Toronto could be home to Canada’s first national park in an urban area, if the federal government comes to an agreement with Ontario.
Kathleen Wynne is not the only Ontario politician to criticize Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s environmental record. Liberal Cabinet Minister Brad Duguid said the Tories were betraying Torontonians on an issue close to home and that could jeopardize what was supposed to be a crown jewel in northeast Toronto.
During his last visit, the Prime Minister told Toronto that the government was expanding plans for the country’s first urban national park, located in northeast Scarborough. But Duguid, MP for Scarborough Center, said torontonian that the provincial government is not currently prepared to go ahead with the planned park.
Harper announced that the Government of Canada will contribute an additional 21 square kilometers of land to Rouge National Urban Park, increasing the size of the park by about a third. But only if the provincial and federal governments can settle a dispute over environmental protections, and the park is ever built.
Despite the federal government donating new land, the province said this spring it was unwilling to cede parks until an environmental protection agreement was reached.
Critics say the protections set out in the Rouge National Urban Park Act are unclear, paving the way for environmental exploitation in the park. Parks Canada refutes these accusations by saying that the law offers the Rouge its “strongest protection ever”. But at present, the Rouge is not an established national park and does not have the stronger protections that this status offers. The same critics argue that the protections offered by the Red Law are insufficient.
“Despite the widely recognized importance of a nature-based approach to Canada’s national parks, federal legislation passed earlier this year to create Rouge Park makes no reference to ecological integrity,” wrote David Suzuki and Faisal Moola in a July editorial for the Toronto Star. “Instead, it contains a weak reference to ecosystem health and offers a very discretionary approach to protecting and restoring nature.”
Suzuki and Moola added that the Rouge Act contains weaker environmental protections than the Canada National Parks Act or the Provincial Parks and Conservation Reserves Act in Ontario.
At the time of going to press, Parks Canada officials had not responded to torontonianrequests for comments on the current status of the Rouge National Urban Parks project and details of planned environmental measures.
The David Suzuki Foundation, in which Moola is also involved, is part of a coalition of organizations that also includes the Friends of the Rouge Watershed and the Nature and Parks Society of Canada.
âI am happy to see the federal government dedicate this additional land to the park. We have been asking them to do this for some time, âexplains Duguid.
But the MPP says the province’s position remains unchanged and that the federal government is blocking attempts to reach consensus.
Perhaps in anticipation of local objections, during his announcement in July, Harper said that “the new Rouge National Urban Park will have the highest level of environmental protection.”
But Duguid says the federal government has not attempted to address Ontario’s environmental concerns, nor has it responded to a proposed compromise.
âIn fact, we have worked very hard with our environmental partners to find a compromise solution that we believe would be acceptable to the federal government when [the Rouge National Urban Park Act] went through the Senate, and they shot him too, âhe said.
The idea of ââturning Rouge Park into a national park had been floated for years when the project was first announced by the federal government in 2011. The project stalled this spring. Throughout the conflict, Duguid made it clear that the current federal government may not be the one to complete the project.
“We’ll just have to see what fall brings,” says Duguid.