Major Conflicts Over Land Use Planning Threaten Lake Ontario

In Memory of Alicja Rozanska.

From John Bacher:

John and Danny at Climate Change Rally Queens Park photo by Shirley Gibson. Page: Land Use Conflicts in Canada.The health of the great lake of Ontario, which is a Seneca translation of the words Beautiful Clear Lake, is one of the significant issues facing the province for which it is named. In the watershed of the Great Lakes live most of Ontario’s people. The health of the Great Lakes and its tributaries are threatened by the curses of urban sprawl and expressways.

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I am aware of these as an environmental insider, who was involved in important but obscure issues. One was an attempt to transform the quiet farming village of Smithville, in the Township of West Lincoln, into a medium sized suburban city for Hamilton commuters.

The current planning tool kit used by the government is not that different from those used by previous governments. But what has changed is the purpose of the interventions. During the past decade, before its formation, provincial interventions were made to contain sprawl driven by municipal government. Now they are done to intimidate their critics.

This, I see in the current battle over Smithville’s expansion from a village servicing the agricultural industry of 6,000 people to a small city of 30,000.

Threats of provincial intervention in the planning process to justify urban expansion are currently being used to intimidate the councils of the City of Hamilton and Halton Region, which have properly rejected pressures to expand their urban boundaries.

Interventions by the province were used in the past, but for different reasons. One of the strongest uses of the Ministerial Zoning Orders (MZOs) for instance, was done by the government of Dalton McGinty, when first elected, to provide interim controls before the Greenbelt Plan could be finalized.

One of my most exciting moments with the Preservation of Agricultural Lands Society (PALS), was during the period when the Niagara Region passed an amendment to its official plan which was in effect — a notwithstanding clause to the Provincial Growth Plan. This was needed to permit plans for Smithville at that time to expand to a small city. With considerable drama I filed on behalf of PALS, an objection to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) (now LPAT, Local Planning Appeals Tribunal).

For six weeks it was very tense at PALS. We were terrified that although clear, that the notwithstanding text of the region was nonsensical. And that although only one councilor supported us, that we would have to face an OMB hearing alone. Then we discovered to our relief that the province had appealed the amendment. Through the environmental researcher Karl Polanyi, I learned that attempts were made to pressure the NDP to support urban expansion, however, they resisted this temptation and backed the Liberal government.

The OMB process for Smithville stretched out for four years, but the only task we had to do was observe and applaud. This victory also greatly assisted PALS in a later OMB victory concerning a proposed urban expansion in Northwest Niagara Falls in the headwaters of the Ten Mile Creek. It, like the Smithville expansion, is now being debated at the Niagara Regional Council.

While in the past, municipalities deviously dreamt up notwithstanding clauses to evade the Growth Plan to justify sprawl, now, the provincial government is misinterpreting the plan to pressure municipalities to agree to them. The basic origins of the Growth Plan were to impose tougher planning restrictions in the Western Lake Ontario region (often called the Greater Golden Horseshoe) than those permitted by the Provincial Policy Statement (PPS). The government is now perversely using it to intimidate municipalities with appeals of council decisions which restrict sprawl to LPAT. This has been done directly to Halton Region and Hamilton.

Attempts to turn Smithville from a farming-based village to Hamilton city suburb represent the utmost folly of bad land use planning at a time of global crisis around climate change. Smithville, surrounded by Class One and Two Agricultural Land, is totally automotive dependent, lacking any public transit. The Twenty Mile Creek which flows through the town is highly vulnerable to climate change. During the summer months, when rainfall is low, life clings to disconnected pools in a predominately dry Creek bed.

The government rhetorically claims to champion housing in its battles with Hamilton. However, the lands in dispute here are potential shopping centers, situated around the Hamilton airport. This area is an important groundwater recharge area serving as the headwaters for both the Twenty Mile Creek and Welland River.

