Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to also join the debate on the opposition motion, which states:
That, in the opinion of the House, the Prime Minister of Canada should hold annual First Ministers' Conferences.
Most Canadians would think that happens, or at least there are meetings with premiers of the provinces and territories, because it makes so much sense, as the member for Vancouver Centre so eloquently pointed out. However, that has not happened.
When the member for Oak Ridges—Markham spoke earlier in the debate, he commented that if people had been in a provincial government during the time of the previous Liberal government, they would have been very critical of it. I have news for the member for Oak Ridges—Markham. I was in a provincial government. I was in the B.C. government from 2001 until 2005, under a previous Liberal government. I was at the front lines around the cabinet table when our premier would come back from these first ministers conferences. He would talk about what had been sparked, where there was a growing consensus on a big issue that Canadians across the country faced, and what he personally would like to do about it. We were all engaged in how we could help move these issues forward, hand-in-hand with the provinces and territories and our federal government.
I would like to point out for the members of the Conservative Party that Canada is a federation, which means that it is a union of partially self-governing states or regions under a central or federal government. We are not a monarchy. We are not a republic nor a dictatorship. We are a federation, and that means we need to work together to advance the big public policy issues where there is a common interest across the country. They may not always be exactly the same interests, but they are common interests.
As my colleague mentioned, a number of those initiatives came out of these meetings of the first ministers with the prime minister, and that was while I was in the provincial government. I saw first hand how the 10-year national health accord started to bloom as an idea through those premiers and the prime minister working together. What came out of that, for the first time, was a consensus and a way forward on how to join forces, reduce duplication, reduce overlapping initiatives, learn from each other and begin to tackle the huge challenges that people faced across the country with wait times for surgeries and other matters that cost them their good health. That came from a meeting of first ministers and the prime minister.
There was the Kelowna accord. Today, our indigenous peoples are suffering. They do not experience the kind of forward movement that would have happened had the current government not scrapped the Kelowna accord. The accord, once again, was from the premiers meeting with the prime minister. The premier of British Columbia, in particular, decided that this would be a real priority for the Province of British Columbia, so he joined in a leadership role with the prime minister of the day, Paul Martin. He decided to help advance it by working with premiers from across the country, enrolling and eliciting their support for the concept. In the end, we had an agreement among all of the provinces and territories and, most important, with the representatives for all indigenous peoples across Canada.
What do we have today? Our indigenous peoples feel they need to rise up across the country, with demonstrations like “Idle No More”, to get the point across that they are being left out. The comprehensive framework of addressing the inequities and Canada's shameful carry-over of its colonial history have not been resolved. The Kelowna accord would have set the foundation to do.
A national child care plan was another for which I sat at a cabinet table and we wrestled with how we would enter into an agreement for a national program and maintain the unique characteristics of the child care funding, support and principles in British Columbia. Those kinds of conversations at first ministers conferences helped to power through those complicated differences among us to the point where there were some real outcomes, and the national child care plan was not only negotiated, but was agreed on right across the country.
The first year of funding from the federal government actually flowed to the provinces, and they had one year out of that five-year plan to address the desperate inadequacy and lack of child care in the provinces. Sadly, that is another critical program that the NDP, under its previous leader, voted against, brought down the Liberal government, and the national child care plan was scrapped to the detriment of families across the country.
It is not just about the things that were done through this collaboration. I also want to speak briefly to some huge failures that are a result of this kind of collaboration not happening. This includes all of the wasted time and energy on Senate reform by the Prime Minister, who never bothered to reach out and meet with colleagues to learn what their appetite for change would be and what kind of change they would support.
Mr. Speaker, the hon. member for Scarborough—Guildwood made a superb case that was well stated and well researched. He is right on target.
I was there at the committee meeting reviewing the 18 amendments that the Green Party put forward, supported by the Liberals and the NDP. The hon. member was there and observed the absolutely unbelievable behaviour of all of the Conservative members at that session. Particularly dreadful was the performance by the member for Oak Ridges—Markham, who did not even pay attention to the amendments. Members were playing with their BlackBerrys, mindlessly voting no to everything, and declaring things inadmissible that were clearly relevant.
