Doug Ford’s ecological blitzkrieg on the protected Greenbelt is a declaration of war on one of Ontario’s landform jewels, all in the cause of the private development industry.
The business end of his multipronged assault on land use is the notorious More Homes Built Faster Act, 2022, or Bill 23, which permits the government to remove about 7,400 acres (11.5 sq. mi.) from a Greenbelt that has been protected from development by legislation since 2005.
Coincidentally, Ford’s takedown of the Wynne Liberals in 2018 was aided by $460,000 in corporate donations from a group of housing developers to whom payback is alleged to be opening up thousands of acres of Greenbelt along Hwy. 413 and the Bradford Bypass to residential housing.
But while the public directs its focus to the PCs’ Greenbelt shenanigans, what the party is doing on the Niagara Escarpment is textbook sleight of hand by a political party with only a slight commitment to principled government.
Ontario legally recognized the need to conserve the Niagara Escarpment a half century ago, but it is now failing to do so under the Smilin’ Barracuda, Doug Ford.
Balancing growth and the environment is complex, but it shouldn’t mean a leader abdicates responsibility – unless you’re DoFo. So when Doug needs a job done, he goes to his non-arm’s-length appointees on any number of agencies, boards and commissions.
Cue a call to former Conservative PM Stephen Harper: The post of chair of the Niagara Escarpment Commission is now held by Rob Nicholson, a name familiar to those who watched Harper’s attempted piecemeal makeover of Canada from 2006 to 2015. Nicholson was an inner-circle Harper minister who handled portfolios having no apparent ties to the environment — in National Defence, Justice and Foreign Affairs.
But Nicholson, 70, a long-time Niagara Falls MP, now makes decisions impacting a UN-designated biosphere in Ontario. His newly acquired forte is presumably “environmental and landscape maintenance and enhancement,” if the NEC website is to be believed.
Ford’s appointment of Nicholson in March of 2022 is par for the golf course: friends and associates take positions of authority in Ford World, without proper regard to their qualifications. Add in massive pay hikes and Ford has guaranteed loyalty.
(An interesting postscript to Nicholson’s time as head at Foreign Affairs was his “service” was cut short when he was rejected by voters in October 2015 due to his work in raising funds for then-Senator Mike Duffy in the expense-padding scandal).
All too common, these unqualified or unsuitable decision makers stand in opposition to the public consensus, resulting in jarring decisions, such as when Ford appointees at the Alcohol and Gaming Commission granted beverage liquor licences to 11 Ontario 7-Eleven stores – or disastrous, if their rulings include rejection of climate change mitigation policies in the Escarpment/Greenbelt.
A UNESCO World Biosphere, the Escarpment is one of the world’s most magnificent natural landforms. More than 450 million years old, it makes up almost one-quarter of Ontario’s Greenbelt and is home to Canada’s longest footpath, the Bruce Trail.
The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry is responsible for administering the Niagara Escarpment Planning and Development Act, while the Niagara Escarpment Commission is tasked with implementing the Niagara Escarpment Plan.
But the Escarpment is increasingly under threat without the conservation efforts that are needed, experts say, because Ford’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry provides insufficient financial and staffing resources to the Commission to ensure that the Plan is effectively implemented.
A frustrated Ontario public looks at the organizational chart of Canada’s political power structure and sees at its top line a prime minister who to their dismay is far from an apex predator in Ford Nation territory.
In fact, PM Justin Trudeau displays an almost creepy respect/tolerance/deference for the Muskoka Malefactor that is off-putting among centre-progressives.
But while the federal Liberals play hands off on the Ford dystopia, an aggressive Provincial Auditor, Bonnie Lysyk, writes thousand-page audits slamming the current regime that receive minimal traction in the media.
Said Lysyk: “Among our principal conclusions, we found that the (Niagara Escarpment) Commission no longer has a long-term strategic plan to fulfill the legislative mandate to conserve the Escarpment, nor are there sufficient performance measures and targets to evaluate whether the objectives of the Act and Plan are being achieved.”
Several major developments, some of which were approved under outdated environmental standards over 40 years ago, pose a major threat to prime areas of the Niagara Escarpment in the Blue Mountains and Beaver Valley.
These developments include the 1,600-plus unit Castle Glen development near Collingwood:
- 300 hotel units
- 3 golf courses
- 2 resort village centres
- 54,000 sq. ft. of retail commercial space
- upgrade on the slopes of the former Talisman ski resort in the Beaver Valley, about 100 miles northwest of Toronto.
The Commission has approved almost all development permit applications in the last five years of Ford, while the Ministry has lowered the Plan’s protections for endangered species, reported Lysyk in her current audit.
Ford has invaded along two salients or bulges of the Greenbelt/Escarpment:
- Ford, blasting the controversial Hwy. 413/Bradford Bypass through the vegetable patch even though an option existed to mitigate its environmental impact, stunned environmental groups by choosing a route across the headwaters of the Humber River and through the Nashville Conservation Reserve, the last contiguous Greenbelt forest in Vaughan;
- A series of development approvals involving anything from gravel mining to golf resorts running along the Niagara Escarpment from Owen Sound to The Falls.
Seventeen of the 54 concrete aggregate operations on the Escarpment are licensed for unlimited tonnage; there is no restriction on the amount of material that can be mined each year.
