Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Thursday December 10, 2020
Doug Ford takes an axe to greenbelt protections
First, Doug Ford big-footed environmental protections and local authority. Then he went home early, adjourning the legislature until February. Not a bad day’s work for Ford and friends.
Under the cover of COVID-19, the government is hacking and slashing the network of regulations and oversight that for years helped balance the preservation of Ontario’s environment with the interests of voracious development.
Think back to before Ford became leader of the not-progressive conservative party. He was recorded telling a roomful of his development industry friends that he would ensure Ontario’s cherished greenbelt would be opened to allow development.
In case you’ve forgotten, the outcry was immediate and very loud. So much so that Ford had to publicly retract his pledge, and reassure Ontarians that he would respect their will on the greenbelt.
But Ford never said he wouldn’t use a back door to accomplish the same objectives. This week, he demonstrated that he has done exactly that.
Schedule 6 may sound innocuous, but it is anything but. Passed this week as part of the government’s Bill 229 — a pandemic recovery bill for heaven’s sake — it neuters all of Ontario’s conservation authorities. Their mandate is now dramatically narrower, and a government minister will have the power to veto conservation authority decisions.
Ontarians have been able to rely on conservation authorities for years to effectively manage and protect rivers, tributaries, wetlands, forests and local drinking water. CAs are not perfect, but they generally work, and they represent local and regional interests. No longer.
In another alarming change, the Conservation Authorities Act has been amended to allow the provincial minister complete control over issuing permits, with or without input from CAs. And there is no appealing the decisions.
Not satisfied with hobbling conservation authorities, the government is also making increased use of Ministerial Zoning Orders. MZOs allow the provincial minister to override planning and zoning decisions, regardless of local government or public input. Again, the decisions cannot be appealed.
This destruction of local control has not gone unnoticed. Conservation authorities, mayors, the Association of Ontario Municipalities, the Canadian Environmental Law Association, the World Wildlife Fund (Canada), Ontario Nature and Environmental Defence of Ontario have all spoken out strongly against the government’s centralization of control. Countless letters to the editor, columns and editorials have condemned the changes.
The government’s response was to double down and push the changes through, hidden deep in pandemic recovery omnibus legislation.
All this is part of a disturbing big picture. Remember the Ontario Municipal Board, which provided a flawed method of appealing local planning decisions? The government replaced it with the Local Planning Appeals Tribunal (LPAT) a developer-friendly organization that almost always rules on the side of unfettered development.
Then came MZOs, being used increasingly to authorize zoning and planning changes in the absence of local due process and input. Then came the gutting of conservation areas, with their crucial oversight, including of Ontario’s drinking water.
Does anyone else see a theme here? Ever since Doug Ford blew up Toronto city council to suit his personal whims, it has been clear he is not remotely interested in local decision-making authority. He wants Ontario open for business, regardless of environmental impact. And he’s getting his wish. (Hamilton Spectator Editorial)