I wonder if the member would like to comment on the behaviour that he saw and whether that is appropriate behaviour for parliamentarians in committee.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to lay out a bit of the timeline around the bill and some of the key issues.
Before I get into that, I do want to take a moment in this House to thank my colleagues, the member for Scarborough—Rouge River and the member for Scarborough Southwest. They have been really helpful. It has been great to work closely with them as MPs in the NDP who are right there where this park is. It has been great to get their advice from the ground to hear what is going on.
I also want to take a minute to thank some of the environmental organizations and local organizations that have been very helpful with our analysis of the bill. They include the Suzuki Foundation, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, and the Friends of the Rouge Watershed. When we are here on the Hill, we try to do an analysis of legislation as it is presented, but it is hard to know exactly how it will play out in local communities. They have been very helpful to us.
There was a study at the environment committee on urban conservation. The NDP was successful in getting two days set aside to specifically look at Rouge Park. I think this was last year. That was incredibly helpful. We got an update from Parks Canada officials and we did hear witnesses. We heard about the incredible consultation that has been happening, over 25 years of consultation, and the work around this park. We heard about the great work that Parks Canada staff have been doing to try to ensure everybody is at the table and to deal with creating a piece of legislation that would create a park. That is very difficult.
This is an urban national park. Even the concept of it is challenging, because there is a highway in this park. There are farms in this park. It is an incredible gift to think that we could have a park that we could access by subway. However, with those gifts come great challenges.
Often when bills are presented in the House, we will hear from government; usually the minister will speak to the bill. Then we will usually hear first from the opposition critics to lay out a party's position and see where we are going.
I am actually speaking at the end of this debate. I have been listening to it since the beginning, with a small break for committee duty. It has been really interesting. I am not saying that the way a politician says, “This has been interesting”. It has been really interesting. There has been actual debate in this House.
My colleague, the member for Beaches—East York, sits behind me and I turned to him in the last of debate and asked, “Are you listening to this? People are talking about ideas. There's a little give, a little take.” I learned from each and every speech, regardless of whether it was a government member giving the speech, a Liberal member, or an NDP member. Why is that? I think the people who are speaking in the House to the bill have a vested interest in it. They are MPs from the area predominantly. They are MPs with expertise. They are MPs who have been engaged in this issue and engaged in the creation of the park for years.
In that debate, that honest debate that has been happening here in the House, I would say that most members have put aside their talking points and have talked about some of the real issues. I find that to be incredibly refreshing.
I think everybody who has spoken to this bill really does want to ensure that we get this legislation right, but they also want to ensure that we create this park. That is priority number one.
I will say that I will be supporting the bill, and I know that my caucus is behind that recommendation. As members know, critics make recommendations to their caucuses on different pieces of legislation. We are united and we do believe this is a good project, the creation of this park. We strongly support protecting land through creation of national parks writ large, as long as those national parks are backed with strong environmental legislation.
We also support this legislation, the creation of Rouge Park, Canada's first urban national park. That is the first thing.
The second thing is that I will come to this debate with an open mind, an open heart, and put down my talking points as well, to try to present some ideas, try to present some proposals, because I do see problems with the bill, and I am not alone on that. However, I think there are solutions, and I do believe that we as parliamentarians could work on those solutions together, alongside the community, and actually come up with a stronger bill.
A lot has happened with this bill. It was introduced in June, and frankly, I think some politics were involved in that. I think it was hastily introduced in this House, but we had some byelections happening in the Scarborough area so it is good for the government to say, “Look. We are going to hold up this bill.” That is just my assumption, but I do think it was tabled pretty hastily. There continue to be politics when we see what the Ontario government has been doing and saying via the media.
This park will be 58 square kilometres. The Province of Ontario owns two-thirds of that. The federal government owns about one-third, with some small parcels owned by Markham and Toronto. In order to create this park, we need a transfer of lands. Some 5,400 acres of parkland would be transferred from the Ontario government to the federal government. At least that was the theory we were working with in June. It is not so much the theory now.
