Environmental groups warn of possible influx of development in Ontario

·3 min read

WATERLOO REGION — “Did Doug Ford get bitten by a turtle as a child?”

This was one of the dozens of comments continually rolling during Environmental Defence’s online webinar with Ontario Nature, the Canadian Environmental Law Association and David Crombie, the former chair of the Greenbelt Council who resigned over the changes to the Conservation Authority Act at the end of last year.

The event was livestreamed this week and held to inform the public about the current state of Ontario’s environmental protections, what can be expected going forward and what citizens can do to protect their own local greenspaces.

The hosts outlined some major recent changes to environmental protections in Ontario including the diminishing of conservation authorities’ power with the passing of schedule six of Bill 229: The protect, support and recover from COVID-19 Act (Budget Measures), 2020.

A last-minute addition to the legislation mandated that a conservation authority must approve a development if a minister’s zoning order has been issued and it is not in the greenbelt.

The conservation authority can negotiate with the development applicant for compensation if damage is done to the environment. A minister’s zoning order is a piece of legislation that allows the minister of municipal affairs and housing to change the zoning of an area without public input.

Other issues covered included reduced protections for species at risk, legislation that encourages urban sprawl and new proposed 400 series highways, among others.

The environmental groups feel the end result will be, “a lot more development in formerly protected areas,” according to Tim Gray, the executive director of Environmental Defence.

The event focused on the increased use of minister’s zoning orders across the province. More t han 30 orders were issued in 2020, compared to two from the previous government between 2016 and 2017.

Minister’s zoning orders usually go unannounced until after they are issued, according to Environmental Defence and the Canadian Environmental Law Association.

The province says these orders are not issued unless requested by municipalities.

So far, the only minister’s zoning order issued in Waterloo Region is for the residential, institutional and commercial rezoning of a Smart Centre complex at the corner of Hespeler and Pinebush roads in Cambridge, according to Conrad Spezowka, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing.

Spezowka says no others have yet been requested within the region.

All four hosts of the online event urged viewers to become involved in their local politics.

“Being engaged in local initiatives to stop or start something is not a simple matter, it’s the first step to the democratic process. Democracy is a self-starting process. It’s done by you,” said Crombie.

“There is nothing that you can’t do if you want to organize and pay attention. It’s always a question of bringing together people, resources and ideas.”

The livestreamed event, which has more than 2,000 views on YouTube, can be viewed here.

Leah Gerber’s reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative. The funding allows her to report on stories about the Grand River Watershed. Email lgerber@therecord.com

Leah Gerber, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Waterloo Region Record