A bill to establish Ojibway National Urban Park has passed a key hurdle in the House of Commons, despite most Liberal MPs voting against it.
Bill C-248, a private member's bill sponsored Windsor West MP Brian Masse, passed second reading with 168 yays and 147 nays on Wednesday.
Masse said that the bill is the culmination of years, if not decades of work by many residents, and the project has many supporters including Caldwell First Nation.
Masse's proposal for a 364-hectare park would unite several areas — Ojibway Park, Spring Garden Natural Area, Black Oak Heritage Park, the Tallgrass Prairie Park, Ojibway Prairie Provincial Nature Reserve and Ojibway Shores — as one national park.
"I want this to be our Point Pelee in the city of Windsor," Masse said in an interview.
The proposal now heads to the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development for review. In order to become law, the bill must pass a third reading, get approval from the Senate and receive royal assent.
Process to create park already underway, Kusmierczyk says
At the same time that Masse is looking to establish the park through the private member's bill, the government is working to make it happen through a process with Parks Canada.
In August, the federal government and the city of Windsor signed a "statement of collaboration" to explore the idea of a national urban park. Ottawa has also earmarked about $600,000 for consultations and recently made a deal to secure a key piece of land at Ojibway Shores.
Masse said that the bill's redundancy is going to create urgency and push the government to action.
"It's also going to provide a path that's clear and direct for a solution," he said.
Windsor-Tecumseh MP Irek Kusmierczyk was among the Liberal MPs who voted against the bill, though he supports the development of the park. In an interview, he suggested that the private member's bill is duplicating the effort.
"We are already building and creating the Ojibway Urban National Park. We've been actually building it and creating it and designing it, really the better part of the last year, and it's a process that's already being led by Parks Canada," he said.
Masse's bill, he said, establishes the park, leaving consultation to happen later, whereas he thinks consultation needs to take place before the park is established.
"In my opinion, the private member's bill bypasses the consultations with our community, it bypasses those critical consultations with Indigenous groups," he said.
In response, a spokesperson for Masse said that this piece of legislation is required to establish the park, and is the product of consultations with the City of Windsor and Caldwell First Nation.
Consultations will also occur when the bill reaches the committee stage, which is expected to happen in the fall, according to Masse.
Essex MP Chris Lewis and other Conservative MPs supported Masse's bill, along with Green and Bloc MPs.
Two Liberal MPs, Jenica Atwin and Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, decided to support the bill.
'Canada's ecological hot spot'
Janet Sumner, executive director of the conservation organization Wildlands League, said she was encouraged to see the bill pass, saying that it was a huge step for nature and great for the people of Windsor.
"It's Canada's ecological hotspot. We see the highest number of endangered species here. We've got huge development pressure, very little land that's protected, and of course, this tallgrass prairie which works as a natural sponge ... helping with that flood mitigation," Sumner said.