislation must be strengthened so that these values ââare effectively taken into account.
Canadians love and visit parks and protected areas often, especially at this time of year. These natural areas protect the biological wealth of our country and provide Canadians and visitors with places of respite and solitude in nature.
We all owe it to us to ensure that our parks, including Rouge National Urban Park, are supported by strong laws and policies.
David suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Faisal Moola is the Ontario Director of the David Suzuki Foundation and Assistant Professor at the University of Toronto and York University.