No Green Recovery
The Ford government has navigated Covid as well as or better than many – but at the same time, it has also escalated its pro-development agenda.
In 2018, less than six months after Doug Ford’s Conservatives came to power, his government introduced Bill 66, the Restoring Ontario’s Competitiveness Act. Its provisions would have allowed municipalities to seek provincial permission to pass “open-for-business” bylaws, bypassing sections of the Clean Water Act and the Great Lakes Protection Act, and opening portions of the Greenbelt for development. A tempest of protest ensued, and the government retreated, insisting it had all been a misunderstanding and declaring its unequivocal commitment to protecting the Greenbelt.
But the move put people who care about protecting Ontario’s drinking water, farmland, wetlands, woodlands, wildlife – you name it – on high alert. With good reason. Not long after Bill 66 was introduced, among other moves, the Ford government eliminated the office of the environmental commissioner (duties transferred to the auditor general), cancelled the 50 Million Tree Program (saving itself less than $4.7 million annually even as it proposed spending up to $1 billion to expedite beer sales in corner stores), and introduced the More Homes, More Choice Act (vastly compromising protection of endangered species).
And then came Covid.
No thoughtful person could envy politicians of any stripe the task of responding to the pandemic. And, kudos where due, the Ford government has navigated Covid, with all its tragedy and uncertainty, as well as or better than many. Among other things, it has regularly rolled out millions in assistance to businesses, social services and cultural organizations to the considerable benefit of many of them here in Headwaters (though the reckoning related to the horrors in long-term care homes here and across the province is still to come).
But at the same time, in the name of Covid recovery, the government has escalated its pro-development agenda and its assault on environmental protections. In the past year, along with resurrecting the rightly moribund Highway 413 across the Peel Plain in Caledon, its revisions to provincial growth targets will more than triple the town’s population to 300,000 by 2051, effectively locating a city the size of Barrie along the highway in Caledon’s south end.
Most recently, perhaps most cynically, as Nicola Ross reports in this issue, buried in the government’s so-called Protect, Support and Recover from Covid-19 budget bill, was a provision that will grievously undermine the province’s conservation authorities and their essential role in providing the vital, science-based knowledge required to protect our watersheds. This time, unlike Bill 66, an emboldened government brazened out massive public opposition and passed the bill.
In the days of Covid, around the world, the skies grew silent of jets, highway congestion vanished, waterways ran clear, the smog lifted – and suddenly it was possible to imagine a different kind of world. It was hard not to be hopeful that in resetting the economy, we might also reset our troubled and intimate relationship with the natural world. Indeed, in many cities and countries, there is an exciting effort to forge a green recovery. Not in Ontario.