The Canadian government is launching a study of Rouge National Urban Park, a move that could give Ottawa the authority to block Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s plans to develop housing on once-protected areas of forests, wetlands, and farmlands in the province’s Greenbelt.
Depending on what the study finds, Ottawa is open to using all the regulatory tools in its power to ensure The Rouge stays protected, said Minister of Environment and Climate Change Steven Guilbeault, speaking from the park on March 21.
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He added Ottawa “profoundly disagrees” with the idea proposed by the Ford government—that housing must be built on Greenbelt land, reported The Toronto Star.
Located in the Greater Toronto Area, the Rouge National Urban Park is the largest in North America, home to over 1,700 species, including 42 considered at risk, the news story states. Paired with the adjacent 4,700-acre Duffins Rouge Agricultural Preserve, the two parcels of land form the last intact wildlife corridor between Lake Ontario and the Oak Ridges Morraine, states The Narwhal.
But last November, the Ford government removed Duffins Preserve from the Greenbelt and opened it up to development, a decision that Parks Canada warned could cause “irreversible harm to wildlife, natural ecosystems, and agricultural landscapes” of the nearby Rouge, affecting the habitats of “dozens of federally and provincially endangered and threatened species,” the Star said at the time.
Ottawa’s study will aim to “understand the potential effects, including cumulative effects of past, ongoing, and potential future developments on the integrity of the park and its objectives,” Guilbeault said. The regulatory process has not yet started because there is currently no proposal to build, but a proposed project could lead to calls for the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada to evaluate potential impacts. If a study concludes there is irreversible impact on species at risk, for example, the projects won’t be allowed to go forward, Guilbeault said. “That’s very clear.”
Ford said he has “no problem” with the study. It will be conducted on adjacent lands and won’t slow down his construction plans, he said.
But concerns about Greenbelt development have grown since Ford first announced plans last November to remove 7,400 acres from 15 areas of protected Greenbelt—while adding other parcels elsewhere—to build 50,000 homes. Guilbeault suggested possible federal intervention at the time, arguing the development would impede Canada’s efforts to address climate change. Ford responded that the Greenbelt falls under provincial jurisdiction, not federal, Global News reported.