With mandated provincial reviews looming for major land use plans such as the Greenbelt and the Oak Ridges Moraine starting next year, hundreds of environmental activists were on hand to listen and quiz experts in King Township last week.
The Concerned Citizens of King Township (CCKT) hosted a forum dubbed Construction vs. Conservation and brought in the biggest guns it could draw to enlighten the more than 300 who packed the Kingbridge Centre last Wednesday evening.
Longtime Ontario Environmental Commissioner Gord Miller kicked off the evening with a keynote speech.
He was followed by a four-person panel that featured environmental lawyer David Donnelly, Save the Oak Ridges Moraine (STORM)’s Debbe Crandall, Erin Shapero of Environmental Defence and the Ontario Greenbelt Alliance (OGA), and Bob Patrick of Coalition on the Niagara Escarpment (CONE).
Mr. Miller didn’t pull any punches in discussing the “hodge podge” of land use plans throughout the Greater Golden Horseshoe.
“There are no measurements in any places. We’re not getting a comprehensive picture and it’s totally ineffective in the way land use planning is currently set up,” Mr. Miller said.
His major complaint was there is no monitoring of how effective such plans as the Greenbelt are, which covers 30 per cent of King Township, and the Oak Ridges Moraine, which makes up the remaining 70 per cent of the township.
The same is true of the Niagara Escarpment plan, though he praised it as more effective.
“We need a transparent monitoring and evaluation framework for all land use plans. We can’t get caught in these little traps. We need evaluation and monitoring and we need it to be transparent. It’s a responsibility of government. It’s an obligation, they are in this role.
“We can’t have draft indicators and, four years later, not finalize them. It’s not good enough,” Mr. Miller said.
He stressed that ministries such as the environment and natural resources should be able to comment on all land use decisions.
Several audience members raised concerns with members of the panel about SLAPP lawsuits. SLAPP suits, or strategic lawsuits against public participation, are generally meant to silence members of the public who raise objections to development.
Mr. Donnelly and Ms Shapero commented on a bill currently before the Ontario Legislature that would put a major crimp in the imposition of SLAPP suits, if passed.
“I went to second reading of the (SLAPP) bill more than a month ago before the Legislature took its break and it was disheartening. None of the parties have worked together to get this bill passed,” Ms Shapero said.
She added now was the time to put pressure on politicians on environmental issues, especially with a municipal election coming this fall and a likely provincial election possible in June.
CCKT chairperson Greg Locke said he believed it was the first time  the major coalition groups representing all three plans were in the same room at the same time.
“We’re very, very pleased because we need local government and the provincial government to really start paying attention to this because, so far, this has all been under the radar. We know developers and industrialists have been heavily lobbying behind-the-scenes to get recommendations made before any public consultation whatsoever and, hopefully, some of this discussion tonight will counteract that,” Mr. Locke said.