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LETTER: Province admonished over 'neutering' of conservation authorities

Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition executive director pushes for several measures, such as the province not granting MZOs for projects on significant wetlands
Margaret Prophet, executive director of the Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition, is shown in a file photo.

BarrieToday welcomes letters to the editor at [email protected]. Please include your daytime phone number and address (for verification of authorship, not publication). The following letter is an open letter to Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark from Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition executive director Margaret Prophet.

Dear Minister Clark,

There has been much attention paid lately to the future of our conservation authorities — one of the last regulatory bodies designed to protect our environment.

In a response to the public outcry regarding the neutering of conservation authorities’ ability to protect water, wetlands and public health, Minister Clark made a series of statements and announcements.

First was the promise of $30 million to “create, restore and enhance wetlands” across Ontario.

Second was a promise to improve the “quality and quantity of the Greenbelt."  

The timing of these announcements is troubling and does not add to our confidence in the government’s commitment to protecting the environment coming, as it has, on the heels of eight members of the Greenbelt Council quitting in protest over provincial policy changes. Changes that former Toronto mayor and, until he resigned this past week, chair of the Greenbelt Council, David Crombie outlined as “high-level bombing."

But we are willing to accept these announcements in good faith, and we look forward to hearing more about these initiatives.

To be very clear, however, if this government is truly committed to these initiatives, by which we mean that they are not being used as cheap politics to deflect from the criticism, fully deserved, that they are receiving with regard to the policy changes noted above, then we expect the following:

  • That no more MZOs will be issued that allow development in provincially significant or locally significant wetlands. It makes no sense to commit to restoring wetlands and putting taxpayer money towards that, while simultaneously destroying or impairing other wetlands. Refusing to do this would be creating a boondoggle for developers, using public money to offset wetland destruction.

  • Any MZO that is issued in the Lake Simcoe watershed will clearly outline how the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan (LSPP) policies will be adhered to, in order to ensure conformity with said policies as MZO conditions.

  • The Lake Simcoe Protection Plan, which will be reviewed in the new year, will be strengthened by building on proven existing policies (e.g. phosphorus loading targets and WWTP [waste water treatment plant] moratoriums), demonstrating the government’s commitment to protect the environment with policies that protect more high quality natural cover, including wetlands and forests. This should be a zero loss target and policy structure, meaning that there should be no reduction in the quantity and quality of natural cover going forward. Currently, the target in the LSPP is 40 per cent high quality natural cover — a target that we are failing to meet.

  • The $30 million Wetland Restoration Fund will be money invested by the Government of Ontario and not “blood money” that comes from developers paying a fee to permit the destruction of wetlands. If it is based on offsetting, this is a “pay to pave” mentality that has been proven disastrous for watershed health in other jurisdictions. Funding wetland restoration through the destruction of other wetlands would be disingenuous to the government’s commitment and breaks faith with Ontarians who rely on wetlands for flood mitigation, drinking water purification and recreation.

  • Growing the Greenbelt includes keeping the existing Greenbelt strong. We don’t want to see a bait and switch where more Greenbelt is added in exchange for current Greenbelt lands being removed from protection. The Greenbelt, its farms and communities, contribute $9.6 billion of economic impact and $3.2 billion of environmental services to Ontario every year.  As a region that is growing we will be relying on the services it provides far into the future. Dismantling it through land swaps threatens its ecological functions, and, consequently, its contributions to our collective prosperity and wellbeing.  

  • The province, if it is genuine in its commitment to growing the Greenbelt, will base new included areas on science and public health, not just land ownership. Following such a process means that all source water areas (highly vulnerable aquifers, significant recharge areas, moraines and locally significant wetlands) in Simcoe County should be added to a bigger Greenbelt, at minimum. Simcoe County residents are highly reliant on groundwater for their daily needs.  If we don’t protect these areas soon, the public’s health is at risk.

We hope that your government is genuine in its commitment to these ends. We are sure you would agree that using environmental policy as a ploy is dangerous to our public health and erodes faith in our democratic institutions and your governments’ commitment to acting in the best interest of all Ontarians.

Ultimately, it is in no one’s interest that a government fails — such an event has real life consequences for the people of Ontario, including to their health and wellbeing. We are committed to helping where we can to find success in the above noted expectations, but we will not betray our knowledge and understanding, born by evidence, of the actions required to create a more just, prosperous, and sustainable Ontario. 

We will be watching closely to ensure that you stick to the commitments you have made and do so in a genuine manner. 

We look forward to your response and actions progressing these issues.

Margaret Prophet
Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition, executive director