The Class One Lands Halton region is fighting with the province over, would if developed, be part of the automotive dependent urban sprawl facilitated by an expressway the former Liberal government rejected, Highway 413. The toxic spray of salt and chemicals from the highway would be a death knell for efforts to restore a key indicator species for Lake Ontario, the Atlantic Salmon. It is recovering in the Credit River, threatened by the 413 and urban sprawl.

The federal government has the determination to impose a Federal Environmental Assessment on Highway 413, whose basic aim is to facilitate urban sprawl in York, Halton, and Peel regions. This has Canada’s best remaining Class One and Two Agricultural land. It also has areas of limited but important forest cover.

One of the reasons the 413 was rejected by the government in the past was that the construction of the road would negatively impact the habitat of a critical species to measure ecosystem health: the cold-water dependent Brook Trout. To educate the public, the Credit River Conservation Authority has signs all over obscure, but environmentally significant streams, such as Black Creek, to point out that they are wild trout and salmon rivers.

But the current course being taken by the provincial government should be properly understood as a threat to Lake Ontario. To protect the beautiful clear lake and the species that depend on it should be a high priority for the environmental movement in the four years ahead.

From Danny Beaton

Are we protecting our Great Lakes the way we should, after all the years of knowing what is happening through the media and environmental programs like the Nature of Things featuring David Suzuki? Haven”t we seen or heard enough about world disasters to know that climate change is out of control? Indigenous people have been telling the world that we are out of balance for hundreds of years.

If you ever wonder why some people choose not to vote, maybe it is because they have seen enough broken promises and nothing is ever done to protect the environment. But the elders say that once Mother Earth is polluted so badly that the rivers are like mud and that the air is poisonous so we cannot breathe — we will suffer the consequences and our children will ask us what did we do when there was still hope?

The old elders have been saying we are running out of time, but why aren’t the political leaders listening and making the changes that can be made. Cutting back on the oil industry would be something to start with for our children’s future.

Our old elders keep giving warnings and messages that were passed onto them from their elders; messages that were passed on over and over that Our Sacred Mother Earth is being destroyed. But like Audrey Shenandoah, Onondaga Clan Mother would say when she was alive, we have to keep giving the message over and over again until it sinks in because there is nothing more important than our children’s future. If we listen to Chief Oren Lyons of the great Onondaga Nation, he will tell you we are the voice for the wolf; we are the voice for the fish; we are the voice for our rivers; we are the voice for all life on this sacred Mother Earth.

Human Beings have a sacred duty to speak out for life and justice just like our ancestors did. The Six Nations Haudenosaunee know what is happening around their territory, as do the Cree and Ojibway Nations who are watching the death unfold.

If we study our past leader Vine Deloria, he says that what is happening is a clash of cultures. Vine was a Lakota elder who could see what was happening to his people and Mother Earth. Everything that was said at the Earth Summit’s has been passed on from the Indigenous Peoples of the world but the still blind political leaders keep pushing pipe lines and mega projects on Indigenous Territories that have no roads in but someone still thinks they have a right to build on others’ homeland.

Lawyers and developers are moving as fast as they can to pave the way into nature at any cost to fish life, insects, and birds. And the bears, moose, rabbits, turtles, snakes and frogs have no rights or say to concrete or deforestation.

The death of our Great Lakes is the saddest crime of them all, especially since we in Canada and USA have the responsibility to protect it for our children’s future! People don’t vote because they are losing hope with the action of so-called leaders fighting for Mother Earth even when there are environmental refugees around the world. What will your children say when it’s too late for Mother Earth’s body and she cannot no longer take care of us due to the devastation that the old elders warned us about in their messages?

I have heard the messages from our old elders my whole adult life now and I hope that some will take spiritual action with their life for all life species! If anyone has any ideas and strategy to bring this message to politicians and bankers, it needs to happen now.

Photo Credit: John and Danny at Climate Change Rally Queens Park photo by Shirley Gibson. Article on archived site.