Ontario Update: Ontario Government Launches So-Called “Smart Growth” Initiative

Ontario Update: Ontario Government Launches So-Called “Smart Growth” Initiative

by Linda Pim, Federation of Ontario Naturalists

Ontario environmental activists — working on everything from air pollution, traffic gridlock, and water pollution to aquatic habitats, woodland conservation, and community planning — will have an interest in what the Mike Harris government is calling “smart growth.” Some of us think that the government seems to be misappropriating a term that has been quite well-defined in the United States (see Ontario Update, March-April 2001). In short, it seems that Ontario’s version has a lot of growth and not a lot of smarts.

In the spring, the Ontario government launched a new website (www.smartgrowth.gov.on.ca) and started province-wide consultations. The initial slate of by-invitation-only meetings took their smart-growth task force to 17 cities around Ontario’s Great Lakes basin from Thunder Bay, Sault Ste. Marie, and Sudbury south to Kingston, Barrie, the Greater Toronto Area, London, and Windsor. It is hoped and expected that the consultations will be opened up to the broader community over the summer and autumn.

Ontario activists want to make sure that the government is clear on a number of key smart-growth concerns:

  • Ontario’s land use planning rules must be tightened up to curb urban sprawl. While the government’s smart-growth website speaks to the need to protect green spaces, nowhere are the words ‘urban sprawl’ uttered.
  • The provincial government must reverse its abandonment of mass transit funding. Ontario cities are the only ones in North America that get no financial help for their bus, light rail, and subway systems from senior levels of government (provincial or federal).
  • There are no provincial financial incentives to curb sprawl and promote truly smart growth, while massive funding is available for highway expansion, and tax breaks are granted to purchasers of new homes in sprawl areas.

One feature of Ontario’s smart growth effort that came as a complete surprise was that on May 17, 2001 the province put a six-month freeze on approval of urban development applications on the Oak Ridges Moraine, the 160-kilometre-long (100-mile-long) ridge in south-central Ontario that contains the headwaters of 65 rivers and streams flowing into Lakes Ontario and Huron. The freeze garnered all-party support in a vote in the Legislature and was effective instantly. Before it expires on November 17, 2001, the government says it is going to develop an action plan for protecting the Moraine. The Federation of Ontario Naturalists (FON), Save the Oak Ridges Moraine (STORM) Coalition and other NGOs hope to play a pivotal role in helping the government prepare a land use plan to save this critically important headwaters area.

For updates on smart growth and the Oak Ridges Moraine, please check out the FON’s website at www.ontarionature.org and STORM Coalition’s website at www.stormco.org.



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