A Scarborough MP’s private member’s bill is the latest sign the battle over the future of Rouge Park isn’t over.
Scarborough-Rouge River MP Rathika Sitsabiaesan says the the Rouge National Urban Park Act, which became law on April 23, is “critically flawed.”
A private bill Sitsabiaesan, a New Democrat, introduced last week seeks to change the act by “prioritizing the protection and restoration of ecological integrity and watershed health,” instead of giving equal protection to other interests in the park, such as farming.
Ontario’s Liberal government last year agreed with several conservation groups that the Conservative government’s legislation for the park is too weak on environmental protection for the Rouge River Watershed, and has refused to hand over provincial land which constitutes a majority of the park.
Conservatives, Parks Canada, and some other supporters of their vision for a Rouge NUP disagree with these arguments and the province’s position.
They say the federal parks agency has a laudable record of environmental protection and the new Rouge Park, previously run by an informal council of groups and governments, will enjoy its “strongest protections” ever.
There is no chance Sitsabiaesan’s legislation, Bill C-696, will be passed in this session of parliament, and there is little chance the federal-provincial standoff will be resolved before a general election expected this fall.
Environmentalists in the province’s camp welcomed Sitsabiesan’s bill, which the MP said represents the position her party will pursue after the election.
“Ontario is right to withhold the transfer of provincially held lands until the law is fixed,” Anna Baggio of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society posted on the CPAWS blog last week.
“We look forward to working with all parties in the next session to improve the law.”
Jim Robb, general manager of Friends of the Rouge Watershed, said Sitsabaiesan’s proposals are consistent with amendments proposed by Liberals, New Democrats and Greens before the Rouge Park legislation became law.
Toronto and Region Conservation Authority continues to manage operations for most of the former Rouge Park land, while Parks Canada directly manages a portion of the land in Markham.
- Mike Adler