jane phillpot rouge river 71178

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I’m on a mission to learn all I can about issues that affect my community, especially those where the federal government has a role. One of those issues for the Markham-Stouffville area is the Rouge Park. In my effort to understand the issue well, I have visited parts of the Rouge Park and met with groups affected by Bill C-40. This federal bill is entitled an Act Respecting the Rouge National Urban Park.

The concept of a national urban park is important and inspiring. The proposal will preserve almost 15,000 acres of land. The park is designed to connect people with nature; protect the natural heritage of forests and waterways; and protect the cultural heritage of this region. It will prevent urban sprawl. It will also preserve some of the best farmland in the country.

farm tour 11Along with my efforts to meet with stakeholders, I’ve followed this bill as it moved through the House of Commons debate, and more recently the committee hearings. Some farmers from Markham-Stouffville went to Ottawa to testify to the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development. I was happy that people representing the agricultural community as well as environmental groups were represented. But I’ve read the transcripts of those meetings and several things were disturbing.

During the committee hearings, the guest witnesses from a variety of interest groups made thoughtful, informed statements. Beyond that I was disappointed that there was little productive dialogue. It appeared that the government members were not looking for expert advice on how to create a better park. There seemed to be no effort to build consensus in order to have a more robust park. When it came to voting on amendments even modest proposals were dismissed without discussion. 

If elected as a Member of Parliament, I hope I can have an influence on a process that seems broken. I’ve spent my whole life getting things done by building consensus; finding common ground and accepting compromise when absolutely necessary and after every voice is heard and respected. The proposed Rouge National Urban Park can and should be a jewel of the nation. This will happen when all stakeholders meet in the spirit of collaboration to consider one another’s perspective and the highest interests of Canadians.

I was troubled by the way that this process pitted farmers and environmentalists against one another. From what I have observed, both groups are guided by noble intentions as stewards of the land. Policy makers should facilitate a mature conversation between them, not stir up controversy and animosity. It makes sense that existing agricultural lands should be maintained as farmland, while still protecting the ecological integrity of the proposed park. Environmental partners have made it clear that they support agriculture use in the proposed park, and view farmers as important partners in conservation. There must be a way for all stakeholders to work together to find sustainable solutions for this exceptional park.

farm tour 12It will take wisdom, dialogue and dedication in order to adequately represent our community on challenging issues like this. If elected, I certainly plan to influence the content of legislation and dutifully represent diverse views of people in my community. I realize now that it may be just as important to influence the manner in which decisions are made. Democratic consultative processes are in place in our parliamentary system. But they depend on elected officials and political parties upholding a commitment to constructive discourse, mutual respect and working toward the very best future for our nation.

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