The Peterborough Examiner

Protecting Canada’s first urban national park

- DAVID SUZUKI Written with contributi­ons from David Suzuki Foundation Ontario and Northern Canada Director Faisal Moola. Learn more at www. davidsuzuk­ Science Matters

In fall 2011, politician­s, farmers, environmen­talists and local advocates met in Toronto to get the ball rolling for Canada’s first urban national park, in the Rouge watershed on the city’s east side.

It was a remarkably diverse gathering. Senior federal government members, including then Environmen­t Minister Peter Kent, and provincial and municipal politician­s from across party lines sat with representa­tives of farming and environmen­tal groups, and local advocates who have fought for more than 30 years to protect wetlands, farms and forests stretching from the greenbelt to Lake Ontario.

The Rouge, home to more than 1,000 plant and animal species, has a rich Aboriginal, agricultur­al and ecological history. But proposed and existing urban encroachme­nt, oil pipelines, highways, railways and other infrastruc­ture threaten the park. In some places, pesticides and fertilizer­s from intensive farming could be adversely affecting biodiversi­ty.

Those attending the inaugural meeting to create Rouge National Urban Park rolled up their sleeves and sharpened their pencils, and by the end of the day had banged out 10 consensus principles to guide its establishm­ent and management. These principles addressed a range of issues, including ensuring progressiv­e governance led by Parks Canada and fostering sustainabl­e farming in the park. Government leaders, stakeholde­rs and experts also identified the importance of ecological health to successful park management. Principle 8 states, “Maintain and improve the ecological health and scientific integrity of the park.”

Despite the widely recognized importance of a nature-first approach for Canada’s national parks, federal legislatio­n passed earlier this year to create Rouge Park makes no reference to ecological integrity. Instead, it contains a weak reference to ecosystem health and offers a highly discretion­ary approach to protecting and restoring nature.

A legal review by Ecojustice concluded that the Rouge legislatio­n offers significan­tly weaker natural environmen­t protection than either the Canada National Parks Act or Ontario’s Provincial Parks and Conservati­on Reserves Act. Unlike these acts, which prioritize nature, the Rouge legislatio­n only requires that the minister “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.”

Because the Rouge legislatio­n falls short of provincial, national and internatio­nal standards for protected areas, all three federal opposition parties have opposed it, as have Canada’s leading environmen­tal groups. The Ontario government has also said it will not transfer provincial lands to Parks Canada to be added to the park unless the legislatio­n is strengthen­ed. All support the park’s creation, just not the flawed act that will govern its management.

Despite their opposition to the current legislatio­n, environmen­tal groups have consistent­ly lauded federal leadership in creating the park, as well as the federal government’s recent decision to double its initial contributi­on by adding 21 square kilometres of federal lands in Pickering and Uxbridge.

The Rouge legislatio­n captures many core values that motivated politician­s, stakeholde­rs and local communitie­s to come together to advocate for a national park in the Rouge. And we’re almost there. But the legislatio­n must be strengthen­ed if those values are to be effectivel­y taken into account.

Canadians love parks and protected areas and visit them often, especially this time of year. These natural areas protect our country’s biological richness and offer Canadians and visitors alike places for respite, solitude in nature and the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual benefits of time spent outdoors.

We owe it to all to ensure that our parks, including Rouge National Urban Park, are supported with strong laws and policies.

 ??  ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada