Third reading of Bill C-40, An Act respecting the Rouge National Urban Park

Hon. Art Eggleton:

Honourable senators, I rise to speak at third reading of Bill C-40, An Act respecting the Rouge National Urban Park.

Last week I listened to Senator Eaton in her speech. Unfortunately, what I heard from her is not what I heard at the committee. She is right that everyone wants a national urban park in the Rouge Valley. That sentiment was unanimous. Unfortunately, there is much disagreement about the provisions of Bill C-40.

For many, Bill C-40 does not protect the environment sufficiently. I will remind senators that clause 6 says that the minister must “take into consideration” the ecological health of the area. Jim Robb from the Friends of the Rouge Watershed, an organization and an individual that have been active in this area for over 40 years, said before the committee:

Take into consideration is what we do everywhere. In an open pit mine we take into consideration the environment. In an oil field development, we take into consideration. When you declare a park, it’s given a higher standard.

Due to this lax environmental standard the Ontario government, that controls more than 50 per cent of the land in the proposed park, will not put their lands into the proposed federal park. This is important because the provincial lands contain almost all of the Rouge Valley system, which is the centrepiece of the park. It’s where visitors can hike, explore nature and bask in the diversity of the ecosystem. The federal lands are mainly farmland with limited public access.

As one witness said, “Without the provincial lands, there really isn’t a park.”

Honourable senators, it is quite interesting that Senator Eaton quoted the memorandum of understanding between the province and the federal government. The MOU said, “meet or exceed provincial policies.”

I stress the word “policies.” Those policies include The Greenbelt Plan, the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan and the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe. They are not just The Greenbelt Act, which she quoted from.

What do these plans say when it comes to environmental stewardship? The Greenbelt Plan says:

The Natural System policies protect areas of natural heritage, hydrologic and/or landform features, which . . . collectively support biodiversity and overall ecological integrity.

Those are important words, ecological integrity.

The Rouge North Management Plan states:

Uses and/or activities . . . must ensure that the park’s ecological integrity, scenic and cultural values are protected, restored and enhanced.

The objectives of the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan include:

(a) protecting the ecological and hydrological integrity of the Oak Ridges Moraine Area. . .

Honourable senators, I’m not sure how the minister or Senator Eaton can say they take into consideration the ecological health of an area and meet or exceed provincial policies. It clearly does not, and the provincial government plans to use a higher standard. That higher standard is the term “ecological integrity,” which I defined during my remarks at second reading.

The government admitted during testimony that “ecological integrity” is a higher standard than what the bill provides. I’d also like to point out that these provincial plans were created after extensive consultation between different Ontario governments, including the Mike Harris government, and the community over a span of some 20 years.

Countless meetings and consultations with residents, community groups and farmers went into creating these plans, and with the stroke of a pen the federal government wants to get rid of all of that process.

Originally, Ontario wanted to maintain the reference to “ecological integrity” in the area. Minister Duguid wrote to Minister Aglukkaq in the fall of last year asking for “ecological integrity” to be included in Bill C-40, but his efforts fell on deaf ears. But that silence didn’t deter Ontario.

In the public interest they pursued a compromise. During the same time that our meetings were being held at committee, Ontario sought out and had meetings with federal officials seeking a compromise. They dropped their request for the use of the words “ecological integrity.” They drafted instead amendments in consultation with environmental and agricultural stakeholders that would strike the right balance between environmental protection and promoting a vibrant farming community.

They provided those amendments to the committee. They said in the accompanying letter to the committee that if these three amendments passed, their concerns would be satisfied and they would bring their lands into the proposed federal urban park plans. In the spirit of cooperation, I agreed to bring these amendments forward.

Witnesses who saw these proposed amendments said they were a good compromise. For example, witness Alan Wells, who had previously appeared before the committee in support of Bill C-40, wrote to the committee that he had heard of the amendments and he said:

I was very pleased to read the letter from the Honourable Brad Duguid to the Honourable Leona Auglukkaq received on March 10, 2015 by the Senate of Canada. The proposed amendments to Sections 4, 6 and 8 add strength to Bill C40: the Amendments to Sections 6 and Section 8 are very similar to the proposed Amendments I recommended to the Standing Committee of the House of Commons.

Honourable senators, the two amendments, one to clause 4 and another clause 6, would increase the environmental protection by prioritizing nature, but it would also protect the park’s history of farming. It placed agriculture as a significant priority to be maintained. Under no circumstances would agriculture be diminished in the park under these amendments. Under these amendments we would have a thriving natural landscape and a thriving agricultural base.

The last amendment of the three was to clause 8. It said the minister “shall” establish a multi-stakeholder committee and a scientific panel. Rather than “may” — she may or may not, in other words — in the legislation as it now reads, do this. This is one, at least, that should have been a no-brainer.

In essence, it meant changing a simple word, changing “may” to “shall.” This would ensure that an advisory committee would be struck. It would include representatives from local governments, agriculture and farming organizations, environmental organizations, Aboriginal or regional organizations and other organizations that the minister considers appropriate. Also, it would ensure that a scientific advisory panel, including scientists with expertise in ecology, hydrology, agriculture, farming and parks, would also be struck.

Now, the CEO of Parks Canada did commit to creating an advisory panel during his testimony to the committee, but as we also heard at the committee, this government has broken that promise before. When the former Minister of the Environment first announced the national park a few years ago, he said that a multi-stakeholder committee would be struck, but it never was.

Unfortunately, honourable senators, the Conservative government and the majority of senators on the committee rejected all the amendments, including an attempt to defer while further discussions and negotiations went on between the two levels of government. They rejected compromise. They also rejected creating a truly great national urban park.

If Bill C-40 passes today as is, then we will have a shadow of a park. We will throw away 30 years of hard work and consultation in this area.

Also, honourable members, I think it’s worth noting here, as we talk occasionally about our raison d’être, the Fathers of Confederation gave the Senate the important role of protecting regional and provincial interests. While the provincial government is not on side with Bill C-40, neither are some municipal leaders and many community and environmental groups.

If this bill passes as is, we are not honouring that role. We will have gone from the idea of a park that was truly celebrated to park legislation with significant opposition. The public interest is not being served by quarrels among levels of government. This is not a way to do nation building.