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EDITORIAL: Ford attacks watershed protectors (Dec. 2020)

December 21st, 2020 · No Comments

As the federal government adopts a bold plan to surpass its 2030 climate plan targets by dramatically hiking carbon taxes, spending billions to help Canadians retrofit homes, and provide massive incentives to carbon heavy industries to change their ways, the Ontario premier appears to be headed in the opposite direction. According to the auditor general’s recent update, this province is not even going to meet its miserly 2030 goal of reducing carbon emissions to 30 per cent below 2005 levels. 

In early December, Doug Ford passed legislation to strip the power from local conservation authorities (CAs) who protect water quality and floodplains from the impacts of development. In addition, the provincial government has issued 38 Ministerial Zoning Orders (MZO’s) that override local planning rules, supersede municipal authorities, and allow developments on wetlands, farmland, and previously protected conservation areas. 

The changes to the powers of conservation authorities were buried in an omnibus budget bill and come as a surprise to those authorities, but former Tory Cabinet Minister David Crombie saw the writing on the wall. Crombie, who chairs the Greenbelt Council resigned. Six of his colleagues from the council joined him in this move to protest the sneaky amendment of the Conservation Authorities Act. He said “this is not policy or institutional reform, this is high-level bombing and must be resisted.” 

Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, Steve Clark, quickly tried to change the narrative suggesting the board members had failed “to expand the quality and quantity of the Greenbelt,” but no one is buying the idea that this provincial government is the true champion of the environment. 

The bill, which is now law, forces Ontario’s 36 conservation authorities to allow development in environmentally sensitive lands. Though the CAs can attach provisions requiring the developers to enhance the natural environment, those provisions are now appealable to the minister of the environment directly and the minister’s decision on any appeal is full and final. 

This fall, Aurora Mayor Tom Mrakas said city staff were shocked to learn that the minister of municipal affairs had issued an MZO for a 10-acre parcel of land in the environmentally sensitive Oak Ridges Moraine. The plan, done with zero consultation with the municipality calls for a new 128-bed long-term care facility and 75 detached homes. “I am not going to sugar coat… it’s not about making affordable housing, these houses are going to sell for a million dollars each,” said Mkrakas adding that the land has water table issues and that’s just one reason it’s not zoned for residential housing. “This is not how you grow communities, this is how you ruin them.” 

Outside of the legislation, the government appears to be taking aim at the CAs themselves. Environment Minister Jeff Yurek has issued an edict to all 36 of the province’s CAs to begin to wind down all non-essential programming. This would include education centres like Black Creek Pioneer Village, trails, and SNAPS (sustainable neighbourhood action programs). Since this all comes at budget time, you might think this is about money, it’s not. The CAs are funded by the municipalities. This is a mean-spirited strategy to thwart the efforts of those in roles to protect the environment. Many of the these “non-core” programs fund the core conservation ones.

So while the federal government boldly acts on the urgent need to address climate change, our provincial government is busy de-clawing groups tasked with such things as flood plain protection. Ironically, the conservation authorities’ work is even more important in the extreme weather we experience as a result of climate change. Either Doug Ford does not see the connection or he doesn’t care. 

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