In early September, we heard that the Ontario government was thinking about not transferring the land because of the issue of ecological integrity. I will get to the ecological integrity piece in a minute. About a week later, we saw that the Minister of the Environment said that the federal government would move ahead with this park anyway. I have a concern that we would be creating a park that we do not actually know what it will look like. We do not actually have the full parcel of land. I will admit I would rather create a very small park than no park at all, but we are in a situation where we are not 100% sure what land is going to be involved.
What is the issue with ecological integrity? This is important. The National Parks Act specifically states, “Maintenance or restoration of ecological integrity, through the protection of natural resources and natural processes, shall be the first priority of the Minister when considering all aspects of the management of parks”. The first priority is maintenance or restoration of ecological integrity.
This bill says that the minister must take into consideration ecological integrity. That is a big sticking point for a lot of people.
Community groups have come out and said that this is not acceptable, that it is a lower standard of environmental protection. I understand what they are saying and I believe what they are saying.
There was actually a pretty good release put out by a number of groups, including Environmental Defence and Ontario Nature, for example. They said:
We call on the federal government to uphold its commitment to the Memorandum of Agreement. As it stands now, the draft federal legislation threatens to undermine 25 years of consultation, scientific study and provincial policy development that made ecological integrity the main purpose of the park and the top priority for park management.
That is their concern. I share their concern, but I think we can figure this out.
Listening to the debate here in the House, I have heard my colleagues, in particular the members for Wellington—Halton Hills and Oak Ridges—Markham, talk about the fact that this is an urban park and it is complicated because there are farms and there is a highway. How do we have this standard of protecting ecological integrity when Highway 401 is going through it? That says to me that maybe we legitimately need a different standard, not a lower standard but a different standard, for urban parks. I buy that. That is something worth exploring.
The problem I have right now, though, is that I have trust issues with this government.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill S-5, which is a bill to create Nááts’ihch’oh national park in the Sahtu Region of the Northwest Territories.
This region is centred around the Mackenzie River and stretches towards the Yukon boundary with an incredibly beautiful mountain range and the magnificent wilderness that is the Northwest Territories.
I represent people who, when polled, have some of the highest regard for the environment among all the people in Canada. We really have that respect, and respect for the idea of national parks is strong in the Northwest Territories.
We have seen the creation of many national parks over many years throughout our territory and we understand the inherent issues that surround the development of national parks. Our first nations people have experience in dealing with park bureaucracies and understand how national parks and their rules and regulations sometimes intervene in their traditional lifestyle.
The Sahtu Dene have agreed to this park and to a comprehensive and co-operative management system that goes along with it. We look forward to seeing more details of that in committee so that we can understand how their interests will be protected going forward.
I am very pleased to see this beautiful area protected; however, I am not happy that the Conservatives chose the smallest size possible for the park.
Through the process of developing this park, there were three options that were set out for the park.
Option one was a total area of 6,450 square kilometres. It was developed to best protect conservation values while providing an open area around the existing mineral interests.
Option two was a total area of 5,770 square kilometres, which diminished the achievement of conservation goals and allowed more mineral potential to be available.
Option three, and this is the one chosen by the Conservatives, was the smallest proposal, with a total area of 4,840 square kilometres. It took advantage of the mineral potential within the proposed park reserve while providing some protection to key values.
The Conservatives made this choice despite option one, the option of 6,450 square kilometres, getting the overwhelming support, at 92.3%, of those who indicated a preference during public consultations on the proposed park.
The people of the north said that they were fine with the park, but they wanted to make sure that the park works for the resources and values that are being included within it. This has not been done completely with this park. That is not surprising, because many on that side of the House see national parks as a waste of land and resources.
For example, the member for Oak Ridges—Markham has publicly stated that Parks Canada staff are not the best stewards of Canada's land. When a national park was proposed for part of his riding, he responded, “We're going to have to do whatever we can to prevent it.” He quickly changed his tune, however, when his bosses here in Ottawa told him that he should be in favour of the Rouge national urban park. It is a small park, but it is a park that absolutely has value for urban residents of Canada.
