The Ford Government's Greenbelt Council saw a total of seven resignations over the weekend in response to controversial changes set to be made to the Conservative Authorities Act.
The amendments described in Bill 229: An Act to implement Budget measures and to enact, amend and repeal various statutes constrict the role Ontario's conservation authorities have in development approval processes, which are in place to ensure natural habitats, land, and water are managed responsibly.
On December 5, now-former council chair David Crombie resigned from his position.
What followed was a stream of support from six other council members, as biologist Deborah Martin-Downs, planners Kevin Eby, Lynn Morrow, and Dr. Wayne Caldwell, developer Leith Moore, and city planner Dr. Pamela Blais all resigned from their roles as well.
Many of the past members shared their parting sentiments on social media.
"The government's proposals included in Schedule 6 of Bill 229 to curtail the powers and scope of Conservation Authorities activities are concerning. They would jeopardize the essential work CAs have done since the 1940s to protect our natural environment and water sources, and Ontarians from floods -- all of which is only more important in an era of climate change," Blais said in a letter posted to Twitter on Sunday.
"The proposals in Bill 229 and intemperate use of [Ministerial Zoning Orders] do not constitute solutions to underlying issues, but rather only aim to weaken or circumvent existing policies and processes."
Martin-Downs, Chief Administrative Officer of the Credit Valley Conservation Authority, said of the council's attempts to highlight the value of conservation authorities (and how they relate to the Greenbelt's well-being): "no one was listening."
Steve Clark, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing maintains the changes presented for conservation authorities present an opportunity for the province to lead Canada's economic recovery while simultaneously protecting the environment.
"I have been steadfast in my commitment to protect the Greenbelt for future generations," he said. "That's why the amendments to Bill 229 state very clearly that they do not apply to lands within the Greenbelt."
"Our government committed to expanding the quality of and quantity of the Greenbelt in our 2020 Budget. That’s why, the Minister committed to working collaboratively with the Council and asked for an action plan that would help to achieve that goal. Unfortunately, time and time again, the council failed to propose a strategy to help us achieve this," a spokesperson for the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing told Toronto Storeys.
"We look forward to new perspectives on the council so that we can work together to meet this important commitment. Our government believes that Ontario can lead Canada's economic recovery while continuing to protect our environment, public health and safety."
But a letter, written by the Conservative Chair of the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority's (TRCA) Board of Directors Jennifer Innis -- and shared online via Ajax mayor Shawn Collier -- counters that the impacts of Schedule 6 will be vast, regardless of whether or not they directly impact Greenbelt land.
"As a long-time supporter of the Conservative party, I am here to tell you the Province is trying to pass legislation which has the potential to endanger you, your property, and supporting infrastructure, through an unrelated budget bill. This is no time to sit on the sidelines," Innis wrote.
"The protection of the environment is a non-partisan issue as watershed, precipitation, and gravity do not recognize geographical boundaries or political parties. We should all be able to agree that making changes to environmental legislation through an unrelated budget bill, for the sole purpose of taking advantage of a loophole that allows the province to avoid appropriate consultation, understanding that this legislation will have irreversible impacts for future generations, is unacceptable political decorum."
To conclude, the letter implores "everyone reading" to contact Premier Ford and their local MPP "immediately" to request Schedule 6 is removed from Bill 229 in advance of the document's final vote this week.
"The messaging is clear," Innis wrote. "Ontario is open for business, no matter the cost."
Toronto Storeys reached out to Clark for comment but had not heard back by the time of publication.