Why protecting the escarpment is so important
It’s a provincial treasure, part of a World Biosphere Reserve
In 1986, as a member of Halton Regional council, I had the privilege of being appointed to the Niagara Escarpment Commission (NEC) by the province, as Halton’s representative. I was a commissioner until 1993, when I was appointed chair until 1996.
Subsequently, the Mike Harris Conservatives were elected, and when the terms of five appointed by the previous government expired in 1996, none were reappointed, although most were eligible. Such is politics.
I reapplied in 2004, was reappointed, and finished in April, 2017. Terms are usually not that long, but because the escarpment plan was being reviewed, it was considered inadvisable to change members midstream during such a complex undertaking.
Of the NEC’s 17 members, eight are “municipal members,” nominated by councils in the eight counties and regions through which the escarpment winds. Nine, including a chair, are “at large” — citizens from anywhere, although most live on or are very familiar with the escarpment.
There have been some superb appointees. I particularly admired astute architect Robert Boraks, so in tune with environmental design, and videographer and publicist Don
Today’s situation is bad. Five of us left in April, and there were already two vacancies.
Alexander’s familiarity with the escarpment’s northern reaches of Grey and Bruce counties. Impressive Cecil Louis, a retired NEC planner, is credited as the architect of the Niagara Escarpment Plan (NEP).
Lyn MacMillan, founder of C.O.N.E. (the Coalition on the Niagara Escarpment) lobbied the Bill Davis government tirelessly in the ’70s to get the Niagara Escarpment Planning and Development Act passed. In 2013 John Riley, wrote the book “The Once and Future Great Lakes Country, an Ecological History.” He is a senior science adviser to the Nature Conservancy of Canada. Outstanding individuals all, they dedicated untold hours to protecting the escarpment.
Don Scott, founder of Cuesta Planning in Owen Sound, was appointed chair after my short stint — the perfect chair for the commission, thoughtful with a dry wit and able to diffuse difficult situations. He recently admonished some municipal members, during the co-ordinated review of the NEP, Green Belt, and Oak Ridges Moraine Plans, to take off their municipal hats, and adopt a broader provincewide perspective to revising the escarpment plan.
The purpose of the NEP is “to maintain the Niagara Escarpment and land in its vicinity substantially as a continuous natural environment, and to ensure only such development occurs as is compatible with that natural environment.”
The Harris government, in ’96, directed the NEC to reduce staff by a third, when our annual budget was just over $2 million! The commissioners whose terms had ended were not replaced, and only nine remained for about a year — a bare quorum, with no chair. That position was rotated.
Harris wanted to get rid of the NEC, but knew he would face strong public criticism. Instead, several anti-NEC commissioners were appointed, some of whom later became embarrassments to the government. Fortunately, the superb remaining staff, although devastated, kept the program afloat.
The cabinet appointments system has always worked inefficiently, no matter who has been in power, but during the NDP years appointments were made on a more timely basis. Always, some would lapse, leaving vacancies, and one time the municipal rep for Peel Region and her successor both showed up because of an error.
Today’s situation is bad, too. Five of us left in April, and there were already two vacancies.
Three more terms, including the chair’s, subsequently lapsed, resulting in the July meeting’s cancellation for lack of a quorum.
The commission planning staff is superb, and very professional. Current director David Ayotte is the right man for today’s commission, but his hands are tied until new appointments are made. Both the NEC and the Provincial Appointments Secretariat websites still show none.
The Niagara Escarpment was enshrined in special legislation in the 70s, supported by all three parties. You’d think today, with urban pressures to intensify, it would be more important than ever to appoint good new people to continue protecting this provincial treasure, part of a World Biosphere Reserve. Just do it!