The belief that parks are a waste of land and resources is just plain wrong. National parks create long-term sustainable jobs and they create opportunities in tourism and support industries. These jobs and economic opportunities last forever, unlike those in the resource sector. Extraction only lasts a few years, and we are very familiar with that. Sometimes they leave a legacy of destruction that lasts for eternity, as was the case with the Giant Mine, so we have to be very careful with how we deal with land.
We know that in the Northwest Territories. We understand what goes on with development and we understand why we have to preserve land and why it is important that land be put aside.
Recently I had the opportunity to travel to Yukon to Kluane National Park and Reserve. Yukon's Parks Canada is worked with the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations to create a visitor centre at the Da Ku Cultural Centre in Haines Junction. This centre and the numerous businesses in Haines Junction all exist because of Kluane National Park and Reserve. Like other national parks, Kluane has created jobs and economic opportunities that are long lasting and environmentally sound.
However, many times it seems to me that to the Conservatives, tourism jobs and economic opportunities that surround that type of activity are of little value because it puts money not in the hands of big corporations, but in the hands of little people, local people, workers and those who want to see a future for the preservation of our natural beauty and such like. Is this the reason why the Conservatives chose the smallest size possible for the park against the recommendations of all the people who chose to make those recommendations in the public consultations?
I want to talk about the tourism industry, because it is what really will give the economic opportunities to the Sahtu region by putting aside 4,850 square kilometres of land. Tourism opportunities provide great potentials for our future. They provide local jobs and local businesses, as with Kluane, and Kluane has been done in a very good fashion. It took years to get there. It took many difficult negotiations with first nations so they would achieve benefits, but now they are. We do not want to make those mistakes with any new national park. We want to move to the good side as quickly as possible.
The tourist industry in Canada, though, creates more than $84 billion in economic activity, more than $17 billion in export revenue, nearly $10 billion in federal revenue and employs more than 600,000 Canadians. Tourism's contribution to the GDP is worth more than agriculture, fisheries and forestry combined. Despite these figures, the Conservatives have turned their backs on Canadian tourist operators.
The Canadian Chamber of Commerce has ranked the lack of support for our tourism industry as one of the top ten barriers to the competitiveness of the Canadian economy. Canada, during the reign of the Conservatives, has cut its tourism marketing budget by 20% over the last nine years. Instead of expanding the budget as it should be with inflation and all the rest, we have seen a cutback of 20%. It has forced the Canadian Tourism Commission to abandon advertising initiatives in lucrative markets like the United States. The Canadian Tourism Commission's core funding has declined from nearly $100 million in 2001.
The Conservatives continued lack of leadership in promoting tourism at home and abroad is needlessly damaging what was once a good news story for the Canadian economy. A quick look at other countries shows just how little the Conservatives support the tourism industry. Those results are showing in the incredible drop that we have seen in international tourism visitations to Canada.
These are countries where the money has been put in tourism: Ireland spent $211 million a year in promoting its tourism, which is a 14% increase in the same time; Mexico, $153 million, 4% increase; Australia, $147 million, 30% increase; Canada $72 million, down 10% over that same period. By the time when we factor in inflation, we see a massive decrease in the support for the tourism industry.
There is an old saying, and this is one that the neoliberals like, “A rising tide raises all boats”. What we see in the tourism industry is a falling tide which has becalmed the industry and left a lot of tourism boats stranded on the shore.
When we talk about increasing national parks, we want to talk about expanding tourism.
What operator is going to create a new market in Canada for a new product when the Conservative government has decimated our tourism market. It has refused to put the dollars into it that can return, promote and increase this very important market. It is very content to see the tide go out and the boats sit on the sandy floor of the bay.
The Conservatives changed the tourism tax rebates, so only those on packaged tours could apply for a tax refund, rather than the old system where any visitor to Canada could get their GST refunded. This change has really hit small tourism businesses, but has provided an unfair advantage to large tourism operations.
What is going to happen in the Northwest Territories? We have small tourism operators. Everybody in the tourism industry starts out small. The average time to make a tourism business profitable is between 10 and 14 years. Someone has to invest. They have to create the market. They have to create the product. They have to make it work. That is what is going to have to happen in Nááts’ihch’oh. That is where we are going to have to put the investment to get the tourism industry to work there.
