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Rouge Park spanning Pickering, Markham and Toronto nears national status

Pickering News Advertiser
Kristen Calis
April 12, 2015

PICKERING -- The Rouge National Urban Park is almost a reality but it won’t be as large as originally intended until the Province hands over its land.

Bill C-40, federal legislation to create the national park, was adopted in its third reading in the Conservative-controlled Senate on April 2, and was awaiting the formality of royal assent as of press time.

“The fight for the creation of the park is over,” says Larry Noonan, a Pickering resident and a member of the Friends of the Rouge National Urban Park.

The Rouge encompasses areas of Markham, Toronto and Pickering and is expected to be 47 square kilometres as a national park. The creation of the park, which if approved will be the first national urban park in the country, has been in the works since May 2011.

Given the park’s unique situation, the provincial Liberals and federal Conservatives are not seeing eye-to-eye on legislation.

Last week, the federal government announced the transfer of about 19.1 square kilometres from Transport Canada to Parks Canada to help make up the park.

These lands are primarily Class 1 farmland -- the rarest, most fertile and most endangered farmland in the country. Parks Canada says promoting a vibrant farming community is one of the primary reasons for establishing the national urban park.

“Under Parks Canada’s care, these lands will be protected forever and will receive the strongest ever protections in their history,” said a Parks Canada press release.

But the provincial government doesn’t feel the legislation is strong enough, and is holding onto its substantial Rouge Park lands, which according to a joint press release by environmental groups supporting the Province’s stance, is around 25 square kilometres.

“The federal government has a bogus park,” said Jim Robb, environmentalist and manager of the Friends of the Rouge Watershed. “Without the land, there’s no national park.”

Ontario Economic Development Minister Brad Duguid recently proposed amendments to Bill C-40 but they were rejected by the Senate.

“They were good. They were compromises,” said Mr. Robb.

Mr. Duguid said, “It appears to me the federal government has blown a great opportunity here to work with the provincial government, work with environmental stakeholders and agricultural stakeholders in a very compromising, constructive way.”

Mr. Noonan said those amendments were brought forward too late and added the park’s management plan will most likely include most of them.

Mr. Noonan and Mr. Robb differ on a number of views, including a wooded barrier. While Mr. Robb is concerned the national park does not include a 600-metre wooded ecological corridor, Mr. Noonan fears such a barrier would eliminate farmland.

Mr. Robb was one of five representatives from environmental groups who signed a joint statement after the amendments were rejected.

“The federal government is a repeat offender when it comes to weakening federal laws and policies,” he said.

The letter stated the bill fails to “meet the fundamental requirement that a protected area must prioritize nature conservation as laid out in international standards, and fails to meet or exceed the environmental policies of the existing Greenbelt, Oak Ridges Moraine and Rouge Park Plans.”

The groups, which include the David Suzuki Foundation and Ontario Nature, support the Province withholding the lands unless changes are made.

“Basically we need to work on improving the park, not just protecting it, and the federal government has completely missed the boat on that angle and I think it’s purposeful,” says Mr. Robb.

But Mr. Noonan believes the land being controlled by Parks Canada would actually meet or exceed provincial legislation.

“In my opinion it gives the best protection for the Rouge plants, animals, ecosystems, rivers, the best protection in the history of the Rouge,” he says.

The federal government has committed $143.7 million over 10 years and $7.6 million per year thereafter to manage the park.

“Now for the first time the money will be available and the expertise will be available,” said Mr. Noonan.

Mr. Noonan pointed to a recent City of Toronto report that compared provincial and federal legislations and management plans and found the federal plan “meets or exceeds” provincial legislation.

The Province most likely won’t turn over the land until after the next election.

“Bottom line is they’re ignoring the health of the Rouge Watershed and Lake Ontario and people care about them,” Mr. Robb said.

Mr. Noonan said turning the land over to Parks Canada will help fix the state Rouge Park is in now. He said the area that belongs to the Province needs addressing, including an eroding bridge.

“I’m surprised someone hasn’t been very seriously injured there and we’ve been asking for a pedestrian bridge for years,” he said.

He said the transfer of land would address other issues such as littering and poaching, pointing out Parks Canada has park wardens with no control over the portion that belongs to the Province, and they cannot enforce the rules.

“The heritage structures are not being looked after,” he adds.

The Toronto and Region Conservation Authority recently accepted a report in favour of transferring the provincial land to Parks Canada.

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