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NDP MPs say party will not support government’s Rouge Urban National Park bill

Wednesday November 19, 2014

By Ali Raza
Scarborough Mirror

“The answer is no.” said Megan Leslie, Halifax MP and NDP Deputy Leader and Environment Critic, regarding whether or not she would recommend to her caucus voting for the controversial Bill C-40 for the establishment of Rouge National Urban Park.

Her decision was made with Beaches-East York MP Matthew Kellway after an extensive tour of the proposed park led by Friends of the Rouge Watershed among other environmental groups.

On Monday, Nov. 17, the MPs travelled along the Rouge River from Lake Ontario to Stouffville via bus to see firsthand the ecology that so many environmental groups say needs protecting.

Among the NDP MPs, the opposition to the federal government’s proposal is unanimous.

“It’s difficult to recommend to my caucus that we vote against a bill that will create a park,” Leslie said. “But talking to stakeholders here today, realizing what a precedent this could set for other parks across Canada, I think we’re going to have to.”

She added that the recommendation would occur later this week.

Friends of the Rouge Wateshed General Manager Jim Robb led the tour. Representatives from Ontario Nature, Wildlands League (a chapter of the Canadian Parks & Wilderness Society) and farmers’ group Land Over Landings also attended.

Leslie and Kellway were given detailed explanations of the concerns held toward the bill. Robb presented the tour members with a list of “top ten serious flaws” of the bill.

Among those flaws were a failure of the bill to give priority to ecological integrity and a failure to “meet or exceed” older provincial, Rouge Park and Oak Ridges Moraine policies.

During the tour, much of the opposition of the bill arose as criticism of the Conservative government. While environmental groups accuse the Conservatives of ignoring long-standing investments and plans, NDP MPs Leslie and Kellway criticized the federal government for “creating false tension between farmers and environmentalists” and “not co-operating with other levels of government.”

“It’s a tremendous loss of expertise and passion for this piece of land that we’re witnessing in the language of this bill,” Kellway said. “Simply because we have a government that doesn’t talk to other levels of government or civil society groups.”

Conservative rebuttal towards criticism of the bill has been in the form of support of farmers. In a House of Commons debate on Oct. 8, Oak Ridges-Markham Conservative MP Paul Calandra asked committee members to “listen to the farmers.”

“The creation of a 600-metre ecological corridor, which will take 1,700 acres of class one farmland out of production, based on a 20-year-old report, cannot be done without evicting farmers,” he said.

Calandra’s point addresses the issue of the federal government choosing not to use older provincial policies for Rouge NUP. The point that many environmental groups have raised as a concern.

But Leslie rejects the idea that proposed amendments will yield poor results for farmers. She accuses the Conservatives of creating “false tension.”

“The government is trying to paint this as farmers versus environmentalists,” she said. “It’s an unfair characterization. We have farmers’ and environmental groups at committee and everybody is reasonable.”

The proposed amendment “took everyone into account,” Leslie said.

The third reading of Bill C-40 will be set for a later date.

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