We need the support of the federal government on the federal programs that increase the volume of tourists to Canada. That is a fundamental.
I have included this in my speech because we want to see benefits from taking 4,850 square kilometres of land and creating a national park, which is a great idea for the people of Canada, and can be a great idea for the people of the North, but we need to promote tourism.
However, there is another story about tourism with the government and how little it supports it, and that is its treatment of Parks Canada. In budget 2012, Parks Canada had 638 positions eliminated. Many of the positions in national parks in the Northwest Territories, Nunavut and Yukon were lost as well.
When we are trying to build a tourism industry based upon natural beauty, national parks, we see that the cutbacks affect that throughout the system.
Budget 2012 cut Parks Canada's budget by almost 7.1%. The cuts hit parks and historic sites nationwide. Nova Scotia's Fortress of Louisbourg, touted by the Canadian Tourism Association as a signature designation, is facing the loss of 120 jobs. Banff National Park, another prime tourist destination, is losing 40 jobs.
Winter services have been eliminated and visitors are left to guide themselves at historic sites.
We have even cut out cross-country ski trail building. One activity that could be guaranteed in national parks throughout northern Canada was cross-country ski events. We do not have that anymore.
Budget 2014 included $391 million, allocated over five years, allowing the agency to improve roads, bridges and dams located in Canada's national parks and historic canals. However, the 2014 budget specifies that only $1 million is allocated for this fiscal year and $4 million for 2015-16, with the rest to be handed out in 2016 and onward, after the next election.
It is estimated by Parks Canada reports the cost could be as much as $2.7 billion to complete all deferred infrastructure programs.
We are happy we see an agreement between the Sahtu Dene and Metis and the current government to create a national park reserve: Nááts’ihch’oh. This is a good thing. However, it cannot stand by itself. Efforts have to be made to create a situation where, what the parliamentary secretary talked about, the economic opportunities, the jobs, the local economy that can come out of a national park can flourish, and that is linked to tourism.
Without the effort put into that, without the effort put into Parks Canada to provide it with the resources to promote tourism, without the effort put in by the Canadian Tourism Commission and without the resources to advertise to promote Canada worldwide, we will not see an increase in our tourism, and we will continue this downward trend. This beautiful country, with so much to offer to so many people around the world, is not getting its due right now.
We are spending all kinds of money promoting the oil and gas industry, trying to do the work for multinational corporations that should do their own work because they are making massive profits from these resources. What do we do for the tourism people? What do we do for those little people who are trying to set up small businesses? What do we do to set up the opportunities for people to work in this field? We are cutting back on the resources that are available to promote this very important sector.
As I have pointed out, agriculture, forestry and fishing combined do not match up to the impact that tourism has on our economy. We want to be successful in the Northwest Territories. We want our people to have an opportunity to take advantage of the natural beauty of our country and the land. We want our first nations, which have gone into agreements, to invest in business and opportunities in the tourism sector. That is the real growth potential for the national parks in the Northwest Territories.
However, the government has shown that it is not interested in that. Perhaps after the next election, we will have another government; it looks likely. At that time, we perhaps will see the true potential of the Canadian national parks system, including all those in the Northwest Territories. They will have an opportunity to grow, so the people in that region, who have given up so much to provide these beautiful national parks to Canada for eternity, will have an opportunity to achieve a prosperous lifestyle from doing that. It will be hard. There is nothing easy about the tourism industry. It takes time, effort and resources, but it also takes the active participation of the Government of Canada in promoting Canada as a destination.
We cannot back off from that. We cannot say that it is not important, that we will leave it to the private sector. That does not work. This is our country. We have to make the best opportunities for it. We cannot simply continue to cut the opportunities that exist there to show the world what we have here.
I appreciate this. I really hope the Conservatives this time follow up on this, and have an active plan to get the facilities in place. With the Nahanni National Park Reserve expansion, we were promised seven years ago that these facilities would be built, including a proper visitors centre in Fort Simpson. The Nahanni National Park Reserve is a world heritage site. It is famous around the world. Yet there is absolutely nothing in Fort Simpson to sell somebody on getting in a plane and flying all the way out there to look at it. There is nothing there. There is nothing that has been put in place yet, after seven years. That is a shocking record. That is a record of ineffective behaviour. That is a record of not understanding how to get along with first nations to accomplish this. This is where that sits in the Nahanni National Park Reserve expansion plans.
