Peter Gorrie
A surprise name comes up when environmentalists assess Ontario’s new cabinet.
They tout Jim Bradley as the minister, among the half-dozen with a direct impact on green issues, who offers the most hope for progress.
Yes, that Jim Bradley – the gregarious 30-year Legislature veteran from St. Catharines who’s been nearly invisible during the past four years in stints as the minister for seniors and tourism, and government house leader.
His new job, minister of transportation, isn’t much more of a political powerhouse than those others.
But green observers say transportation policies will be crucial in deciding southern Ontario’s environmental fate. They also expect Bradley to wield strong influence beyond the borders of his ministry.
They are pleased by the choices for all six ministries, announced last Tuesday, which include John Gerretsen in Environment, Gerry Phillips at Energy, Donna Cansfield in natural resources, Jim Watson in Municipal Affairs and David Caplan, returning as minister of public infrastructure renewal.
“None of the six is a lead weight; none are anchors,” says Chris Winter, executive director of the Conservation Council of Ontario. “They all have the potential to move their agenda forward. We’re miles ahead of where we were 20 years ago.”
Advocates are also pleased by the government’s apparent recognition that environment issues aren’t separate from others – as, for example, with the recent report that linked the spread of diabetes to the sedentary lifestyle encouraged by car-dependent suburbs.
“You can see how these things fit together,” says Julia Langer, of World Wildlife Fund Canada. Agriculture ministry support for local food buttresses the climate-change plan. Several ministries must mesh to ensure new housing is never more than an easy walk from a transit stop. “The cabinet has to have more than one environment minister.”
But Bradley occupies a special place, partly because of his record as environment minister under then-premier David Peterson from 1985 to ’90, but also because he’s reputed to have been a quiet force since the Liberals regained power in 2003.
“Bradley is considered to be the father of the modern environmental government,” says David Donnelly, a lawyer who works on issues such as urban sprawl, building standards and protection of Lake Simcoe.
Among other things, Bradley stared down nickel-smelting giants Inco. Ltd. and Falconbridge Ltd. and other industries that caused acid rain, and, over strong business objections, pushed through regulations that reduced toxic pollution from sewer pipes.
Now, he’s in charge of a ministry that’s fixated on more and bigger highways and bridges, and that critics argue must shift to support public transit, cycling and walking.
“He does a wonderful `aw shucks’ routine,” Donnelly says. But “very few people are shrewder.
“He holds a great deal of sway with the cabinet….I expect him to fight and, based on his past history, I expect him to win.”
Winter adds: “He had a lot of spine back then (as environment minister) and I don’t think he’s lost it.”
In their most optimistic moments, environmentalists picture Bradley killing plans for new expressways through the Greenbelt – the extension of Highways 404 and 407 and a new route along the Niagara Peninsula and across York Region’s mid-section.
More realistically, they say he might reduce the scale of those massive road plans, which seem to fly in the face of the government’s claim to want more compact, transit- and pedestrian-friendly communities.
A cautious Bradley, still busy moving to his new office, says he hasn’t yet “turned my attention” to that issue. He is certain, though, that much of his effort will focus on how to spend the $17.5 billion Premier Dalton McGuinty has pledged for transit projects.
The other five ministers have reasonable green credentials but those with track records get mixed reviews.
Gerretsen, former mayor of Kingston, earns high marks for creating the Greenbelt over strong objections from developers and landowners. He’s downgraded, though, for approving energy-efficiency standards for new houses that Donnelly calls “disappointing.”
Caplan, with part of the responsibility for containing sprawl, is praised for general direction but considered weak on putting it into practice. Phillips strongly backed the creation of the Rouge Valley park on Toronto’s eastern border.