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Province refuses to kill controversial legislation in wake of Greenbelt Council resignations

The Ford government didn't backtrack on plans to push forward controversial legislation and instead announced funding for wetlands on Monday morning, despite seven members of Ontario's Greenbelt Council resigning in protest over the weekend.

David Crombie, 6 other council members resigned in protest

Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark answers questions after a funding announcement on Monday. Clark responded to the high-profile resignations of the Greenbelt Council over the weekend, saying he wanted to work with those who quit but they offered no plan to expand Ontario's Greenbelt. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

The Ford government didn't backtrack on plans to push forward controversial legislation and instead announced funding for wetlands on Monday morning, despite seven members of Ontario's Greenbelt Council resigning in protest over the weekend.

David Crombie, the former chair of the council, warned that if the province didn't change its plans, which he said will gut environmental protections in the province, "they're going to find a battle on their hands."

So far, the government shows no sign of changing direction and the legislation could soon be passed into law.

Speaking in an interview with CBC Radio's Metro Morning, Crombie explained that at issue is something called Schedule 6 — a small part of the government's omnibus COVID-19 recovery bill, Bill 229. 

Critics, including Crombie, warn it would strip power from local conservation authorities and expand ministerial authority on zoning and other potentially sensitive environmental issues.

Premier Doug Ford's government has vowed, repeatedly, to not allow development in the Greenbelt — a permanently protected area of green space that surrounds the Golden Horseshoe area.

Crombie says he believes if the government compromises those natural systems, it will find itself "less and less" able to deal with natural forces, something that will cost the economy. 

Here's how this story developed over the weekend.

What's at stake for environmental protections if Ontario government passes budget bill

12 months ago
6:01
Former federal cabinet minister and Toronto mayor David Crombie has resigned as head of Ontario's Greenbelt Council in protest over the omnibus budget bill that he says would strip power from local conservation authorities. 6:01

Amendment does not apply to the Greenbelt: Clark

At a news conference on Monday morning Steve Clark, the minister of municipal affairs and housing, announced a $30 million investment to create and restore wetlands across Ontario.

When asked if the announcement was in response to the resignations Clark responded there has been an ongoing conversation about protecting the province's wetlands.

Clark also says that he wanted to work with the council members who quit but they offered no plan to expand Ontario's Greenbelt.

Clark thanked those who resigned for their service, and said he looks "forward to new perspectives on the council."

"For a while we've been in discussions with the council on my desire to expand the quality and quantity of the greenbelt ... but unfortunately, time and time again, the council failed to propose a strategy to help us achieve this," Clark said. 

Clark insisted that every time a municipality has asked his government to open up the greenbelt "we've given them one simple answer: 'No.'"

Clark clarified that the amendment to Bill 229, which enhances the Minister's Zoning Order (MZO) doesn't apply to the greenbelt.

"The MZOs we have been making on non-greenbelt land have been at the request of local municipalities," Clark said, adding the expansion of the authorities have added 26,000 jobs, 3,700 long-term-care beds and affordable homes.

Clark went on to say although local conservation authorities will still be "obligated" to issue permits for the developments, the province would require the projects "lead to enhancements to the natural environment." 

"The conservation authorities can attach any conditions to these permits that they feel are needed to enhance the environment based on science, but again this does not apply to the greenbelt," he said. 

Amendment 'puts lives at risk': opposition

Following Clark's news conference, Peter Tabuns, the Ontario NDP critic for energy and climate crisis, lashed out at the minister, describing his defence of Schedule 6 as "simply hot air."

"[The amendment] undermines environmental protections and, with its attacks on flood control, puts lives at risk," Tabuns said.  

Tabuns said only two groups will be happy by passage of the schedule:

"Developers and speculators who think they can get cheap land and get it rezoned with far less difficulty in the future" and Ford and his cabinet. 

"The premier still has time to do the right thing," Tabuns added, urging Ford to cut Schedule 6 from the broader legislation.

"If he doesn't do it, people will understand fully the depth of his commitment to attacking the environment," Tabuns said.

With files from Metro Morning, The Canadian Press

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