I trust there is someone on the other side who might be listening to this and understanding that there is work to be done here, that this is not all just clapping our hands for the wonderful things that the government has created. The government has not created anything. It has taken land and put it aside. Now we need the work to go in to making it something.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by noting that today is the first day of the Markham Fair, which runs from October 2 to October 5. This is one of Ontario's largest agricultural fairs. It has been going on since 1844 in my community. It highlights the important role that farming and agriculture have played in the development of my community and the entire York region.
What is very special about the Markham Fair every year is the importance that the entire community places on it. Every November, I have the opportunity to attend the president's banquet at the Markham Fair, and we recognize the individuals who have volunteered their time at the fair. It always amazes me how many people have been there for 5, 10, 20, 25, 40, 45 and 50 years, volunteering at the Markham Fair. Generation upon generation of families volunteer to make this annual fair a special event for our entire community.
As I said, it is an agricultural fair. We see all the things that we could expect to see at an agricultural fair. There are ploughing matches There are competitions for things like hogs, chickens, the best homemade apple pie. There is soap carving. Obviously, there is a midway and there are all kinds of other things that highlight the importance of agriculture to our community.
Today, as they kick off another year of the Markham Fair, I just wanted to congratulate them and wish them well.
There has been a lot of difference of opinion on the creation of the park. Actually, let me take that back. I do not think that there is a difference of opinion with respect to creating the Rouge national urban park. I think that the difference is in the form that the park would take.
As the members for Scarborough—Guildwood and Wellington—Halton Hills highlighted, a lot of people for many years have been focused on trying to create a national park in the Rouge. That is something that has been talked about for many years.
It is important to look back a little bit at where this all started and how we got to this place. A lot of the land in this area became available to the government through the expropriations in 1972 by the Trudeau government of, I think, over 18,000 acres of land for the creation of potential new airports and a second airport for Toronto. At that time, farmers in the area were evicted from their lands. Some were given leases to lease back their lands on a yearly basis, but many were evicted. That has been the reality for many of the farmers in the area since 1972.
Fast forward to 1994, when the Rouge park concept started being put into play. As it has already been noted, it really followed Pauline Browes, who was the minister of state for the environment in the Campbell government and a parliamentary secretary in the Mulroney government. A decision was made that $10 million would be set aside to help create, manage and preserve some of the natural heritage of the Rouge park. That brought in a heightened significance of how special the natural heritage of the Rouge is.
Consequently, there have been provincial governments that have also recognized its significance. Through the 1990s and the early 2000s, the Mike Harris government transferred thousands of acres of land into the management of the park. Also through that time, plans were made to manage the Rouge in a more effective way so that we could preserve and protect the national heritage of the area.
As we have got a little bit further into the discussion, there were thoughts about what could be done to protect the Rouge park. As it has been mentioned, the Rouge park falls into two different categories. There is a Toronto category, and then there is a York region part of it.
For those who do not know the area, in the Toronto category there is a large street called Steeles Avenue. South of Steeles Avenue, some of the most extraordinary natural heritage in Ontario or Canada can be evidenced through the Rouge park there. It is absolutely spectacular. I do not think anybody can question that.
North of Steeles Avenue, we start coming into more agricultural areas. A vast majority of the land to the north of Highway 7, which would be put into Rouge park, is agricultural land that has been farmed for hundreds of years. This is not just a new concept. This land has been farmed for hundreds of years. In fact, I would invite all of my colleagues in the House to look at a program called The Curse of the Axe. This program highlights the Wendat people who were settled in this area some 500 years ago. It was discovered that the Wendat people had been farming those very same lands. The extent to which they were farming completely changed how we viewed our first nations and the role that they played in agriculture and trading in the area. I would invite all my colleagues to look at the program. It will highlight again how long this land has been farmed.
