Kitchener-Waterloo

Why Waterloo's Kevin Eby resigned from the Ontario Greenbelt Council

Local planning consultant Kevin Eby says he quit Ontario's Greenbelt Council out of concern for the direction of conservation in the province.

Eby was 1 of 7 including chair, who quit the Greenbelt Council this weekend

The Greenbelt is a swath of protected wetland, forest and farmland that surround the GTHA, moving north to the Bruce Peninsula. Six members of Ontario's Greenbelt Council plus the chair resigned this past weekend. (Friends of the Greenbelt)

Kevin Eby, a former member of Ontario's Greenbelt Council says he resigned, along with six others, over concerns about the direction of environmental and conservation policy in the province.

"I think there's a number of issues that have coalesced over the last while that really led a lot of the members on the council to step back and take a look about their continued participation," said Eby, a planning consultant and the former director of community planning for the Region of Waterloo.

"I think the main reason that I was concerned revolves around the proposals in Bill 229, and the significant impact those changes will have on the conservation authorities, at a time when we need their expertise in integrated watershed planning and environmental management the most."

The budget bill, tabled by Ford's Progressive Conservative government in November, also contains a number of amendments, including changes to the province's Conservation Act, which would scale back the power of Ontario's 36 conservation authorities and expand ministerial power over zoning.

Eby brought up both concerns in his resignation letter Saturday directed to Steve Clark, the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing.

Watershed planning, Eby said, is particularly important to him going forward. He said he believes conservation authorities' expertise in that area is essential for Ontario's future.

"Conservation authorities have played a key role in that for over a half century. What happens in municipality 'A' upstream has potentially a huge impact on municipality 'B' way downstream," he said. 

"And we're now facing unprecedented growth throughout the Greater Golden Horseshoe, and we're also staring down the barrel of climate change — both of which require us to look bigger, not smaller," he added. "The idea that the role of the conservation authorities in watershed planning would be significantly reduced, just quite frankly to me, does not make any sense whatsoever."

In an interview with CBC Kitchener-Waterloo, Minister Clark thanked Eby for his service on the council, and wished him well. He said that he was looking forward to working with new members of the council.

"I'm going to turn the page. I've spoken to all the remaining Greenbelt Council members, and they all want to stay on. I've also had some conversations, preliminarily, with some people who are showing an interest in the Greenbelt Council," he said. "The new Greenbelt Council, the Greenbelt Foundation and I will work in the weeks and months ahead on a plan that will increase the Greenbelt, as noted in our 2020 budget."

Too many minister's zoning orders

Eby added another concern is the increased use of minister's zoning orders (MZOs), which effectively allow the minister to fast track developments.

But Clark says even with the amendments proposed in Bill 229, there are still checks and balances on minister's zoning orders. 

"The conservation authorities can attach any condition to the permit they feel they need, based on science, to enhance the environment," Clark said.

But Eby says the government, in using the zoning orders, can effectively bypass local consultation and decision making in too many cases. Since 2019, the government has issued more than 30. 

"Those types of numbers, really, you're changing the way development is occurring in Ontario. And you're circumventing to a great extent the ability of the public to participate in the process, to ensure that the outcome of the process doesn't negatively impact them, and to have a say of how the community is going to develop over time," he said.

Despite the government's move to quickly fill the vacant seats on the Greenbelt Council, Eby says he's going to continue speaking up.

"It's not our intent to go quietly into the sunset by any means," he said.

With files from Richard Raycraft

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