Bill C-18, currently under debate in the House of Commons, is critical as it will amend the National Rouge Park legislation to make ecological integrity the top priority. The spirit of this historic bill would forever protect the largest remaining tract of public park land within Canada’s endangered Carolinian Forest Zone and the country’s most populous region. But to avoid falling at the finish line, the government must fix two omissions which are critical to the park’s purpose of protecting the sensitive Rouge watershed and ensuring both nature and agriculture thrive for generations to come.
“There will be little chance of integrity, ecological or otherwise, if the federal government fails to also amend the National Rouge Park legislation to honour its commitments by providing explicit support to implement the Greenbelt, Oak Ridges Moraine, Rouge Park and Watershed Plans which all predate the establishment of the National Park. The government also has the opportunity to add surrounding public lands into the park to create a healthy and sustainable more than 100 square kilometres National Rouge Park. Now is the time for the government to act boldly and go beyond what previous governments have done,” said Kevin O’Connor, President, Friends of the Rouge Watershed
Both the provincial and federal governments have agreed that the new legislation would ensure that pre-existing protection policies are met or exceeded through the new legislation. This language needs to be explicitly included so there is no mistake that Ontario’s public lands that will be added to the park maintain the high level of protection they currently have.
“Strengthened protection for the Rouge Park and watershed must be the outcome of this revised legislation. We are looking to the federal government to provide leadership and clarity to ensure the park’s rare features are strongly protected,” said Tim Gray, Executive Director, Environmental Defence.
Implementation of the intent of the pre-existing Greenbelt, Oak Ridges Moraine, Rouge Park and Watershed Plans is crucial in order to: implement Environment Canada’s own science-based recommendations for improving ecological integrity, watershed health and the health of Lake Ontario – the drinking water source for millions; reduce costly pollution, climate change, flooding and erosion liabilities; address the 2010 International Convention on Biodiversity signed by Canada by taking steps to help avoid the loss of half the world’s wildlife as outlined in the recent World Wildlife Fund Report; and improve public access to public parklands while avoiding over-use and abuse of sensitive Rouge Park lands.
It is also important that the lands in Pickering adjacent to Rouge Park and which are set aside for a possible airport are added to the park. Instead of wasting billions on a Pickering Airport, which would likely mirror the financial fiasco of Montreal’s Mirabelle Airport, the federal government should add its remaining North Pickering lands to the National Rouge Park. The needlessly large (36 square kilometres) Pickering Airport Zone is twice the size of Toronto’s Pearson Airport and thirty times the size of Markham’s Buttonville Airport.
“Rouge Park is Canada’s first Urban National Park. It is essential that Bill C-18 is passed and that the North Pickering lands are added to the park and not turned into a redundant airport, so that the unique and endangered natural landscape can be enjoyed for generations to come,” said Caroline Schultz, Executive Director, Ontario Nature.
All three groups look to the federal government to demonstrate leadership and follow through with amendments to the bill that make ecological integrity the top park priority, explicitly support the implementation of existing conservation and watershed plans and also add surrounding public lands to create a more than 100 square kilometres National Rouge Park.