North of Highway 7, it is farming. To the south, as the member for Scarborough—Guildwood rightly pointed out, we have the 401, a hydro corridor, the Toronto Zoo and, on one edge of it, there is a landfill. However, there are extraordinary pockets of incredible beauty that the Ontario government, the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority and what was previously the Rouge Park Alliance had been working on preserving for a number of years. We have done that with partners in the private sector. By and large, we have done a very good job.
However, when the concept started evolving with respect to a national urban park, and we knew we had some excess airport lands, that is when the debate started to change a bit. We knew, as has been mentioned by other speakers, that we could do something very special here. We could protect the natural heritage of the Rouge Valley, but at the same time we could extract those lands that had become surplus to any potential airport needs, and put them back into a Rouge park so these lands could be protected for a long time to come.
The Ontario Farmland Trust, a non-profit organization that promotes farmland preservation, said, “The new Rouge National Urban Park offers one of the most innovative opportunities for the protection of farmland resources, agricultural heritage and local food production in our generation.”
If I am not mistaken, it is only 1%. This is class 1 farmland. We have lost so much farmland in this area to development. In the park south of Steeles Avenue, pretty much all of the farming that was there is now gone. I believe that we have to do our absolute best to ensure that the class 1 farmland on the northern part of the future park is preserved and saved, and that we allow our farmers to continue to farm, using best farm practices, for a very long time.
Our farmers are sometimes condemned as not being proper stewards of the land. I disagree. These lands have been farmed for hundreds of years, and our farmers are some of the best stewards of the land. The proposal that has been brought forward by the minister would see these farmers finally get long-term leases. Bear in mind that these farmers have been working on yearly leases. It is very hard, if not impossible, for them to make investments in the land that they have been farming. They cannot make the investments that most farmers would want to make. They are forced into a certain type of farming because they are on a yearly lease. This has disadvantaged the farmers in this area for a very long time.
We have the opportunity through this legislation to do both things that are very important, to protect the natural heritage of the park, while at the same time reversing decades of poor treatment of farmers in the area.
That is why I am very excited about this. Obviously throughout this process there has been a lot of debate. The member for Wellington—Halton Hills and I have not always seen eye to eye on this. We have had a tremendous amount of debate. When the proposal first came to me as the member of Parliament for Oak Ridges—Markham to create a Rouge national urban park, I was dead set against it if it meant that farmers in my riding would be disadvantaged the way they had been and if they were to be treated the way they had been under the existing Rouge Park management.
There is a 2001 Rouge Park management plan. Part of that management plan calls for a 600-metre corridor. The net result of that corridor would mean the elimination, at a minimum, of 1,700 acres of class 1 farmland and that is completely unacceptable to me, to farmers and to my constituents. We can make sure that we work with the farmers, who are not opposed to making sure that the entire ecosystem is protected. They want to work together with government to make sure that they can do that. I want to read a letter from the York Region Federation of Agriculture, which represents farmers in the area, to the hon. Brad Duguid, the Ontario minister who has highlighted that the Ontario government does not want to transfer the land. It says:
The York Region Federation of Agriculture members are the 700 farm businesses in York Region and Toronto including the farmers in the Rouge National Urban Park. ...you arrived at your decision to not recommend the Provincial land transfers after discussions with stakeholders and local citizen groups. You did not consult with the York Region Federation of Agriculture, the farmers in the Park, or the community living in the Park. We urge you not to hold up the transfer of Provincial lands to Parks Canada.
The farming community in the Rouge National Urban Park are the same farm families that have been farming and caring for the land...for the past 200 years. The future of the farms in the Rouge National Urban Park have been in limbo since the farms were expropriated in the 1970's. The farmland in the Rouge National Urban Park is Class 1 Agricultural Land, meaning it is the best land for agriculture production. Less than 1% of Canada's farmland is Class 1. The farmers in the park have already given up 1000 acres of productive farmland in the Rouge National Urban Park to reforestation projects.
We support Parks Canada's consultation process that engaged over 100 stakeholder groups and thousands of individuals to create the Rouge National Urban Park Draft Management Plan.
It went on to say:
We believe that Parks Canada will improve the ecological integrity of the Rouge National Urban Park while maintaining the farmland in food production.
