2020 will be one for the books. Watching a nightly newscast is like watching a movie trailer about a dystopian future, though it’s actually our present day reality. With the COVID-19 pandemic growing stronger internationally and fears of a second wave at home, escalating police brutality and systemic racism laid bare, and the collapse of Canada’s last arctic ice shelf, bad news is in abundance. 

And yet, even in these challenging times, we can still win some small victories that are worthy of celebration, a couple of which happened in Ontario last week on the environmental front.

To be clear, the current government of Ontario is no friend to the environment. It has rammed through multiple omnibus bills and passed numerous other pieces of legislation to roll back environmental policies. It seems that no environmental policy remains untouched.

Climate Change Policy – Axed.

Green Energy –Nuked.

Endangered Species Act – Gutted.

Sprawl-Curbing Smart Growth Policy – Upended.

Aggregates Extraction – Unfettered.

Environmental Assessment Act: Inverted.

And yet there is good news to share – I swear!

Last week, we won two victories: a development in a sensitive ecosystem just outside Toronto was delayed, and potentially even stopped. And a plan to allow aggregates extraction in endangered species habitat inside natural heritage systems was shelved. The people and the environment won, twice!


Carruthers creek headwaters

In the first victory, a developer had asked for a Minister’s Zoning Order (MZO)  to permit a subdivision to be built in the headwaters of Carruthers Creek north of Ajax, paving over natural areas and prime agricultural land. The Toronto Region Conservation Authority had flagged that this development would lead to more flooding downstream. It is a bad idea. 

Citizens signed petitions and worked with Durham Regional Council to oppose the MZO request. They wrote opinion pieces for the local paper and called on their elected representative who had opposed the development while running for office. The government-appointed Greenbelt Council also weighed in and recommended the request be denied. And last week, the Minister of Municipal Affairs confirmed that he would not grant the MZO, buying a reprieve for Carruthers Creek, and the possibility of securing longer term protection for this sensitive ecosystem.


Wolverines, like the one pictured here, are classified as “Threatened” in Ontario under the Endangered Species Act.

The second victory has to do with the Growth Plan, a policy document that guides land use planning in the Greater Golden Horseshoe. The government made a number of changes and increased the planning horizon out to 2051, which will almost certainly enable more sprawl. But, they backed off on a proposal to allow aggregate operations to be located in endangered species habitat in natural heritage systems – an important win. 

Environmental Defence, Ontario Nature, and a number of other stakeholders voiced opposition to the Growth Plan changes. And we actually got what we were seeking, though just on this one element of the proposed changes.  

Why were we successful? I think it’s because aggregate operations are being fought across Ontario: On Mount Nemo in Burlington, near Espanola on the North Shore of Lake Huron, and, among other places, in Campbellville, where local citizens have moved their Member of Provincial Parliament and the Premier to voice opposition to a proposed aggregates operation.

The takeaway from all this has to be that people fighting against proposals that are bad for the environment can win – even in Ontario, with a government that thinks that helping the environment is about picking up garbage, and environmental regulation is nothing more than red tape.

It can be hard to be hopeful in these strange times. And good news is in short supply. But we can make a difference, and we can protect Ontario’s environment. We need you to help us in this. It’s your province, yours to protect.

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