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Ontario may deny land transfer for Rouge National Urban Park

Thursday September 4, 2014

Mike Adler

Ontario appears ready to side with conservation groups and deny Rouge River Valley lands to the federal government unless a future Rouge National Urban Park gets stronger ecological protection.

The governments signed an agreement requiring the first-of-its-kind federal park to “meet or exceed” standards for ecological integrity set for the Rouge by the province, but Bill C-40, the legislation for establishing the park, “is silent” on this, Ontario Infrastructure Minister Brad Duguid wrote in a letter Tuesday, Sept. 2.

A Scarborough MPP and minister overseeing the transfer of provincial land in the valley, Duguid told federal Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq he cannot recommend that to Cabinet unless the bill is changed to explicitly state provincial policies and plans for the Rouge will be met or exceeded.

For now, Duguid wrote, “I cannot support recommending steps to enable the contribution of 5,400 (provincial) acres for the simple reason that I feel this land will be better protected if it remains with the province of Ontario.”

Coming the week before public meetings are scheduled on the park’s draft management plan, Duguid’s decision threatens to alter the federal concept of the Rouge NUP as a “people’s park” where celebrating farming is on a par with ecological preservation as a main goal.

Parks Canada and some other supporters of the park concept, which the draft management plan will further define, have consistently argued it will protect the Rouge River Valley’s ecology and that the federal agency – pledging to spend $143.7 million developing the park and to contribute $7.6 million a year in operating funds - has sufficient resources to fully protect the area for the first time.

The Rouge, unlike other national parks, is not a pristine wilderness but a park cut by roads and occupied by tenant farmers or, in places, private landowners.

Duguid, Liberal MPP for Scarborough Centre, said he came to his decision after looking carefully at the bill and draft plan with “stakeholders, local citizen groups and staff.”

In particular, he cited arguments made by Ontario Nature, Environmental Defence, and Friends of the Rouge Watershed for alterations to the legislation, attaching them to his letter to Aglukkaq.

Those groups’ insistence on adhering to standards in previous Rouge Park plans, as well as in legislation including the province’s 2005 Greenbelt Plan, isn’t just semantic. For example, a 600-metre-wide “ecological corridor” along the Little Rouge tributary, which could function as a sustainable Carolinian habitat when its forest cover has been replanted, was promised in earlier documents but is missing from the current federal plan.

The three groups also want the study area for the federal park expanded to 100 square kilometres and want “ecologically sound farming practices” instituted to protect the Rouge’s water quality and biological diversity.

Such goals, apparently supported by Duguid, would conflict with those of the farmers currently leasing more than half the land being considered for the Rouge NUP, and with Oak Ridges-Markham MP Paul Calandra, a Conservative who has defended the farmers’ interests, calling them the best ecological stewards of the park.

In an interview, Jim Robb, FRW’s general manager, said the three conservation groups and others are “very happy the province has taken this step.”

The current Parks Canada plan for the Rouge NUP, he said, is a “blurred vision” which ignores scientific planning done in the past 24 years and would trample the Rouge’s ecosystem “by trying to be all things to all people.”

Robb said conservationists “see a continuing place for heritage farmers in the park” but one where protecting wildlife and water quality are priorities.

The province owns two thirds of the lands currently in Rouge Park, which was run until 2012 with help from governments and interested organizations such as the Toronto Zoo.

In June 2013, the federal and provincial governments each pledged to transfer 5,000 acres of land to the Rouge NUP.

Significant parts of the former park, and particularly the sensitive valley lands south of Old Finch and Finch avenues in Scarborough were not part of that agreement and appear to constitute the “5,400 acres” Duguid mentions in his letter.

Utility corridors, the 700-acre zoo property and the 200-acre Beare Road landfill site in Scarborough, aren’t being sought for transfer to the federal park, although the zoo is said to be negotiating a partnership agreement with Parks Canada that could see some zoo land transferred or exchanged.

Parks Canada hosts open houses on the draft management plan – all beginning at 7 p.m. - on Tuesday, Sept. 9 at Markham Museum on Markham Road in Markham; Sept. 10 at the Royal Canadian Legion branch on Lawson Road in Scarborough; Sept. 16 at the Pickering Recreation Complex on Valley Farm Road in Pickering; and Sept. 18 at the Art Gallery of Toronto on Dundas Street in Toronto.

The agency has also posted the draft plan on its website at

More on the Rouge NUP concept is posted at

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