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Stephen Harper announced over the weekend that if re-elected, his government will increase its proposed contribution of federal lands towards the creation of the Rouge National Urban Park.

The park has been in the works for some time. To comprise a patchwork of both provincial and federal lands located within metropolitan Toronto, the park was once touted widely as a conservation coup and prototype for the country’s first national urban park. As part of an agreement between the provincial and federal governments, the province was to hand over its portion of the lands to the feds to create the park, which was to be administered by Parks Canada.

Instead of creating it under the auspices of the Canada National Parks Act, SC 2000, c 32, the federal plan has been to create the park under stand-alone legislation.

Plans for the park stalled when, last fall, the province ultimately refused to hand over its portion of the lands to create the park due to concerns over the level of protection offered by the proposed federal legislation. The Rouge National Urban Park Act, SC 2015, c 10, (now in effect) appears to offer weaker ecological protection than is available for parks created under the National Parks Act and under its provincial counterpart, the Provincial Parks and Conservation Reserves Act, SO 2006, C 12.

Ontario’s reservations seemed to stem largely from the statute’s weak language around, and lack of prioritization for, the protection the proposed park’s ecological integrity.

Unfortunately, this latest announcement does not appear to assuage such concerns. Instead of working with the province to create a park with mutually acceptable protections, this approach appears to offer more of the same protections for a wider swath of land.

This is a disappointing development, particularly in light of a new CPAWS report that Canada lags significantly behind most of its developed world counterparts in meeting—and is, in fact, almost certain at its current rate to miss—its commitment to protect at least 17% of its land and inland waterways by 2020 as part of the Aichi Targets under the Convention on Biological Diversity.

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