Since the last issue of GLAHNews (Spring 2004), the new Ontario government has continued to move forward on a number of promising environmental initiatives described in the previous issue (page 13). Here we provide an update on some of those initiatives.
Watershed Planning: The provincial government’s white paper on drinking water source protection emphasizes land use planning on a watershed basis as the first barrier in a multibarrier approach to delivering safe drinking water across Ontario. Consultations on the white paper took place in the early spring, and there are indications that the white paper will lead to the introduction, possibly as soon as the autumn of this year, of special drinking water source protection legislation.
Golden Horseshoe Greenbelt: At press time, the government is about to go out for consultation on a draft discussion document from its multi-stakeholder Greenbelt Task Force, on which Ontario Nature has held a seat. The government plans to create a greenbelt in the Golden Horseshoe – the area from Niagara Falls around the western end of Lake Ontario and across the Greater Toronto Area. All indications are that the greenbelt will include the Niagara Escarpment Plan Area and the Oak Ridges Moraine Area, both already protected by special provincial legislation, as well as at least an additional 600,000 acres. Through which legislative mechanism the newly protected areas will be saved from urban development is unclear at present. The Greenbelt Protection Act, likely to have been passed into law by the time this newsletter is published, freezes urban boundary expansions in the Greenbelt Study Area until the end of 2004, when the Greenbelt Plan is expected to be finalized.
Central Ontario Growth Management Plan: Concurrent with the greenbelt initiative is a proposed growth management plan for the “Greater Golden Horseshoe” – the area including and beyond the Golden Horseshoe (described above) that is the economic engine of Ontario. This plan will flow from the April 2003 recommendations of the previous provincial government’s Central Ontario Smart Growth Panel. It is hoped that this plan will serve as an environment-first template for smarter land use planning throughout Ontario.
With a whopping deficit inherited from the previous regime, the new provincial government is finding the need to delay some of its election promises. One such delay relates to allowing municipalities to take two cents per litre of the provincial gasoline tax, from gasoline sold in their municipalities, to direct towards public transit. More public transit can translate to less urban sprawl that ultimately leads to the protection of more natural habitats in the countryside.
In addition, we have not yet seen enough indication that the new government is prepared to put a halt to the planning of a long list of new provincial highways, most of them in the Golden Horseshoe, proposed by the previous government. Ontario Nature has long proposed a freeze on the planning of these “400-series” highways and highway extensions until the Province creates a “smart” transportation strategy that integrates all types of transportation (road, rail, air and marine) with urban planning, giving primacy to public transit, in order to curb urban sprawl. We also need a comprehensive overhaul of the Planning Act to make it greener, and the passage of a greener and less sprawl-inducing Provincial Policy Statement (PPS) under the Planning Act. The amendments to the Act announced last December (Bill 26) are good, but don’t go nearly far enough. A draft new PPS is expected to be released for public consultation later this spring.
All these provincial initiatives are keeping local grassroots groups and province-wide conservation organizations busy preparing submissions to and attending meetings with the government. Useful websites for keeping up to date include the Canadian Environmental Law Association (www.cela.ca) on drinking water source protection and commercial water-taking; the Ontario Greenbelt Alliance (www.Greenbelt.ca) on the Golden Horseshoe Greenbelt; the Ontario Smart Growth Network (www.greenontario. org/smartgrowth) and the Ontario Smart Growth Secretariat (www.smartgrowth. gov.on.ca) for updates on NGO and government smart growth initiatives (respectively); the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing on the amendments to the Planning Act and on a draft new Provincial Policy Statement (www.mah.gov.on.ca); and on aspects of all these issues, plus creation of “greenways” for all of southern Ontario, Ontario Nature – Federation of Ontario Naturalists (www.ontarionature.org).