On March 21, 2023, Canada’s federal Environment Minister, Stephen Guilbeault, announced that he had commissioned a report on “the potential effects, including cumulative effects of past, ongoing and potential future developments on the integrity of the [Rouge National Urban Park] and its objectives.”

Minister Guilbealt’s announcement came after months of calls for federal intervention to save Duffins Rouge Agricultural Preserve (DRAP). DRAP is a vital portion of the Greenbelt adjoining Rouge National Park, which Ontario had stripped of provincial protection and threatened to bulldoze for sprawl.

The announcement also came after months of expert commentary pointing out that the federal government has both constitutional jurisdiction and legislative authority under the Impact Assessment Act to prevent destruction of this Crown Jewel of the Greenbelt.  

The federal study is being conducted by the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada – the same body that conducts statutory impact assessments under the Impact Assessment Act.  

However it is not, itself, a federal impact assessment, and unlike a federal impact assessment, it does not – in itself – prohibit real estate speculators from pushing ahead with their scheme to replace farmland and natural areas with sprawl.

So, what is going on here? Is this some kind of bait and switch? Is the federal government shying away from actually protecting the DRAP?

The answer, thankfully, seems to be NO.

The federal government has the power – and in our view, the duty – to designate for environmental assessment any proposal to destroy all or part of the DRAP lands.

When that happens, any activities that would affect fish, aquatic species, migratory birds or other key environmental matters – directly or indirectly – will be temporarily prohibited. We are confident that the ultimate outcome of any proper, good faith impact assessment would be to kill any scheme to suburbanize this land.

But so far, for all the talk of creating housing, no developer has actually made any concrete development application for the DRAP lands, or any land that the Ontario government has stripped of provincial protection.

That means that, so far, there’s nothing concrete for the federal government to assess the impact of. Unless, and until, that changes, a study like this one, which establishes a key part of the groundwork for an impact assessment and signals to developers that the federal government will intervene when the time comes, is exactly what we need from the federal government.