Just this past Thursday, the Federal government committed to amending the Rouge National Park Act. They have agreed to extend the park’s size and protect its natural integrity for the next decade, while also providing long term security for park farmers by lengthening their lease agreements. Rouge National Urban Park is a combination of natural, cultural and agricultural landscapes containing several exceptional features: there is a large biodiversity of over 1,700 species of plants and animals; one of the oldest working farms in the GTA; Carolinian forests; the only campground in Toronto; the region’s largest marsh; beaches; fantastic hiking trails; and human history dating back to 8,000 B.C.E., which includes some of the oldest known Indigenous sites and villages in Canada.
Since 2012, Stephen Harper’s Conservative government has been pushing the Ontario Liberal government to transfer over 9,000 acres that it owns in Scarborough’s Rouge Valley, yet this was only met with arduous conditions. Subsequently, there was a several year standoff whereby the Conservatives have fought against a defiant Liberal front for park land transfer. Prominent conservation groups such as the David Suzuki Foundation, Ontario Nature, Environmental Defence and Friends of the Rouge Watershed advocated against the transfer of land due to the concern over the Conservative’s vision for Rouge Park as a place where nature and farming had equal protection. There was serious reluctance to transfer lands over because of their abandonment of a nature first mentality. There were continuously amassing concerns over the wellbeing of the natural park as it was viewed that, to the Conservatives, nature and farming were mutually exclusive.
However, on Thursday June 9, the Federal Liberal government rewrote the law governing Rouge National Urban Park. This change came after talks between the province, park stakeholders and Federal Environment and Climate Change Minister McKenna, where she said that amendments to the Rouge National Park Act will “ensure that the ecological integrity of the park is the first priority.” Trudeau’s Liberal government has committed to match the Conservative’s proposed contribution to Rouge Park of $170.5 million over 10 years and $10.6 million a year after that. Further, federal authorities will offer greater assurances, which include leases of up to 30 years to farmers who continue to lease park land. On Saturday June 18, the Ontario government reaffirmed its commitment to transfer 6.5 square kilometres of land to Parks Canada as well as relinquish reversionary rights to 15 square kilometres of additional lands that were purchased by Ontario and subsequently transferred to Toronto and Region Conservation Authority.
(Trudeau & his family at “Paddle the Rouge” – photo is from Trudeau’s twitter feed).
Brad Duguid, the province’s minister of economic development, employment and infrastructure (he also happens to be a Scarborough MPP), called the amendment “a significant improvement.” He is also the man who refused to hand Rouge National Park over to the Harper government and had been a direct player in the current approval of the transfer. He further called the legislation “a significant improvement that both elevates ecological integrity as the guiding principle, yet remains sensitive to agricultural interests in the park.”
Now, for all those of you who haven’t been to Rouge National Park, GO! It’s beautiful and an amazing date destination and only an hour away. I’ve never been a dinner and a movie date kind of guy, and frankly don’t know if people still do that anymore. This park is breathtaking and I really recommend it for anyone. There are plenty of things to do, for example when the plan to expand the park was announced the Trudeau family was attending an event called ‘Paddle the Rouge’. But back to the story at hand, what’s the big deal about this amendment, why does it matter to any of us? Because the remarkable features of Rouge National Park that each of us can observe and enjoy are being expanded upon and transferred into Federal jurisdiction, they will come with stricter regulations whose goal will be to protect the diverse list of species living there. When you enter any National Park in Canada or even a hiking trail, you’re a guest in someone else’s home. To increase their square footage allows you to enjoy their home that much more and longer and ensures that the residents are still there. It’s not the trees, grass and water that we enjoy when we’re at any National Park, it’s the relationships between each species and what they produce that we are able to enjoy. You either get something or nothing. I think that protecting it is important to Canadians.
Also, Rouge National Park isn’t just nature, it’s also agriculture. By increasing lease term agreements from 1 year to 30 years, it provides much more security for farmers who were unsure whether or not they would be welcome to continue growing crops the following years. Now unless there was some reason why the Harper government didn’t want to extend these terms that I couldn’t find, I can only see this being a positive for residents in the GTA. The park holds some of Canada’s best Class 1 farmland, which is among the rarest and most fertile land in the country. This Class 1 farmland accounts for 70% of the park itself. For those of us concerned with job supply, increased security will increase the demand for new hires in the agriculture industry. Furthermore, as local food becomes increasingly popular for their freshness and low transportation costs, increasing the job security for farmers should become a priority. Farmers feed cities, and I don’t slap the hand that feeds me.