Attacking nature makes us less safe
Despite province-wide opposition, the Ford government has again defied your Environmental Bill of Rights, and used a Budget Bill to gut crucial environmental protections.
Sneaking an attack on conservation authorities into a Budget Bill is undemocratic. It cuts another hole through your Environmental Bill of Rights, short circuits public consultation, and prevents MPPs from properly examining government action. And because the Ford government abolished my office last year as the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, there is no longer an independent guardian of your Environmental Bill of Rights to protest.
No wonder they wanted to silence me.
What was in this sneak attack? What was so important that the Ford government had to ram it through before Christmas, during a pandemic, without allowing the public enough time and information to comment? Hamstringing conservation authorities so that they can no longer do their job: preventing powerful developers from filling in and paving over the precious natural areas that protect us all from flooding.
As Commissioner, I reported to the Ontario Legislature (pdf) in my last environmental protection report on why we need woodlands and wetlands. We need them to keep the air and water clean, to keep birds and fish alive, and to reduce flooding, plus they provide beautiful places for healthy activity outside. Woodlands and wetlands are precious and irreplaceable; once they’re damaged or gone, we rarely get them back. Who protects woodlands and wetlands (and people) against the rampant greed of rich donors to the Conservative Party? Our conservation authorities. Why did conservation authorities have this power? Because Ontarians said: “Never again!” after the enormous destruction of Hurricane Hazel in 1954.
But now the Ford government is tying the conservation authorities’ hands so that their cronies can pocket short-term profits by turning wetlands into stores, parking lots and sprawl. Who will suffer the consequences, as the climate crisis worsens floods? All the rest of us.
This makes no sense. It’s short-sighted thinking to make the rich richer, but our province, people and nature poorer and more vulnerable. Instead of using the Budget to help developers, why didn’t the Ford government help people, schools, charities, small businesses, public transit and the arts survive the pandemic?
We need to keep the pressure up.