A Tale of Two Parks

September-12-14

By Hon. John McKay M.P.,

Appeared in the Huffington Post September 9, 2014:
http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/john-mckay/rouge-park_b_5792906.html

It was the best of plans; it was the worst of plans. Before the House for the summer, a Government desperate to shed its image as a laggard on the environment file introduced two pieces of legislation that would create two new National Parks. The first is an extension of Nahanni Park of the Northwest Territories and will be known as Naatch’ihch’oh National Park. The second is the Rouge National Urban Park.

The Naatch’ihch’oh legislation is well-written and includes a management plan and clear boundaries – two very important details that one would expect to find in a piece of legislation creating a new National Park. A technical briefing was held for MPs prior to the tabling of the Bill and our questions and concerns were dealt with by Environment Canada officials in a professional a satisfactory manner. In short, proper planning has led to the creation of what will become a great park.

The Rouge National Urban Park bill is a different story, however. The Government tabled the Bill and scheduled the technical briefing for the next week. A quick reading revealed that some essential elements were missing: no boundary description, no park management plan, no ecological integrity clause, and no real plan to deal with the unsustainable farming practices currently happening within the study area.

It goes without saying that all MPs on both sides of the House support the creation of the Rouge National Park, but it must be done properly. The Park is very close to my home and I have taken my children and my grandchildren to it often, both in winter and summer. So, I am quite familiar with the land and am very pleased to see that we have moved to the point of presenting legislation. However, the Harper Government™ seems to have a talent for taking potentially good news and turning it into bad.

According to the bill itself, what is actually being incorporated into the park are three little pieces of property in Markham. When asked about this at the technical briefing, the Conservatives said they are negotiating with three or four levels of government, a variety of conservation authorities, and several stakeholders. However, the parliamentary secretary and others say that this is a 58 square kilometre Park -- a dubious assertion in light of recent events.

The Ontario Government is reluctant to turn over its share of the Park, a whopping 22 square kilometres, unless it is satisfied that there is a plan for ecological protection that either meet or exceed current provincial standards. It is worth noting that, in Park bills like the Naatch’ihch’oh, there is a clause calling for

 “...a set of ecological integrity objectives and indicators and provisions for resource protection and restoration, zoning, visitor use, public awareness and performance evaluation, which shall be tabled in each House of Parliament.”

It is impossible to evaluate the ecological performance of the Park if ecological metrics are not established in the first place. We are left with a very vague clause on page six:

The Minister must, in the management of the Park, take into consideration the protection of its natural ecosystems and cultural landscapes and the maintenance of its native wildlife and of the health of those ecosystems.”

“Take into consideration” is not a plan. Not surprisingly, when the Federal Minister of the Environment goes to the Province of Ontario and says, “we would like your 22 square kilometres included in the Park,” The Province says, “show me your plan.” The Federal Minister retorts, “trust me.” Well, trust me doesn’t cut it. Similarly, the Town of Markham, or the City of Toronto, or any other Conservation Authority is going to be asking the same fundamental question and in all likelihood will get the same response: “No plan, no transfer.”

If in fact the Harper Government had some ecological or environmental integrity, one might actually say, “Okay, we trust you. You will develop a plan and you will see it through”. However, as we know, the Conservative’s level of environmental credibility is as about as rock bottom as it gets.

The Park currently supports what is called mono-cultural or industrial farming, and some of those farming practices are in clear contradiction to proper park management functions. At the technical briefing, when the possible use of harmful pesticides, watershed management or sustainable farming practices were raised, a local Conservative member seemed to be more concerned about protecting his constituent’s leases than any concern about environmental practices. This hardly inspires confidence.

He made it clear that he did not give a hoot about the bees, the watershed or sustainable farming practices. He wanted the most land at the cheapest price for his constituents without any environmental consideration whatsoever.

This is certainly a tale of two parks. One is the best of plans; the other is the worst of plans. Scarborough deserves a well-managed, sustainable Rouge Park, not a hodgepodge of empty promises and unsustainable farms. The legislation, as it currently stands, is the latter and serves as an insult to the thousands of dedicated volunteer stewards who have worked like the Dickens for decades to make the Park what it is today. We will continue to work like the Dickens to ensure Rouge becomes the Park Scarborough, and indeed the rest of Canada, deserve.

John McKay is the Member of Parliament for Scarborough-Guildwood and the Environment Critic for the Liberal Party of Canada.