Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Thursday January 12, 2023
Provincial law threatens to strip development protection from Hamilton wetlands
Nearly three-quarters of Hamilton’s most significant wetlands are at risk of losing provincial protection from development under new legislation that has spurred ongoing protests across the city and Ontario.
Last November, Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government passed a new law designed to speed up home building amid Ontario’s housing crisis. The omnibus bill proposed — among other contentious changes — an overhaul of how “provincially significant” wetlands are evaluated.
Development is prohibited on a wetland that is deemed provincially significant.
Right now, that protected status applies to the “vast majority” of local wetlands — marshy areas covering 8,138 acres — in the watershed overseen by the Hamilton Conservation Authority, said deputy chief administrative officer Scott Peck.
But the proposed changes suggest nearly 75 per cent of Hamilton’s provincially significant wetlands could be re-evaluated — and potentially lose default development protection. “Certainly in our minds, it would result in a reduction,” said Peck, who outlined the agency’s concerns in a letter to the province.
Public criticism of the proposal has come from many conservation authorities, advocacy groups and the auditor general, Bonnie Lysyk, who has noted the evaluation changes would give less weight to habitat for at-risk species.
In November, The Spectator reported the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority warned “it is highly likely that there will no longer be any wetlands left” within that watershed, which includes part of Glanbrook and Stoney Creek.
The provincial Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, however, said in an email the proposed changes should have a “net positive impact” on wetlands by removing “duplicative requirements” and streamlining evaluations. It also noted the government is providing $30 million to “create and restore” wetlands across Ontario.
Wetlands are considered important for flood control, groundwater recharge and filtration of pollutants. They’re also essential habitat for plants and animals, including many at-risk species. (The Hamilton Spectator)