OFA pushing for farmland preservation in proposed Rouge National Urban Park

The following statement was released by Mark Wales, President, Ontario Federation of Agriculture:

In 2011, the Harper government committed to creating a national urban park in Ontario – a huge area enveloping the Rouge River Valley in the GTA that happens to include more than 7,600 acres that’s mostly Class 1 farmland.

Currently, the area within the proposed Rouge National Urban Park boundaries is owned by three levels of government, and expropriated farmland within this area has been leased back to farmers since the 1970s. The government’s plan to establish the first park of its kind in Canada, under the stewardship of Parks Canada, depends on the transfer of provincial lands to Parks Canada.

As part of the development of this urban park, Parks Canada has developed a draft management plan to guide the long-term vision and activities of this area. The Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) has reviewed the plan and has been invited to provide input and feedback on the management of this important resource.

The OFA is generally pleased with the recognition of the historical and ongoing importance of farming within the Rouge National Urban Park management plan. With one of the stated cornerstone elements to “support a vibrant farming community,” we strongly urge Parks Canada to respect this heritage and future intentions through regular consultations with the farming community that plays an important role in the future success of this park.

Farmland is a limited resource, and with only 1% of all farmland in Canada rated as Class 1, preserving every acre of this land for farming is vital if agriculture is to continue feeding and fueling all Ontarians. The OFA strongly urges Parks Canada to include a clear inventory of all agricultural land within the park, and an equally clear intention to preserve at least that amount for farming – with the choice for the type of farming operation left with the farmer.

The bottom line for OFA – and the York Region Federation of Agriculture – is that Class 1 agricultural land within the boundaries of the Rouge National Urban Park remain farmland in perpetuity.

The OFA is working with Minister Duguid, Minister of Economic Development, Employment and Infrastructure, and all interested parties, supporting the official management plan that would ensure the preservation of Class 1 farmland within the park property for agricultural production. Only through official park designation, that happens when provincially-owned lands are transferred to the management of Parks Canada, can we preserve this vital farmland that produces food for the surrounding urban neighbours. While the OFA supports the management plan, we also share Minister Duguid’s concerns with the proposed federal legislation, the legislation affecting the park lands needs to be strong enough to ensure permanent protection of all the land, especially farmland within park boundaries.

The OFA, together with the York Region Federation of Agriculture, are aggressively pursuing the proposed Rouge National Urban Park issue to push for a sustainable management plan for all. We must preserve farmland for a vibrant farming community within a larger natural landscape experience. Both these activities are important. But food production is vital.

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Read more details here about the proposed Rouge National Park, and OFT’s submission to the government in support of maintaining prime agricultural land within the park.

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