Bill opens Green­belt to de­vel­op­ment, ac­tivists warn

The Globe and Mail Metro (Ontario Edition) - - TORONTO - JEFF GRAY

Crit­ics say pro­posed law would break Ford’s elec­tion prom­ise to keep lands pro­tected

En­vi­ron­men­tal­ists warn that leg­is­la­tion in­tro­duced by the On­tario gov­ern­ment this week would al­low for de­vel­op­ment in­side the prov­ince’s vast Green­belt – de­spite an ex­plicit elec­tion prom­ise from Premier Doug Ford to leave the pro­tected lands alone.

Mr. Ford’s Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment in­tro­duced Bill 66, the Restor­ing On­tario’s Com­pet­i­tive­ness Act, on Thurs­day at Queen’ s Park be­fore the leg­is­la­ture wrapped up pro­ceed­ings un­til Fe­bru­ary. It’s a grab bag of amend­ments to dozens of pieces of leg­is­la­tion that the gov­ern­ment says would scrap red tape and cre­ate jobs.

But en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists have seized on one sec­tion of the pro­posed leg­is­la­tion that would al­low mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties to ap­ply to the prov­ince for per­mis­sion to pass what the bill calls “open-for-busi­ness” by­laws meant to at­tract em­ploy­ers by speed­ing up ap­provals to build of­fices or fac­to­ries.

With per­mis­sion from only the Minister of Mu­nic­i­pal Af­fairs, such de­vel­op­ments could be ex­empt from a list of laws, in­clud­ing sec­tions of the Clean Wa­ter Act, the Great Lakes Pro­tec­tion Act, the Lake Sim­coe Pro­tec­tion Act and the Green­belt Act.

Tim Gray, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the group En­vi­ron­men­tal De­fence, warns the move would im­me­di­ately en­rich land spec­u­la­tors sit­ting on plots in­side South­ern On­tario’s 7,200-square-kilo­me­tre Green­belt, while com­pletely un­der­min­ing the swath of pro­tected land that had been sup­ported by both Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive and Liberal gov­ern­ments. He also says the chang- es could mean more sprawl­ing res­i­den­tial and mixed-use de­vel­op­ment. “As soon as you de­cide to start do­ing Swiss cheese with the Green­belt, and al­low­ing de­vel­op­ment into it, you don’t have the Green­belt any more,” Mr. Gray said. “You have some joke on a map.”

Mr. Gray warns the PC gov­ern­ment should ex­pect a “huge lo­cal con­stituency-level back­lash,” as polls sug­gest the Green­belt is ex­tremely pop­u­lar not just across On­tario, but also in many ar­eas that elected PC MPPs in or close to the Green­belt it­self.

In an e-mailed state­ment, Mu­nic­i­pal Af­fairs Minister Steve Clark said the goal of the leg­is­la­tion was to al­low mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties to speed up ap­provals for busi­nesses look­ing for new sites. But he also says that “we re­main stead­fast in our com­mit­ment to pro­tect the Green­belt for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.”

The minister’s spokes­woman, Julie O’Driscoll, de­clined to clar­ify when asked why the pro­posed bill still con­tem­plates ex­emp­tions to the Green­belt Act. She said the gov­ern­ment would not sup­port pro­pos­als from mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties “in con­trast with” its com­mit­ment to pro­tect the Green­belt. In May, dur­ing the pro­vin­cial elec­tion cam­paign, the Lib­er­als re­leased a video of Mr. Ford say­ing he would hand over a “big chunk” of the Green­belt to de­vel­op­ers, forc­ing the PC Leader to back­track. Af­ter at first pledg­ing to re­place any Green­belt land turned over to de­vel­op­ers, Mr. Ford later is­sued what ap­peared to be an iron­clad prom­ise: “The peo­ple have spo­ken − we won’t touch the Green­belt.”

NDP MPP Peter Tabuns says Bill 66 is a bla­tant bro­ken prom­ise: “When it comes to the Green­belt, it seems very clear that all the com­mit­ments that were made by Doug Ford dur­ing the elec­tion have just gone out the win­dow.”

Other pro­vi­sions packed into the bill would loosen or toss out rules reg­u­lat­ing day­cares and toxic sub­stances.

Mar­i­anne Meed Ward, the Mayor of Burling­ton, Ont., west of Toronto, is­sued a state­ment on Fri­day pledg­ing to con­tinue to pro­tect the Green­belt: “We stand firm in our com­mit­ment to pro­tect­ing our green­belt from de­vel­op­ment and pro­tect­ing our farm fam­i­lies and ru­ral agri­cul­tural econ­omy … I do not see Burling­ton us­ing this leg­is­la­tion, if it is passed.”

David Crom­bie, the for­mer Toronto mayor and for­mer fed­eral Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive cab­i­net minister who heads On­tario’s Green­belt Coun­cil, an ad­vi­sory body, points out that any in­cur­sion into the Green­belt would still re­quire min­is­te­rial ap­proval.

He says he still takes Mr. Ford at his word. “All I know is that the Premier, on at least a cou­ple of oc­ca­sions now, has said that he sup­ports the in­tegrity of the Green­belt,” Mr. Crom­bie said in an in­ter­view.

Farms lo­cated within On­tario’s des­ig­nated Green­belt dot the land­scape be­low the lime­stone cliffs of the Ni­a­gara Es­carp­ment in Hal­ton Re­gion.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.