Mayoral candidate McKenney proposes national urban park to protect Greenbelt

Mayoral candidate Catherine McKenney is calling for the Greenbelt to be turned into  a national urban park. (Jean Delisle/CBC - image credit)
Mayoral candidate Catherine McKenney is calling for the Greenbelt to be turned into a national urban park. (Jean Delisle/CBC - image credit)

Ottawa mayoral candidate Catherine McKenney has pledged to work to turn the Greenbelt into a national urban park if elected mayor to further protect the land, but other candidates doubt the move would be effective.

At a campaign event Tuesday, McKenney announced they will collaborate with the National Capital Commission (NCC) and Parks Canada to secure the designation and bring stricter environmental protections to the publicly owned natural space.

"This greenspace wraps around our city. It's enjoyed by people in our city," McKenney said outside the Nepean Sportsplex, which sits along the Greenbelt.

"It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take advantage of the federal government's program to establish national urban parks."

The policy would see the Greenbelt become the second such park in the country. Rouge National Urban Park in the Greater Toronto Area is currently the only one, home to Toronto's only campground and some of its last remaining working farms.

Feds invested $130M in program

In August 2021, the federal government launched the $130.9M national urban park program. Lands considered for funding will contribute to the government's goal of protecting 25 per cent of land and inland waters by 2025, according to a news release announcing the program.

The 20,000-hectare Greenbelt includes major landmarks such as the Mer Bleue Bog and Pine Grove trail system. Owned by the NCC, it was created in the 1950s to protect rural land bordering the city from urban sprawl.

Subsequent developments in Kanata, Barrhaven and Orléans have since expanded beyond its limits.

Francis Ferland/CBC
Francis Ferland/CBC

McKenney, who said they were "in touch" with the NCC and Parks Canada about the idea, said stiffer protections for natural spaces would also help boost tourism.

A 'recycled idea': Other candidates weigh in

Candidate Mike Maguire, who is running for mayor for a third time, said in an email to CBC he would like to know how the new designation would improve upon existing protections.

Candidate Param Singh responded by email saying he recognizes the need to protect the Greenbelt from urban sprawl, but added he did not believe the national urban park will "change anything in the short or long term."

Mayoral candidate Mark Sutcliffe released his environmental plan in mid-August, which included promises to install hundreds of electric vehicle charging stations and double the city's annual tree-planting goal.

In an email to CBC, he said McKenney's proposal is a "recycled idea."

"There is no question we must protect the Greenbelt, and ensure the development stays within the urban boundary," Sutcliffe wrote. "But taking designated greenspace, and calling it something new, is not serious climate leadership."

Five mayoral candidates — Brandon Bay, Bob Chiarelli, Nour Kadri, McKenney and Sutcliffe — have been invited to participate in a debate on the environment and climate justice at the Centretown United Church, 507 Bank St., starting at 7 p.m on Sept. 28.