This afternoon (Monday 7 December 2020) at Queen’s Park Doug Ford is pressing ahead with plans to gut the powers of Conservation Authorities which play a key role in protecting the environment.

As I tap this out the Third Reading of Bill 229 is under way.

Ford and his Municipal Affairs Minister, Steve Clark, brushed aside the dramatic resignation of David Crombie as Chair of the Greenbelt Council on Saturday and the six further resignations yesterday. 

Ford is using Schedule 6 of an omnibus Budget Bill to ram through changes which will fatally weaken the role of Conservation Authorities. Newmarket-Aurora’s former MPP, Chris Ballard, told Newmarket Today what is at stake.  

"The proposed changes to the Conservation Authorities Act and Planning Act are included within the Ontario government’s budget bill (Bill 229, Schedule 6). The bill contains provisions, requested by developers, that will allow the accelerated destruction of wetlands, forests, wildlife habitat and natural spaces that offer Ontarians solace and help protect us from the growing effects of climate change."

Writing in Newmarket Today just a few hours ago, the Chair of York Region and Chair of the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority, Wayne Emmerson, echoed Ballard's concerns:

"If the province proceeds with Schedule 6 in the omnibus budget bill, LSRCA will be forced to issue permits to allow for development, through minister's zoning orders (MZO), to proceed regardless of the impacts to the environment and our communities. This action will dismantle the very system put in place — since Hurricane Hazel in 1954 — to keep our communities healthy and out of harm’s way from flooding and other hazards created by poor land-use planning."

Government by fiat

The Bill will allow the Municipal Affairs Minster to extend the use of Ministerial Zoning Orders to approve developments, brushing aside the concerns of Conservation Authorities about, say, flooding risks. Under Ford, the use of these Ministerial Zoning Orders has skyrocketed

The way in which the Bill is being railroaded through the Legislative Assembly is a disgrace. The Bill was referred to the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs ostensibly for line-by-line scrutiny yet, even now, during the Bill’s Third Reading, there are no transcripts available for the meetings on 30 November and on 1, 2 and 4 December 2020 telling us what happened. The Bill was amended in Committee but we, the great unwashed, have no idea who said what.

The Government insists the Greenbelt is protected

Ballard called on his readers to write to Christine Elliott, Ford’s Deputy, but does he seriously believe that will make any difference? When she talks about protecting the environment and the Greenbelt (which isn't very often) her support always seems tepid and qualified, a fairweather friend.

On 22 September 2008 during the second reading debate on the Lake Simcoe Protection Act she told MPPs:

"Nobody questions the need for the greenbelt, nobody is opposed to the idea of green space, but I think there has to be the science behind it, and there has to be the rationalization of those areas that are chosen for the greenbelt.”

Doug Ford famously planned to open up a big chunk of the Greenbelt to developers but then dropped the idea when his boasts were caught on tape.

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Update on 8 December 2020: Aurora's Mayor Tom Mrakas tells the Toronto Star: "This is not how you grow communities. This is how you ruin them."

Update on 10 December 2020: From the G&M: Experts fear more environmentally damaging developments.