Parks Canada has harshly rebuked Ontario’s plan to open up sections of Greenbelt conservation lands for housing construction, saying the move risks “irreversible harm” and that proper consultation on the proposal had not taken place.
In a letter submitted to the provincial government on Monday, Parks Canada listed issues to consider for the proposal to remove Greenbelt lands in the Greater Toronto Area, particularly with respect to lands in and around Rouge National Urban Park.
“If these lands were to be removed from the Greenbelt and developed as proposed, Parks Canada’s analysis suggests that there is a likely risk of irreversible damage to the wildlife, natural ecosystems and agricultural landscapes of the National Urban Park of Rouge, thereby reducing the viability and functionality of the park’s ecosystems. and farmland,” the letter read.
News of the letter was first published by The Narwhal and The Toronto Star.
Parks Canada says the provincially protected Greenbelt lands adjacent to Rouge Park provide important habitat for dozens of species at risk, as well as “vital ecosystem services for nature, water and agriculture,” which are essential to the health and operation of the park.
The organization says the importance of these lands is set out in a memorandum of understanding between the province and Parks Canada, which includes a section stating that Ontario must consult with Parks Canada about any proposed changes to the beltway plan. of vegetation.
“We are of the view that to date, the Province has not met the consultation requirement of this Memorandum of Understanding, as the Province has not yet contacted Parks Canada to discuss these matters,” indicates the letter.
PC House Leader Paul Calandra told reporters at Queen’s Park on Tuesday that Parks Canada was “absolutely wrong” in its interpretation of the situation. He said he was an MP in 2015 when the Rouge National Urban Park Act was passed and is “very familiar” with the issue since he helped draft it.
“We have a program to make sure we build homes for the people of Ontario,” Calandra said.
Province aims to build more homes
The province’s proposal for the greenbelt, which was released last month, aims to build homes on more than a dozen lands currently considered protected, while adding about 2,000 acres of protected land elsewhere. It’s all part of the province’s plan to build 1.5 million homes over the next decade to alleviate Ontario’s severe housing shortage.
The government’s proposal has drawn criticism from opposition politicians and numerous environmental and housing advocacy groups, among others.
Bonnie Littley, co-founder of the Rouge Duffins Greenspace Coalition, told CBC News she hopes Parks Canada’s intervention will help push back the province’s plans.
“What is happening is outrageous,” she said. “This is probably the most protected land in all of Ontario, about to be wiped out with the stroke of a pen, after years and years of community effort.”
As recently as last year, provincial officials said they would not open Greenbelt lands to development. Premier Doug Ford reneged on that promise last month, justifying the proposal by saying the province’s housing crisis has gotten worse – and will get worse now that the federal government has unveiled a plan to bring half a million more immigrants a year.
“We have a housing crisis that we didn’t have four years ago,” Ford said at a news conference last month. “We’re going to make sure we get housing built.”
Parks Canada requests a meeting
In a statement sent to CBC News in November, Victoria Podbielski, press secretary for Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark, said the province was “acting decisively” to address housing supply issues.
“We are considering all possible options to get more homes built faster so that more Ontarians can find a home that meets their needs and their budget,” said Podbielski.
“The proposed changes to the Greenbelt would result in the creation of at least 50,000 new homes, while leading to an overall expansion of the Greenbelt. This is especially important given the population growth our province expects over the next decade, especially considering the new immigration targets set by the federal government.
In its letter, Parks Canada also says it has specific concerns about the Duffins Rouge Agricultural Preserve, which borders the Townline Swamp wetland complex located in the Pickering area of Rouge Park.
The organization says the complex is ‘arguably the most ecologically sensitive area’ in the park and is home to dozens of federally and provincially endangered and threatened species, including bank swallow, wood thrush , the monarch butterfly and several species of bats.
Parks Canada says it doesn’t believe the consultation requirement around land changes has been met and has requested a meeting with the province to discuss a host of concerns.
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