Tick Tock … the environmental clock of Ontario is ticking

Like the subterfuge that the Greeks used with the Trojan horse, in the proposed Ford government budget Bill 229 are hidden sweeping changes that will affect the environment Province-wide.

Shedule 6, embedded in the Bill, effectively eliminates any power that the 36 Conservation Authorities across the province have to protect the environment.

At a time when the province is under attack by a pandemic, the Ford government appears to have seized it as an opportune time to use its majority ‘broom’ to sweep across the province and affect changes on the side of developers.

First, when looking at the Greenbelt, legislation passed by the Government of Ontario in 2005 under the Greenbelt Protection Act and into law, made it a permanently protected area of green space, farmland, forests, wetlands, and watersheds.  It was considered a major step in the prevention of urban development and sprawl on environmentally sensitive land in the province.

According to the Government of Ontario at the time, it stated that “… the Greenbelt includes 800,000 hectares (1,976,843.05 acres) of land protected by the Niagara Escarpment Plan and the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan plus 1 million acres (404,685.6 hectares) of land in the Protected Countryside overarching Greenbelt Plan. That total (7,284 km² or 2,812 mi²) makes it one of the largest and most successful greenbelts in the world.” (Wikipedia)

Under the Act, rural areas, heritage sites and sensitive ecological and hydrological features, including the Niagara Escarpment and the Oak Ridges Moraine, were protected.

The Niagara Escarpment has, in fact, been designated as one of 15 UNESCO World Biosphere Reserves in Canada.  The Oak Ridges Moraine, that covers some 734 sq. miles, is a complex system of streams, wetlands, ponds, catchment areas, seepage areas, springs and aquifers.

Despite Premier Ford’s statement shortly after his election, that ‘the Greenbelt should be developed’ , in April 2018, Tim Gray, executive director of the environmentalist group Environmental Defence, said that, “Municipal data shows there is enough land available to provide for housing development within the existing Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area urban boundaries until 2031.”  The next day, Ford reversed his position and said he would NOT develop the protected area.

Apparently, the Permanent Protection Law and Premier’s Ford’s ‘word’ have little meaning as the new Bill 229 with Schedule 6 comes into third reading this week, unless the Schedule is removed.

According to the Dr. David Suzuki Foundation, “… the Government of Ontario is moving ahead in a frenzy to get rid of environmental protection rules …

“It recently overrode a mechanism to protect provincially significant wetlands (PSWs) in Vaughan by allowing, under a Minister’s Zoning Order (MZO), three PSWs to be destroyed for a new Walmart distribution center. It also approved the destruction of a large, rare coastal PSW in Pickering, to make way for the construction of a warehouse. More than 30 MZOs have been issued this year.

Conservation authorities (CAs) have the mandate to ensure conservation, restoration and responsible management of Ontario’s water, land and natural habitats. They play a critical role at the municipal level as storehouses of in-depth knowledge and data about local watersheds, and by managing ecological services delivered to municipal residents.

Stripping conservation authorities’ decision-making ability drastically increases developers’ free rein in the province.”Access to the ‘Greenbelt’ for development has long been a challenge on all fronts.”

The challenge of preserving the ‘Greenbelt’ is nothing new as it has been a long-time challenge for many years.

Under the ultra-Conservative Premier, Mike Harris, for instance, his government made a dramatic turn-about when it came to the Oak Ridges Moraine, after a hue-and-cry by the public, and its resulting protection was seen as Harris’ ‘urban green legacy’.

What the Ford government doesn’t seem to realize is that the moraine, which stretches 160 kilometres from the Niagara Escarpment in the west to Northumberland County in the east, is the source of ground water in much of Southern Ontario.

In 2001, a former President of the Urban Development Institute, Neil Rodgers, said that proposed legislation is important on two counts. “A significant portion of the Greater Toronto Area land mass is now off limits for development, be it office buildings or residences.  The government’s move presents a challenge to those who have fought development on the Oak Ridges Moraine, including ratepayers in Toronto and neighbouring suburbs. Now they have to do their civic duty and accept density.”

At that time, the U.S. watershed activist, Robert Kennedy Jr. also said that, “This is very encouraging. The kind of sprawl that is threatening the moraine doesn’t make any sense.”

While most of the media has focussed on the ‘Greenbelt’ surrounding the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), unfortunately this is a far-reaching change that will also have an impact on rural Ontario.

The Saugeen Valley Conservation Authority (SVCA) for instance, like the other 35 Conservation Authorities, will lose most of its authority when it comes to wetlands and forests versus development, given that decisions can now be overridden by the Minister of the Environment, with no recourse of appeal under the new ‘Minister’s Zoning Order’ (MZO).

Indigenous peoples also claim that the Ford government “… reversed decades of environmental progress and protections for Indigenous communities when it made changes to the Environmental Assessment Act…” over the this year’s summer (2020) when COVID-19 was in full steam.

At that time, the government changed rules around assessments for forestry projects  when it again passed a ‘sweeping omnibus bill’ supposedly aimed at “speeding up the economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Indigenous groups say that the result is that public projects and development can now take place without any environmental assessments (EA) at all which undermines previous government agreements and their Indigenous rights.

The Suzuki Foundation urges that residents let their MPPs know that:

  • the use of MZOs to derail protection measures must be stopped; 
  • recently issued MZOs that do so must be revoked; and 
  • Conservation authorities must maintain their current powers.

To read more and to contact various levels of government and local politicians,


On-Line Petition

Locally:  the Notice of Study Commencement is available from the Town’s website, as well as the draft Plan (go to:  https://www.saugeenshores.ca/en/town-hall/town-hall-reports-studies-and-plans.aspx and Click on “Drainage Master Plan”).