The Ministry has only inspected 14 (or 26%) out of 54 of the active extraction sites within the Plan Area in the last five years and two of these sites failed the inspection due to non-compliance with progressive rehabilitation requirements.
During the Plan Review in 2017, the Commission recommended to the Ministry that new aggregate operations be prohibited within the Plan Area, but the Ministry did not change the Plan.
The Auditor looked at a sample of 45 development permit applications submitted in 2020/21 for activities along the entire length of the Escarpment:
“For these applications, planners identified 27 (or 73%) as potentially having endangered species present.”
However, none of these cases resulted in the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks issuing a permit or other type of authorization under the Endangered Species Act, 2007.
The Commission has also had to scale back education and outreach activities, curtailing efforts to help the public take part in conservation efforts.
“As Southern Ontario’s population grows, and demand for more homes and recreation areas increases, threats to the Escarpment will rise,” Lysyk said.
Ontarians know that before he became premier in June 2018, Ford offered up in the strongest possible terms that he would not remove any land from the Greenbelt.
“There have been a lot of voices saying that they don’t want to touch the Greenbelt,” Ford said, pre-election. “I govern through the people, I don’t govern through government. The people have spoken – we won’t touch the Greenbelt.”
Once elected, the serial liar cut the mic on green initiatives, slow-playing a wide-ranging dismantling of environmental regulations across Ontario’s million square kilometres, benefiting from a wide berth carved out for him by his libertarian allies in the MSM conglomerate.
With little consultation and no mention during the last provincial election campaign of a pending attack on the Greenbelt, the agri-food sector and municipal governments, controversial Bill 23 is the most narrow-minded and misguided initiative in Ontario’s history.
The Ford government in Ontario has waged a gradual, persistent assault on agencies that protect the environment and the powers of elected municipalities to decide on local development. Ministers are free to override municipal bylaws.
Auditor Lysyk found development permit applications were rarely refused, even when counter to the Niagara Escarpment Plan. For example, in 2019, Commissioners approved an application for importing 20,000 square metres of earth, sand and gravel to level a field to establish a vineyard, though the Plan directs that only topsoil can be accepted for this activity.
“There is no environmental monitoring because there are no staff, resources or programs to assess the state of the Escarpment. Moreover, reports of possible violations have significantly increased over the last five years,” said Lysyk.
Lack of timeliness in the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry’s appointment process has negatively impacted the functioning of the Commission, especially with respect to at-large members, said Lysyk:
- Commissioners do not provide a balanced representation of regions and interests;
- Orientation and ongoing training for Commissioners needs improvement, including enhanced training for chairs;
- Conflict-of-interest disclosure processes need to be strengthened…
…all things anathema to a Doug Ford scheme.
The Cons have long been a haven for ideologues and extremists with no interest in competent government, a nihilistic attitude embodied in Doug Ford.
An unaccountable minister in Queen’s Park can override municipal bylaws and planning without explanation or recourse to appeal.
Ford issued 44 Minister’s Zoning Orders between March 2019 and March 2021, (the previous rate was one per year), ostensibly as favours, as 39% of MZOs went to seven select developers.
The MZOs on steroids approach has more to do with deliberately concentrating more wealth in fewer and fewer hands than it does making housing affordable.
He is terrorizing all the right targets (women/disabled/poor) while he keeps blowing up the province in new and creative ways.
In Trump style, Ford appointed a Greenbelt opponent to the Greenbelt Council, Harris-era PC MPP Norm Sterling.
Conservative David Crombie, former Toronto mayor, quit the Greenbelt Council over reckless Ford environmental policies.
Working for his developer friends, Ford used Covid legislation to ram through MZO riders later revoked when found “unreasonable and unlawful” by an Ontario Superior Court judge in Greenpeace v. Ontario (Min. of Environment) in Sept 2021.
Ford’s Bill 197, the over-ambitiously titled COVID-19 Economic Recovery Act, used the premise of economic growth to tear up environmental protections and prevent Ontarians from having a say on major projects. It was bad statute construction: first, it freed up an expansion in MZO use; second, the devious premier failed to post the changes for public comment until after his moves became law.
Said the Court ruling in Greenpeace: “These are amendments that manifestly could have a significant impact on the environment, and there is nothing in the record to support the reasonableness of the decision not to post.”
Ontarians have every right to expect the Province to take stronger steps to conserve the Escarpment’s unique environment.
Forced to watch Doug Ford moored atop a grotesque tower of power for the past four-plus years, a majority of Ontarians can justifiably argue that “Ford Nation” is morally corrupt and deeply unethical, a fictional construct lacking in both common decency and humanity.
Sadly, we live in the Age of Imbecility, where assembling a quorum of sane voters to discuss talking points involving the Muskoka Misanthrope is a daunting task with no satisfying endgame.
Ford has somehow applied a sleeper hold on about a third of adult Ontarians, while weak-willed and compromised pundits strangely cover for the premier. Bought-and-sold media influencers stand by, afflicted by a paralysis almost as novel as Covid-19 itself, condoning Ford’s appallingly inept regime, dripping in dishonesty, a Canadian version of America’s Everything Trump Touches Dies.