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COLUMN: Bill 23 'threatens' environment, democratic process

'It's imperative to protect the few wild spaces we have left in southern Ontario,' writer says. 'Natural spaces the Ford administration is threatening were meant to be protected for all of us - today and into the future'
2020-10-08 ap
Writer worries more wetlands, like this one slated for development in Midland, will eventually be paved over. Andrew Philips/MidlandToday

At a time when democracies around the world are being increasingly threatened, Doug Ford’s bill 23 is our own homegrown example. His recent move to bypass the Canadian constitution in negotiations with education workers is evidence of this proclivity.

The premier is behaving as though he has a mandate to rule by decree. He does not. In fact he doesn't have what a reasonable person could see as any kind of a mandate at all.

For starters, the 2022 election set a record for the lowest voter turnout in any Ontario provincial election. Only 43.53% of the people who were eligible, voted. Of those who did vote only 40.8 percent chose Ford's party. Despite having a majority in the legislature that's far from having genuine popular support.

Consider the haste with which this omnibus bill is being rushed through the legislature. Your opportunity to comment and oppose Bill 23 is quickly coming to an end. The government has provided a short window for consultation, requiring municipalities and other stakeholders to submit comments on the legislation by November 24.

That's no accident. The premier doesn't want to allow citizens the chance to organize and really voice their opposition. Do you need more proof that Ford doesn't want to hear from you? The Association of Ontario Municipalities, the entity representing Ontario's 444 municipalities was DENIED the opportunity to speak to the provincial Standing Committee currently considering the Bill 23. Ask yourself, are these the actions of a politician with an unassailable mandate?

It fits a pattern though.

During the 2022 election, Mr Ford and his cabal of obedient candidates refused to participate in election debates. Good strategy if you can't defend your policies and are looking to duck uncomfortable questioning. If you don't say anything, you can't say anything wrong.

The pattern continues with the legislation itself. If passed, it will eliminate requirements to keep taxpayers informed of local planning decisions. That's right, your local municipal council will no longer have to bother telling you what they have planned for your neighbourhood. If by chance you catch wind of their decisions, Bill 23 eliminates your right to formally object.

The ability to appeal planning decisions is to be limited to developers! In fact, your municipality may not have even made those decisions you'd like to challenge. They may very well have been made by the minister of municipal affairs and housing, who will have the power to override municipal Official Plans.

Then there's Ford’s 2018 promise not to intrude into the Greenbelt. In May 2018, Ford said in a statement. “The people have spoken — we won’t touch the Greenbelt. Very simple. That’s it, the people have spoken. I’m going to listen to them. They don’t want me to touch the Greenbelt, we won’t touch the Greenbelt."

This further reinforces the pattern of misdirection and deception. Say one thing, do another - and don't give voters an opportunity to object.

These are just some of the negative impacts that Bill 23 will have on local democracy and community involvement. Some of the other provisions of the bill will have long-lasting affects on municipalities, downloading costs that we normally expect developers to pay, onto local ratepayers instead. The legislation will change how wetlands are evaluated and prevent decision-makers from considering environmental issues in planning decisions.

The legislation's most egregious effects are on environmental protections and endangered species. Much has been written about this and I can only reiterate what's already been said. David Hawke's fine columns 'Secret' changes within Bill 23 will prove lethal and Province's proposed Bill 23 is 'complete lunacy' do a far better job covering the situation than I ever could.

It's imperative to protect the few wild spaces we have left in southern Ontario. The natural spaces that the Ford administration is threatening were meant to be protected for all of us - today and into the future.

But as important as this battle is, it's even more important to win the battle for local democracy. If we fail to preserve our rights to meaningfully participate in and legitimately oppose government actions at the community level, we lose our ability to prevent further erosion of the natural environment and fail in our duty to future generations. We will lose our voice and our right to have a say in virtually anything the government of the day puts their hand to. Government MPPs have already given up the fight. None dare challenge the will of the premier. To do so is political suicide.

We need to let our elected representatives know that they are not beholden to an undemocratic party leader. They owe their allegiance to the people of the province of Ontario. They must hear our voices.

Robert Codd is an avid nature photographer who dabbles in writing. He currently serves as president of the Midland-Penetanguishene Field Naturalists and is on the board of directors for MTM Conservation Association, the folks who manage Tiny Marsh. He and his wife Susan moved to the Midland area in 2009 and wish they could have done so 20 years sooner.