Doug Ford government defends conservation authority changes in wake of mass Greenbelt Council resignations
By Noor Javed Toronto Star
The province announced plans Monday for a $30-million investment in wetland restoration, after a weekend that saw the mass resignation of members of the Greenbelt Council over the government’s plans to limit the mandate of conservation authorities to protect the environment.
After a quick announcement, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark responded to mounting criticism around the seven resignations from the government-appointed Greenbelt advisory body, including the chair, former federal cabinet minister and former Toronto mayor David Crombie.
Clark thanked the council members for their service, but said he had been “frustrated in recent months” with the lack of progress to “expand the quality and quantity of the Greenbelt.”
“Time and time again, the council failed to propose a strategy to help us achieve this,” he said.
“I have been very clear with the council that I wanted a plan in place that would grow the Greenbelt, but there hasn’t been any progress in that regard,” said Clark. “I am going to turn the page and work with the existing members, and new members.”
Clark also defended his use of minister’s zoning orders, or MZOs, which give him the authority to designate land use without the possibility of appeals.
“The MZOs we are making on non-provincial lands have been at request of local municipalities,” said Clark. “MZOs are playing a critical role in our province’s economic recovery, they are accelerating priority projects.”
He also defended the amendments in the omnibus budget bill that will force Ontario’s 36 conservation authorities to permit development in environmentally sensitive lands.
He added that while conservation authorities will still be “obligated” to issue permits for development, “we would require that proponents enter into agreements with conservation authorities to lead to enhancements of the natural environment.”
However, the proposed amendments grant developers an appeal process for any restrictions, including appealing to the Minister of Environment directly, or to a Local Planning Appeals Tribunal.
Opposition parties criticized the government’s action in question period Monday, with Liberal MPP Mitzie Hunter calling the moves an “unbridled march to environmental disaster.”
They also questioned who was asking for the changes, as environmental groups and conservation authorities have spoken out against them.
“Instead of listening to these non-partisan voices, the premier and his ministers treat these people with disrespect and contempt. The Conservatives have doubled down and made their bad bill even worse. Why is it, Speaker, that the only people who count for the premier are his developer friends and donors?” asked NDP MPP Jamie West.
Clark’s media conference came just days after Crombie resigned, citing his concerns about proposed changes to the Conservation Authorities Act that he said would gut environmental protections and watershed planning, and “limit public discussion.”
A day later, six other members of the Greenbelt Council resigned, among them planners, and the former chair of the Building Industry and Land Development Association (BILD), the housing lobby group.
Leith Moore, who served as the chair of BILD in 2009, was also the vice-president of development with the Sorbara Development Group at the time. In his resignation letter, he said there had been little engagement between the council and the government over developing policy around the Greenbelt and he was concerned the direction the province was going.
Conservation authorities’ “long-term success is central to our environmental stewardship responsibility,” Moore wrote. “The steps taken in Bill 229 put decades of excellent work across city and regional boundaries at risk.”
Clark reiterated that none of the proposed legislative changes will impact the Greenbelt. “Time and time again I have been clear that we will protect the Greenbelt for future generations,” he said.