This is a guest blog by Anne Purvis, pictured with husband Jim. Together they own 170 acres of significant wetland in Northumberland County which they manage as a conservation property. They hope the land will be added to Ontario’s Greenbelt. Anne also works for Scientists in School, bringing hands-on life science workshops into GTA classrooms.
My husband Jim and I were privileged to attend the Ontario Greenbelt Alliance (OGA) and Municipal Leaders for the Greenbelt (MLGB) Lobby Day at Queen’s Park on December 6th. We attended as representative of A Rocha, one of the over 120 organizations that comprise the OGA. It was exciting to discuss the importance of growing Ontario’s Greenbelt with the over 70 representatives who took part from OGA member organizations, as well as with diverse MPPs.
The day was organized by Environmental Defence on behalf of the OGA. It opened with a breakfast meeting that drew MPP’s from all parties including three of the key cabinet ministers in charge of the Greenbelt file – the Honourable Bill Mauro, Minister of Municipal Affairs, the Honourable Jeff Leal, Minister of Agriculture, and the Honourable Chris Ballard, Minister of Housing.
Opening remarks were by Tim Gray, Executive Director of Environmental Defence, who was brief and to the point. Welcoming and thanking everyone, he delivered the urgent key messages of the OGA to the Government of Ontario. These are crucial messages for the government to hear as Ontario enters the final phase of the Greenbelt Plan and Growth Plan Review initiated by the government in 2015. Legislation may be tabled as early as winter/spring 2017. These key message are:
1) Do not permit the 650 requests from developers and municipalities to remove land from the Greenbelt, and do not change the Greenbelt rural town and villages settlement policy that will give the green light to development on high quality farmland and sensitive natural areas.
2) Expand the Greenbelt by 1.8 million acres to include the area mapped out by many hydrologists, ecologists, planners called the “Bluebelt”. This will result in protection of water resources, aquifers, recharge areas and headwaters in many counties such as Simcoe, Brant, Waterloo, Wellington and Northumberland. It will also preserve farmland, and protect natural heritage systems.
3) Stop urban sprawl and implement a strong Growth Plan by freezing municipal urban boundaries. There is more than enough land already approved for development for the next 25 years, an area the size of Missisauga and Oakville put together.
4) Make major reforms to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) , currently under review, to ensure that the Greenbelt and Growth Plans are implemented, that citizens rights are upheld and that the environment is protected from poorly planned development.
Next to speak was Ajax Mayor Steve Parish. He reminded the province that in addition to the above, municipalities will need a new funding formula to facilitate the implementation of the Growth Plan. He also talked about the need for major reforms to the land needs assesement process that gagues whether more land is needed for urban development than is currently designated.
Mayor Parish was followed by Glenn De Baeremaeker, Deputy Mayor, City of Toronto and Co-Founder and Co-Chair, Municipal Leaders for the Greenbelt. He encouraged everyone to remember how far the Greenbelt movement has come in Ontario. He shared amusing memories of the early days when Rouge Park did not yet exist and he dressed up as a chipmunk at Save the Rouge events. He reiterated that Ontario’s water resources and at-risk farmland need to be protected and that the government must grow the Greenbelt to ensure their protection.
Next up were MPP from three political parties. The Honorable Bill Mauro re-capped the 2016 proposed amendments to the Greenbelt and Growth Plan and confirmed the government’s commitment to growing the Greenbelt. Both Percy Hatfield, NDP Municipal Affairs Critic and Ernie Hardeman, PC Municipal Affairs Critic, vouched their support for Ontario’s Greenbelt, noting that its creation has been good for agriculture. They also both agreed there is a need to strengthen and grow it. The Green Party was not present, but has stated its support for both the Greenbelt Plan and a strong Growth Plan.
For the rest of the morning after the breakfast, OGA members held over 20 meetings with MPPS and cabinet ministers. In the afternoon, Dave Donnelly, an environmental lawyer for over 30 years, and Anne Sabourin from Donnelly Law gave an excellent talk about changes needed to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB). They emphasized that if the OMB is not reformed, all the changes to the Greenbelt and Growth Plan legislation will be in vain. Mr. Donnelly’s top recommendation was that any developments on greenfield lands, or near natural heritage features, such as shorelines, be heard by the Environmental Registry Tribunal (ERT), not the OMB. The ERT uses experts from a variety of environmental disciplines that ensure nature gets a fair hearing. He also recommended that no appeals of whole municipal plans to the OMB be permissible – only decisions about how these are being implemented.
The Lobby Day for us was very meaningful. We were thrilled to meet many wonderful people who have been in the trenches for so long in this protracted battle to save farmland and natural heritage systems in Ontario. Erin Shapero, organizer of the event urges all of us, as a next step, to arrange meetings in January with our own and other MPPs. We, along with many other groups, will be active in voicing our concerns about the need for a stronger and larger Greenbelt. We thank the OGA and MLGB for their leadership on these vital issues.