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Rouge Urban National Park: Ontario Nature provides a rebuttal to MP Paul Calandra’s remarks

By Amanda Brodhagen, Farms.com

In an earlier article written by Farms.com dated Sept. 8, Paul Calandra the MP for Oak Ridges-Markham shared his point of view on the Rouge Urban National Park issue. In particular, Calandra spoke out against the Ontario government’s decision to withhold the provincial-owned portion of the lands (approximately 5,400 acres) to create the national park. The provincial minister in charge of the portfolio, Minister Brad Duguid said he was unable to recommend to Cabinet to proceed with the transfer of lands until Bill C-40, the Rouge Urban Park Act was amended. Minister Duguid was of the opinion that the current plan failed to outline details about how to protect the ecological integrity of the park. Ontario Nature was one of the groups named by Calandra as having an agenda to “evict” farmers off of their land indirectly through the practice of reforesting certain parts of the area that is currently being farmed. He was concerned about taking Class 1 farmland out of food production for the purpose of planting trees. The group reached out to Farms.com to share their take on the dispute. According to Dr. Anne Bell, a spokesperson for Ontario Nature, the group has a vested interest in the region because of its biodiversity qualities. She notes that the area has been threatened due to its close proximity to the Greater Toronto Area. Dr. Bell says that her group feels that it is “very important for our organization to work with the farming community,” adding that the two parties have common interests for the area. “We understand and embrace the fact that farming is going to continue,” she explains. “I think development is a threat to both the farming community and the conservation interests,” she said. “So much prime farmland is being lost to urban sprawl, and we need to make sure that doesn’t happen, and at the same time we have to ensure that we maintain lands in a natural state.” Despite what Dr. Bell suggest is a “common interest” in working together, she also feels that the matter has been “mischaracterized by certain people like Paul Calandra.” She asserts that the organization does not want to see farmers evicted from their land. “We believe that Rouge Park is a great opportunity to showcase and protect local food production.” To her, the phrase “local food” means anything that is being grown for food (including crops grown for livestock feed). She says that non-food crops would include corn grown for the purpose of ethanol production.

Ontario Nature fully supports the idea of the park, but is unpleased with the current approach. Dr. Bell says she is most concerned that there is “no requirement to protect natural resources in the park, and for us that is a critical flaw.” The group that she represents would like to see a clear direction outlining more specifics about maintaining the park’s ecological state. Dr. Bell believes that the real threat to farmland isn’t from people doing ecological restoration, but from urban sprawl. “Farmers and conservationists need to get together, better understand each other’s interests and work towards a solution that fits,” she concludes.

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