In a crucial time, when the land use planning policies he, himself, helped forge under three different parties, over 25 years, are under attack by the newly elected government of Premier Doug Ford, veteran land use planner, Victor Doyle, won a major victory. This victory may prove to play a significant role in helping fight an assault on fragile Southern ecosystems; ecosystems that are imperiled from a proposed loosening of land use planning regulations, a major topic in the “Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Stakeholders Forum,” held at the MacDonald Block on November 8, 2018.
On October 27th, 2018, the Public Service Grievance Board of Ontario, ruled in Doyle’s favour with regards to a grievance he had filed response to his demotion. This demotion had Doyle go from effectively directing land use planning in Ontario to studying cars of the distant future. The Grievance Board ruled that that this action by the provincial government was a breach of “duty of procedural fairness.”
Doyle spoke to the Globe and Mail in May 2017, when the Cabinet, responding to what were found to be inaccurate claims by developers, was debating land use policy changes. Developers’ apologists claimed that the province’s policies were creating a residential land shortage and driving up housing prices. Such rhetoric, though at odds with the truth, was building up pressure to gut land use planning controls. Doyle responded to these claims with a various documented research showing there was, rather, an oversupply of such lands. He warned the province that to appease developers was risking “unsustainable sprawl, congestion and skyrocketing infrastructure costs.”
In the end the Cabinet did not back down, and Doyle was punished for speaking out. He was then reassigned in a manner to reduce his influence on the public service. Doyle was placed, alone, on a floor in the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing (MMAH) Bay Street building, and was denied access to normal digital information sources available to public servants. No other Ministry employees were given offices on his floor. Several months before his scheduled retirement, he was told to confine his duties to research driverless cars.
Part of the reason for Doyle’s influence and effectiveness is that he would work closely with respected native elders, notably the Mohawk of the Turtle Clan, Danny Beaton, with whom he met in a Toronto gym. Beaton gave him sacred teachings on natural law, such as the need to respect water from the abuses of the earth. One such meeting followed Beaton’s shocking encounter with a cruel slashing of an old growth forest at French’s Hill. The French’s Hill forest of great Sugar Maples stands atop an aquifer containing the world’s purest water. Following Beaton’s encounter with this destruction, Doyle lectured Simcoe County officials over their disruption of the sacredness of the natural world.
Author Dr. John Bacher and Mohawk Elder Danny Beaton at Waverley Uplands clear-cut. Sept 2015
Working with Beaton, Doyle emerged as the guardian of what the Mohawk elder called the Peacemaker’s World. Doyle stood up to powerful corporations such as the Geranium, and its plans to dangerously ring the Minesing Wetlands with 10,000 new homes in Midhurst. This threatens to unleash a flood of polluted storm water onto a wetland which is a refuge for rare wild species. These include Hine’s Emerald Dragonfly, the Sturgeon, the Trumpeter Swan, Sandhill Crane, Bald Eagle, and several turtle species, now all designated as species at risk.
Doyle’s warnings of an assault on threatened wildlife from sprawl are especially relevant in the context of the consultation now underway on the Growth Plan. At the MacDonald Block Forum, a disturbing proposal was made by developers’ agents. This was that a large area of Class One and Two farmland between the Green Belt and the urban zoning boundary of Greater Toronto be re-designated. All references to agricultural value would be swept away and the area would be rewritten under the Growth Plan as an “Urban Reserve.”
Doyle’s warnings to the press sounded an alarm against the proposed rapid urbanization of what planners call the White Belt. Doyle warned that water quality in streams in this area was at risk of contamination, endangering local wildlife such as fish, turtles and frogs.
What makes Doyle’s courage in standing up so heartening today is the way that the Forum was designed. The facilitator’s manner of action can be likened to an auctioneer at a fire sale of land use planning policies, rather than part of the public service. She indicated that all of the facilitators were members of the Ontario Public Service, OPS. There were at least 23 such OPS facilitators in the room.
Mohawk Elder Danny Beaton: the scale of the original maples at Waverley Uplands, Apr 2015.
Considering the eco-cidal reputation of Sir John A. MacDonald it was appropriate that the Growth Plan consultation should be held in government building named for him. The worst of the formal government proposals actually had nothing to do with the Growth Plan; rather with the proposed abolition of the requirement in the Provincial Policy Statement (PPS) under the Planning Act that urban boundary expansions only be permitted every five years under a comprehensive municipal review.
The whole premise of the Forum was residential land shortages that were previously disproven by Doyle. The ten-second pleas to the Minister of MMAH had little to do with the Growth Plan. One plea was to abolish the Niagara Escarpment Commission, a backbone of the Greenbelt. Another was to abolish the Local Planning Appeals Tribunal. Thrown into the mess was a call to approve wetland offsetting, which could open up destruction of some of the most important habitats for vanishing wildlife species in southern Ontario.
Unironically, the unfortunate Growth Plan Forum occurred in a building named after a Prime Minister who arrested and hanged Cree chiefs and elders. However, this should be a warming signal to those in the OPS who care about ecosystems and wildlife threatened by sprawl. Let us hope that more follow’s Doyle path and work with native spiritual leaders and speak out in defense of Mother Earth.
Original article was written by Dr. John Bacher, Chair and Greenbelt Campaign leader at Sierra Club Ontario. Check out his site here.