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Paddling the Rouge

October 22, 2016

Published in the July issue of Bluffs Monitor

The Wildlands League, one of 13 chapters of The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, hosted the third annual “Paddle the Rouge” Fundraiser on June 18th.  They are a not-for-profit charity that has been working in the public interest to protect public lands and resources in Ontario since 1968.

Anna Baggio, Director, Conservation Planning at CPAWS Wildlands League was thrilled with the last minute, high profile guests.  Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Ontario Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna, Ontario Minister of Education, Mitzie Hunter and more paddled the Rouge River alongside local residents.

Rouge Urban National Park, located on the eastern boundary of the City of Toronto contains a rare Carolinian forest, and is home to over 1,700 species of plants and animals, including 23 species at risk, as well as much of the lower Rouge River Watershed. 

The Legislation that created Canada’s first Urban National Park, Bill C-40: The Rouge National Urban Park Act, became law in January 2015.  The final reading was passed solely by Conservative votes.  Interestingly, then Prime Minister, Stephen Harper and former Conservative MP for Pickering—Scarborough East, Corneliu Chisu who supported the Bill in debate, did not vote on the final reading.

With 7 million people living within a one hour drive of the Rouge Valley, the Wildlands League believes that it is imperative that the protection of ecosystem health is prioritized in Bill C-40 The Rouge National Urban Park Act, and subsequent management plan to ensure this remarkable natural area and its wildlife are enjoyed by generations to come.

The summary of this law reads: “This enactment establishes the Rouge National Urban Park, a new type of federal protected area, and provides for the protection and presentation of its natural and cultural resources and the encouragement of sustainable farming practices within the Park. The enactment confers a broad range of regulatory powers for the management and administration of the Park. It also makes consequential amendments to the Canada Lands Surveys Act, the Parks Canada Agency Act, the Species at Risk Act and the Environmental Violations Administrative Monetary Penalties Act.”

While all concerned, community groups, all levels of government, conservationists, farmers, local residents and Indigenous People could agree in principal that the legislation held promise, many spoke out against the Bill’s lack of clearly defined definitions, particularly in regards to ecological integrity, priorities, and management plans.  Liberal MP for Scarborough—Guildwood, John McKay and former NDP MP for Scarborough—Rouge River, Rathika Sitsabaiesan were both active participants in the debate who argued for amendments that would address the potentially ambiguous sections of the Act.

According to Wildlands League there is hope, though, the new federal government has promised to improve the legislation. They also hope that the visible show of support made by Prime Minister Trudeau’s participation in “Paddle the Rouge” is confirmation that this confidence is well founded.  The Ontario Government’s announcement on the day of the event contributes further assurance.  On June 18, 2016, the Ontario government reaffirmed its commitment to transfer an estimated 6.5 km2 (1,600 acres) of land to Parks Canada as well as relinquish reversionary rights to approximately 15 km2 (3,700 acres) of additional lands that were originally purchased by Ontario and subsequently transferred to the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority.

Visit Wildlands League at http://wildlandsleague.org/, Parks Canada http://www.pc.gc.ca/eng/pn-np/on/rouge and Toronto Region Conservation Authority https://trca.ca/parks/rouge-park/ for more information about Rouge National Urban Park.

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