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Trudeau’s Liberals offer hope for Rouge Park protection, says Scarborough MPP

Scarborough Mirror,
By Mike Adler,
October 28 2015

Federal Liberals won a clear victory last week, apparently ending a long standoff over the future of Rouge Park.

For more than a year, Liberal Ontario refused to turn over its land in the Rouge National Urban Park to a Conservative federal government.

Brad Duguid, a Scarborough MPP and minister responsible for the transfer, sided with environmental groups arguing the federal approach to a park weakened protection for ecology in the Rouge Valley.

Last week, however, Duguid said Liberal leader Justin Trudeau and area Liberal MPs offer stronger protection for the Rouge, which “bodes very well” for a transfer soon.

Trudeau is expected to name a cabinet on Nov. 4. Duguid said as soon as an environment minister is chosen, the province will join an effort to turn the park, which the previous government created through legislation, into what it should be.

“In the coming weeks we’ll be starting that work,” he said.

Gary Anandasangaree, newly elected MP for Scarborough-Rouge Park, said he expects to meet with Liberal colleagues John McKay (Scarborough-Guildwood), Jane Philpott (Markham-Stouffville) and Duguid on changes to the park legislation.

“We’ll work hard to get the full dream that Rouge Park really was,” Anandasangaree promised last Thursday.

Philpott defeated Paul Calandra, who was parliamentary secretary to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and a staunch defender of tenant farmers in the park.

Farmers have leased land in Scarborough’s Rouge Valley, and nearby in Markham, Pickering and Uxbridge, since massive federal and provincial expropriations in the 1970s for a Pickering airport and other development.

Parks Canada’s vision for the Rouge NUP, supported by the Conservatives, put agriculture on an equal footing with plans for environmental protection.

It ensured all farming in the park – including thousands of acres in Markham – could stay, but blocked creation of a 600-metre-wide forested “main ecological corridor” in previous provincial and Rouge Park plans.

When Harper, in a pre-election announcement, promised to add 5,200 more acres to the Rouge NUP (land set aside by a previous Liberal government as green space but not incorporated into Rouge Park), Calandra, in a press release, said the Conservatives had “taken the only real action of any government in the last 40 years to protect and respect the rights of farmers on these lands while also instituting the strongest environmental protections in history.”

Harper also increased the government’s proposed investment in the Rouge. The first in a new class of urban national parks, he pledged, would see $170.5 million spent over 10 years, and $10.6 million each year after that.

Groups including Ontario Nature, Environmental Defence and Friends of the Rouge Watershed (FRW), however, continued arguing the park’s priority in legislation must be the ecological integrity of the Rouge.

A survey of candidates in 16 area ridings showed the Liberals, New Democrats and Greens agreed.

This week, FRW’s general manager Jim Robb said he sees the “path is pretty much cleared” to reaching their goal, though conservationists still have work to do.

Robb and some other campaigners also wanted to change the name Rouge NUP to something else, calling the label “urban” a “dangerous misnomer.”

Liberals were split, though, on whether this was a good idea. Responding to the survey, Philpott said the party would “provide the Rouge Watershed with the same standard of ecological protection afforded to national parks across the country, regardless of whether Rouge Park is urban or not.”

Supporters of the Conservative vision accused Duguid of refusing to transfer provincial lands to the park for political reasons, and encouraged people to ask MPPs why the province was “stalling.”

Parks Canada “has a world-wide reputation for public lands protection,” said a group called Friends of the Rouge National Urban Park, which argued the federal park would do more than the province ever did to protect the Rouge from poaching, dumping or other abuses.

Last week, Duguid said he was willing to face pressure to see the valley protected for future generations.

“The Harper government missed a huge opportunity to step up and get this done in the right way,” he added.

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