Today the Member from Scarborough-Rouge River tabled a private member’s bill to amend the Rouge National Urban Park Act. The Bill would improve ecological protection for the proposed Rouge National Urban Park by prioritizing the restoration and maintenance of ecological integrity while also giving consideration to cultural heritage, farming and public infrastructure. This rectifies a major weakness of the recently adopted Rouge National Urban Park Act which failed to prioritize nature conservation and didn’t even meet the international definition of a protected area. CPAWS welcomes the Bill and acknowledges efforts to improve the law.
With 7 million people living within one hour’s drive of the proposed Rouge National Urban Park, park managers will need strong legal tools to protect the park from the inevitable pressures of the surrounding urban environment. This includes an explicit legal mandate to consider nature first and foremost when faced with proposals for new roads, parking lots or other development proposals. Without such a framework, nature inevitably loses. The Rouge National Urban Park Act, which received Royal Assent on April 23, 2015, only requires the Minister to consider nature in decision-making, which is far too weak to protect the park. Ontario is right to withhold the transfer of provincially held lands until the law is fixed.
There has been a false debate swirling around the concept of ecological integrity that has derailed meaningful efforts to establish a national urban park here that connects the Oak Ridges Moraine to Lake Ontario. It is important that science and evidence be our guide posts and we hope that the law is revisited in the next Parliamentary session and ecological protections improved.
As Dr. Stephen Woodley, Former Chief Scientist of Parks Canada described recently, “The assertion that the Rouge couldn’t be managed like federal wilderness parks because forest fires would have to be allowed to burn is not supported by evidence. Forest fires are intensively managed in virtually all Canada’s national parks, and are never allowed to endanger human lives or properties. Fires, floods and wildlife could be managed the same way in the Rouge as in the Bruce Peninsula, Point Pelee and other national parks. Prioritizing nature in the Rouge would not stop visitors from enjoying the place, farmers from continuing to farm, or municipalities from finding creative infrastructure solutions. It would just be a sensible, internationally accepted and effective approach to park management”.
CPAWS also welcomes the greater certainty for the farming community that is proposed in this private member’s bill. It shows that compromises can be reached and solutions are possible. We look forward to working with all parties in the next session to improve the law governing the Rouge National Urban Park to enable Ontario and Canada to come together to create an improved management framework for the park that would meet international standards and give nature a chance here.
By Anna Baggio, Director Conservation Planning, CPAWS Wildlands League