By: Robert Benzie Queen’s Park Bureau Chief, Published on Thu Sep 11 2014
Ottawa is rejecting the Ontario government’s demands on the Rouge National Urban Park and will proceed with or without the province, the Star has learned.
Federal Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq on Wednesday served notice to Infrastructure Minister Brad Duguid that the massive preserve will be created regardless of objections from Queen’s Park.
“This decision is surprising as there has been no previous indication from your ministry that the policies or legislation for the Rouge National Urban Park would prevent your support for the transfer of the provincial land,” wrote Aglukkaq.
Last week, Queen’s Park stunned the federal government by announcing 5,400 acres of parkland would not be handed over to Ottawa due to ecological concerns.
On Sept. 2, Duguid warned Aglukkaq that her June legislation on the park — Bill C-40 — did not contain enough environmental protections.
The Ontario government controls about two-thirds of the 58 square kilometres of land in what would be Canada’s first urban national park.
That includes a huge swath owned by the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority that cannot be sold without provincial approval. Ottawa owns the remaining third of the land, with Toronto and Markham having small parcels.
Aglukkaq castigated Duguid for sharing Ontario’s “decision via the media,” suggesting relations between the country’s two largest governments are strained.
“In sharing the letter with the Toronto Star at the same time it was provided to my office, I am concerned that productive discussions have suddenly come to an end,” she said in her letter, which was also obtained by the Star.
“This action very publicly calls into question the commitment of the government of Ontario to work with us to protect the Rouge watershed.”
The federal minister is concerned that the province’s demand for “ecological integrity” was not realistic and would mean the eviction of farmers and other consequences for the area.
“In practical terms, the concept of ‘ecological integrity’ as it applies to Canada’s national parks is simply unachievable in an urban setting,” said Aglukkaq.
“That means ecological processes such as fire and flooding would need to be allowed to run their natural course. This is how Parks Canada managed our country’s national parks.”
But the Rouge National Urban Park would have a section of Hwy. 401 running through it — as well as other roads, bridges, rail and hydro lines.
“Allowing natural ecological processes like wildfire and pest outbreaks to occur . . . is neither desirable nor realistic,” the federal minister continued.
“Furthermore, if we were to manage the Rouge as we do in national parks, it would mean evicting farmers who have been responsible stewards of the land for over a century.”
With Ottawa having pledged $143.7 million over 10 years plus $7.6 million annually for operating costs after that — and open houses on the new urban national park under way this week — Aglukkaq implored Ontario “to honour its commitments” to the preserve.
Duguid last week said Aglukkaq must change Bill C-40 to “enhance ecological integrity” for the park.
“After considering this issue carefully, I have decided that I am unable to recommend to cabinet that it should release, extinguish or transfer any of its interests in the Rouge Park lands unless Bill C-40 is amended,” he wrote last week.
Environmentalists have been rallying behind the province on the issue.
Sierra Club Canada, the David Suzuki Foundation, Environmental Defence, Ontario Nature, Friends of the Rouge Watershed, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society Wildlands League, Nature Canada, and the Save the Oak Ridges Moraine Coalition have all urged Ottawa to strengthen the legislation.