I want to reference another letter, from the Cedar Grove community group to Minister Duguid. Cedar Grove is an extraordinary community within my riding, a very historical community. This is what it has to say:
On behalf of the Cedar Community Club, we write with regard to your letter of September 2...which presents your decision to withdraw your recommendation to support transfer of land to Rouge National Urban Park.... It was shocking to learn of your decision and we strongly disagree.... With the promise of the coming Rouge National Urban Park, there was an anticipated hope for stability for the farmers and residents of Cedar Grove and surrounding communities.
It went on to support what the minister has done to bring about the Rouge national urban park.
I want to talk about what has recently transpired with the Province of Ontario.
We obviously have been working with the Province of Ontario for a number of years. Since this announcement was made in the previous election of 2011 and rehighlighted in the throne speech, we have been working closely with the Province of Ontario to bring about the Rouge national urban park in a way that respects the ecological integrity and promotes the national heritage, but also protects the farmers and gives them the stability that they have been looking for since 1972.
I do not think it is a big secret that we were close to an agreement. We had a signed agreement with the Province of Ontario that we probably would have announced had an election not been called for the Province of Ontario. Then, after the election that changed, unbeknownst to any of us. I know I picked up the Toronto Star one day and saw a letter from Liberal Minister Duguid outlining the Liberals' concerns. They were no longer going to be transferring the land because they had some concerns with ecological integrity.
Never had they mentioned this before. The province had signed an agreement with us. The transfer was to happen. We were to move forward with a management plan that was working with the province and the stakeholders in the area. Then this came. Coincidentally, everything is held up until November 2015, after the next federal election. It is truly shameful.
It is worth remembering that these are the same provincial Liberals that had before requested, not ecological integrity, but money for the lands it was going to transfer. They wanted to be bought out. Therefore, when they asked for I think it was $120 million, they had no concerns with what they were seeing then. Their concern was that they wanted to be bought out of their position in the lands; “Give us a hundred million dollars and we'll transfer it to you, no problem”.
It was highlighted by people like Alan Wells, who was the final chair of the Rouge Park Alliance, that this had never been the case. Governments had transferred lands to the Rouge Park for a very limited amount, I believe for $1. The provincial government had done that before. The provincial government of Mike Harris transferred lands to the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority so that it could be managed. That was pointed out to the minister, but they needed to get their $100 million.
I really want to reiterate what the provincial Liberals' proposal would do. In his letter to the Minister of the Environment, he highlighted what the member for Scarborough—Guildwood and the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands talked about. It is worth noting that the member for Scarborough—Guildwood, the member for Scarborough—Rouge River, the member for Markham—Unionville, and I am not sure if anyone else, submitted petitions to the House supporting a 1994 framework, saying that this park could not go ahead unless the 1994 framework was supported. However, as I said earlier, the 1994 framework would cause 1,700 acres of class 1 farmland to be taken out of production. It would mean the eviction of farmers and would probably mean the closure of one of our most successful farms in the area, Whittamore's Farm.
To say that the farmers do not trust the provincial Liberal government on this is an understatement because they have seen this before. There was a park called Bob Hunter Memorial Park, where 600 acres of class 1 farmland was taken away from farmers. People who had lived there for 33 years were evicted. Trees were planted across this class 1 farmland. Millions of dollars were put into it. There was no consultation. It was done and forced upon these farmers. Therefore, the farmers do not trust the provincial government. Quite frankly, governments at the federal level have never undertaken a consultation process like we have on this, and that is all governments. The Conservative and Liberal governments in the past have never done what we have done now.
While I agree that the southern part of this extraordinary ecosystem needs to be protected, and that is what our legislation does, I do not agree that means sacrificing thousands of acres of class 1 farmland in order to create a Rouge national urban park.
I hope that members of the House will work with us to create a park that we can all be proud of and give the millions of people who live in this area access to a treasure that we will be able to brag about because we helped create it.
The electoral district of Oak Ridges--Markham (Ontario) has a population of 169,642 with 136,755 registered voters and 375 polling divisions.
This action requires you to be logged into Politwitter. No regisrtation is required, just authenticate using your Twitter account.