Simcoe developer defends resort proposal
March 17, 2008
The authors of a guest column on Feb. 26 about the proposed Big Bay Point resort are right: The democratic process has been abused. But the abuse has been committed by Environmental Defence Canada and its executive director, Rick Smith.
The proposal has been going through the public, democratic process of approvals since 2002 when the original application was filed. As the Ontario Municipal Board said in its ruling on the resort proposal in December, 2007:
“The development is consistent with, and has regard to, the Provincial Policy Statement, is supported by all levels of government and agencies required to review the project, including the Province, the County, the Town and the local Conservation Authority. A significant number of local residents … are in favour of the development.”
The board concluded that “the Big Bay Point development proposal and the planning instruments filed in support of the project . . . represent good planning.”
But none of this democratic process that has unfolded over five years is good enough for the self-styled overseers at Environmental Defence, who, it turns out, have been funding the opponents of the resort proposal with charitable dollars provided by Ontario taxpayers.
In a recent examination of Rick Smith before the Ontario Municipal Board, he acknowledged that Environmental Defence is a “partner” with the key opponents of the resort, the Innisfil District Association, on whose board sit representatives of two for-profit companies that want to expand an exclusive private golf course on Big Bay Point.
It’s important to note that pollutants from the golf course have apparently been leaching into Lake Simcoe for years. If it wasn’t so tragic, it would be ironic that its owners and members are being aided and abetted by a charity sworn to defend the environment.
Given this bizarre circumstance, I believe that the time has come to ask whether the Canada Revenue Agency should investigate to determine if public funds and other charitable donations to Environmental Defence have been abused.
And perhaps the Toronto Star, which has itself done an admirable job in calling public attention to the misuse of funds by some charities, would also investigate.
Until such an investigation is satisfactorily concluded, the government of Ontario, which last year gave Environmental Defence $500,000, should refuse to give any more tax dollars to this organization.
Nor should the tax-dollar-funded Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation, (one of whose board members is Rick Smith of Environmental Defence) be permitted to give any more public money to Environmental Defence until it is given a clean bill of health.
The government of Ontario should also insist that the Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation, which was granted $25 million in public funds, toughen its conflict of interest rules to prevent grants to organizations represented on its board. In one year alone, the Foundation allotted more than 20 per cent of its total grants to organizations with members on its board. Among those were members of Environmental Defence.
Questions also need to be asked, and answered, about:
Why it took five years for Environmental Defence to show an interest in the resort project
Whether the purchase by Environmental Defence and other groups of thousands of dollars worth of newspaper ads to denigrate a resort proposal and the public approvals process is an appropriate use of charitable dollars
Ontario taxpayers who contributed to Environmental Defence probably had no idea that their money would be used to fund an ad campaign and an intense media relations effort opposing a resort that has won the democratic support of councils in the town of Innisfil, the county of Simcoe, the province of Ontario and the Ontario Municipal Board.
Environmental Defence and Rick Smith should be ashamed and embarrassed for aligning themselves with resort opponents who have forced three levels of government to waste time and precious public dollars to defend themselves in a cynical war against the democratic process that led to approval of the resort.
As for the various lawsuits in which we are engaged as a result of the actions of our opponents, we are as entitled as any citizen or company to defend ourselves, and we will let the courts speak; that’s how things work in a democracy governed by the rule of law.
Earl Rumm is president of Geranium Corporation.