Comments on Opening the…


Comments on Opening the Greenbelt for Development, Bill 66

French politician and statesman Alexandre Auguste Ledru-Rollin (1807-1874) was apocryphally quoted as saying, “There go my people and I must follow them, for I am their leader.” M. Ledru-Rollin was eventually exiled to England by the ruling elite for his ideas of actually listening to the people who did all the living, working and dying. Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948) also is quoted as using this very powerful line. Gandhi was arrested and imprisoned for leading a grassroots movement of non-violence against a foreign imperial power that refused to listen to the wants, desires and needs of the people. Wherever the quote came from, it speaks to the best qualities of a leader, whether that leader is a business owner, crew leader, religious leader or politician. I believe all politicians should have this line printed on their mirrors. This is the highest quality of a leader: to look after the people who are relying on them to lead them to a safer, happier, healthier tomorrow, or, in my chosen profession, to ensure they go home safely at the end of the day. I believe that with Bill 66 the current government of Ontario and the premier have not only not looked in their mirrors, but decided to break them and throw them out.
It is my understanding that the Greenbelt was initiated by the province of Ontario for the future enjoyment and protection of Ontarians and their environment. The Greenbelt would set aside land for recreation, agriculture, environmental protection and safe water. Opening the Greenbelt for commercial, residential and industrial development flies in the face of forward-looking politicians, business people and private individuals, lead to loss of green space for future generations and loss of habitat for endangered species, damage to water supply systems and irreparable damage to ecosystems that have been in place for thousands of years.
Over the past few years I have tried to do everything I can to reduce my impact on the environment. Part of this was to reduce my energy usage through using the GreenOn rebates. These rebates were paid for by the provincial Cap and Trade program. I replaced my aging furnace and air conditioner to the highest efficiency units available, replaced windows, replaced all my lightbulbs with LED’s, sealed my house, I even bought an all-electric vehicle. Over the past 20 years, before I retired, I commuted the 20 km to and from work through most of the year on my bicycle. Why? Because it was the right thing to do. What is this government doing? Turning the clock back 40 years. I am waiting for it to reopen coal-fired power plants.
Cancelling the Cap and Trade program simply speaks to this government’s mindset: the environment is not a concern, it is for sale to the highest bidder and we need to pave the world. Bill 66 follows along with this theme. MPP Donna Skelly is quoted as saying that environmental protections will still be in place, but at the same time the proposed Open for Business bylaws allow municipalities and businesses to ignore red tape put in place for the protection of the environment, the world, the province and the people who live here. Municipalities who do not wish to pass these bylaws are free to do so, but they will be under increased pressure to do so if a neighbouring municipality decides they will open up development. It is a Catch-22 scenario for these municipalities – damned if they do, damned if they don’t.
The Oakridges Moraine is a unique geologic formation that is beautiful in its entirety. It is also home to many species, some of which are under survival stress if they lose habitat. It has the ability to act as a carbon sink for millions of tons of carbon dioxide and it supplies and filters millions of gallons of water necessary for the drinking water for inhabitants of the area, both human, farm and feral animals. It is also essential in holding back floodwaters. This unique area needs to be protected, not leveled for urban sprawl.
The Lake Simcoe watershed is a beautiful area that I have visited many times. It is home to many aquatic birds and animals as well as a large human and farm population. The Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority released a report last year that shows some stress in the watershed area. Further development and intensification of residence, commerce and industry will further erode plant life, forestry, and the waters of the area. Storm and sewage runoff are already a problem. More trees and wetlands are required to ensure the long-term health of this area.
I worry about our environment. I worry for my children and grandchildren; and not just mine, but everyone’s children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I worry about not being able to go outside and see the stars because the air is too thick to see through and with sprawling residential, commercial and industrial areas, the night sky will be more blotted out with light pollution. I will have to go farther afield to see stars. I remember being able to see the Milky Way in the night sky as a child. The only time I have been able to see this from my home was back during the large power outage in August 2003.
I worry about being able to ride my bike through chucky thick air. I worry about having safe water to drink. I worry about biodiversity. I worry about what my grandchildren will say about me and about us. What did we do when we had the chance? I want to be able to say that we did something. How can I look in the mirror and say to myself, “We had the chance to fix the problem and we did nothing!”?
In the entire Golden Horseshoe area there are thousands of hectares of brownfields waiting to be redeveloped. This land simply needs to be cleaned up to be suitable for new industry, commerce and residential areas. The land is already serviced, infrastructure in place and in many cases on existing transit lines. Why can this land not be used instead of going to the expense of servicing new lands, plowing and paving agricultural lands? There is apparently enough serviced land in these areas to keep developers busy into the 2030’s. Why do we need to destroy sensitive lands that are habitat to many species that will lose their homes? Already we have coyotes in the urban and suburban areas and parks attacking domestic animals. They are there because they are being pushed out of their regular habitats due to human encroachment. We have a rabies outbreak in the Hamilton-Caledonia area. This has nothing to do with the current Greenbelt plan; but if we further encroach on wildland areas, wild animals will have no other choices but to become extinct or encroach on land already developed. This will only worsen as we sprawl more and more into their habitat. Paving this area will also lead to worsening flooding.
One of the best tenets of the Greenbelt plan was to keep agricultural land close to where it is needed. By destroying farmlands we will have to truck in food from farther and farther afield. Why? We can produce much of our food right here. To produce it farther away means more cost and more carbon produced in delivering it into the urban areas. That leads to more spoilage, less fresh foods, more costs in delivery and worsening climate change.
During the past provincial election, the current premier was caught electioneering to a group of developers in the GTA. He promised to open up the Greenbelt to development. When these comments became public he quickly reversed his decision stating that the he would not open the Greenbelt for development. Now, after being elected, he has done what so many politicians have done in the past: promise anything to get elected and, once in power, pay back all the political favours to all his wealthy backers. He has not actually done this himself; he is allowing the municipalities to do his dirty work for him by rolling back environmental safeguards. He has not followed his people.
These choices we make now will affect Ontario, Canada and the world for decades, if not centuries. Political decisions that affect the environment and employment should not be made in haste. The plans put in place were well thought out. Premier Ford’s plans are not well thought out. He has yet to deliver a comprehensive plan for reducing climate change. This Bill will only give short term benefits to the developers but leave a lasting impact on our live and our grandchildren’s lives for ever.
Remember, once agricultural land is gone, once wildernesses are torn up for short term gain, they are gone forever. I don’t want to live in a world where the air is so thick that we cannot breathe it, where I cannot see the stars, where there are no wilderness areas to explore, where we cannot go outside because it is too hot to survive, where my home will be gone due to rising water levels, where the water is not safe to drink or swim in, where our children are poisoned from rising mercury levels and other toxins allowed to enter water tables and food stuffs due to government inaction.
We only have a few years to make the right choices before these things begin to happen. We need to act now, not in ten years when it is too late. There is no need for this legislation. Serviced land is already available on current public transit lines. I beg this government to listen to the wants desires and needs of the people, not to the greedy desires of powerful, faceless land developers. Please, kill Bill 66. Save our earth. It’s the only one we have.