“Wetlands are under attack!” is a line used in a TikTok video the writer of this article has made and posted to Environmental Soup’s YouTube. Today the same TikTok video could say “The Environment is under attack”. On any given day there is a new development on environmental rights granted through the Environmental Bill of Rights being ignored or news from the frontlines of more environmental destruction. If you attach breaking news music it would likely hold true within hours. Due to the changes in environmental law people have less to say about environmental issues.
Recently there was a demonstration against a development in Pickering Ontario.responding to a Minister’s Zoning Order (MZOs) which would allow the defeat of a provincially significant wetland and the forced approval by the Toronto Region and Conservation Authority (TRCA) as a result of Ontario Regulation 159/21 which happened on March 12, 2021. The TRCA issued a statement saying they would ordinarily reject the proposal based on scientific evidence and that there was a rushed meeting. There are a number of reasons wetlands are important, such as, flood mitigation, habitat, recreation, education, Indigenous culture, climate mitigation and more. Despite the benefits, the bombing campaign on significant wetlands continues. If MZOs were used today, past developments, including the Peterborough Parkway and arena developments, could have been catapulted on residents despite overwhelming evidence that these projects are not in the best interests of the City of Peterborough. Even controversial projects that were approved like the Cleantech Commons or Casino developments could have had greater environmental onslaughts. The reason is that the public is unable to provide input and the government is now exempt from providing notice on the Environmental Registry.
A further example of the attacks on environmental law comes from Bill 257, Supporting Broadband and Infrastructure Expansion Act, 2021, which is posted on the Environmental Registry until April 3. It says “Through Schedule 3 of Bill 257 (the proposed Bill 257, Supporting Broadband and Infrastructure Expansion Act, 2021) it is proposed to amend the Planning Act, so that a Minister’s zoning order would not have to be consistent with the Provincial Policy Statement.” and retroactively said that MZOs never had to apply to the provincial policy statement. The Provincial Policy Statement includes protections from development. Environmental Defence says in their statement that MZOs could be used to “fast-track development projects that destroy protected farmland, wetlands and natural features” that were protected by the Provincial Policy Statement. This includes a provincially significant wetland in Pickering. “Faced with this lawsuit [in regards to the use of MZOs],” wrote Environment Defence, “the government is changing the law retroactively to override our right to seek redress in the Courts.” It looks like counter campaigns from an army of citizens have caused damage to the development, as Amazon, a proposed tenant, has withdrawn support and the Mayor of Pickering is retreating from calling for the destruction of wetlands. However, the battle is ongoing throughout the province including in pickering.
An additional item is Bill 245, Accelerating Access to Justice Act, 2021, which is not on the Environmental Registry despite environmental impacts which make this a requirement based on the Environmental Bill of Rights, according to Mike Schreiner, leader of the Green Party of Ontario. The bill combines several tribunals including the “Environmental Review Tribunal, the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal and the Mining and Lands Tribunal,” which means a potential loss of environmental expertise and decreased access to environmental justice. Schedule 10 of the Bill removes the public’s right to appeal decisions to a minister on environmental issues which is a violation of the Environmental Bill of Rights. This is a clear bombardment of environmental rights.
While the Government is providing money for wetlands and vows to protect the Greenbelt they are lying to us about caring about the environment. Due to the changes in environmental law, Ontarians must pay attention to city councils as attacks on the environment could occur anywhere in Ontario. In addition, armies of citizens should mobilize actions. Examples include shoe strikes, phone and letter campaigns and marches which respect the pandemic protocols. We can’t wait for the election as attacks are ongoing but we can launch counter strikes on the idea of environmental deregulation.
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