‘Now is the time to say no, stop’: the PCs have forgotten Ontario was once the land that was ‘Yours to discover’ 
Feature image from Joel Wittnebel/The Pointer

‘Now is the time to say no, stop’: the PCs have forgotten Ontario was once the land that was ‘Yours to discover’ 

During the final leaders’ debate last month, Doug Ford told viewers what we already know, that to him, “the economy is everything.”

He is a man who represents others just like him. They see their existence as a series of transactions, a life that is to be consumed.  

After four years in office, it’s crystal clear even to casual observers that Ford operates, like many, under the assumption that pursuing profits at all costs makes life better for everyone.

Play the short game. 

Ontario’s natural world is to be mined, dredged and dug to make way for highways and homes and the invaluable enterprise that keeps his world running smoothly.

The workers who benefit can drive their SUVs down vast highways, to their sprawling suburban retreats, and look forward to summer weekends at the lake.

It’s what he knows. The only way he’s ever lived. His ideal of the Canadian dream.

Those who oppose him must have grown up in big cities, downtowners. They use transit, prefer living in compact communities, ride their bikes or walk to get their food.

But it’s increasingly clear that more and more Ontarians who live in the suburbs and exurbs, and in remote rural and northern parts of the province aren’t buying in. 

They don’t want their surroundings cut up by more congested highways, living in sprawl is no longer appealing, and destroying the natural world that helped so many survive these past few years, simply doesn’t compute.

It’s not what we want Ontario to be. We want a place that’s “Yours to discover”. Beautiful blue skies and breathtaking natural beauty. Water so clear and inviting it wipes away all your worries.   

We don’t want our rivers and lakes destroyed, our wildlife pushed to the edge of extinction.

But that’s exactly what Ford is doing. 

Whether it’s dismantling environmental legislation meant to protect species at risk; circumventing smart growth legislation designed to protect the Greenbelt; taking powers away from conservation authorities—organizations responsible for managing our natural spaces; eliminating the role of Ontario’s chief scientist; completely rewriting provincial planning policies in order to benefit sprawl developers, putting remaining greenspace, farmland and climate change mitigation efforts at risk; rushing ahead with the Bradford Bypass, using an outdated study more than two decades old; or the creation of a new land-use tribunal that replaces environmental experts with Party loyalists—Ford has shown he’s willing to do it all. 

If you’re reading this before voting Thursday, chances are, if you made it this far, the decision is clear. For those of you still unsure of the facts, the following is a broad overview of the Ford PC record on the environment over the last four years. 


It really does matter


In the famous literary series The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, a group of children are sent to the safety of the countryside to avoid air raids over London during World War II. Inside the rural house they find the titular wardrobe that leads them to the fantastical world of Narnia; a place filled with talking lions, dwarves, and an array of other fantastical creatures. It’s a beautiful place, but one under constant threat from the forces that seek to destroy it. 

There’s a place in Vaughan where you don’t need to climb through a stuffy wardrobe to discover its beauty. Just go to the corner of Huntington Road and Kirby Road and find the gateway to the Nashville Conservation Reserve.

 Each step away from the gravel shoulder leads deeper into a green eden where the sounds of the Greater Toronto Area, only a few minutes drive away, are drowned out by the whispering of the wind through the leaves of birches and maples, and the chattering of kingfishers hunting for fish in the cold water streams that flow beneath the thick canopy. Sentient vines, thirsty for sunlight, twirl their way around branches of nearby trees. American redstarts flit from tree to tree, flashing yellow feathers to scare small insects into flight, before diving after them. The tiny warblers, smaller than the average computer mouse, use Nashville to replenish themselves after returning from their wintering homes in South America—a journey of thousands of kilometres for a bird with a wingspan no more than eight inches. 


The american redstart relies on the Nashville Conservation reserve as a key stopover during its long migration. 

(Joel Wittnebel/The Pointer) 


Beneath the ground, the soft soil soaks up water like a sponge, filtering it, feeding creeks, streams and rivers that flow through many suburban neighbourhoods in the GTA—a function that not only improves water quality, but helps prevent flooding. 

An abundance of flora and fauna rely on this place for critical functions of their lifecycles, whether it’s a stopover for migratory birds, spawning grounds for fish, or a breeding place for mammals and insects, Nashville serves a vital function within the Humber River Watershed.  


Greenery of the Nashville Conservation Reserve

(Joel Wittnebel/The Pointer)


As The Pointer has previously reported, the Nashville Conservation Reserve lies directly in the path of the proposed Highway 413. But this is just a microcosm of a much larger problem posed by the PC government and its complete disregard for the natural world and the laws designed to protect it. 

Entering the Nashville Conservation Reserve, a thin, well-trodden dirt path leads to the edge of the Humber River. Here, surrounded by thick forest in the headwaters of the expansive watershed, the river percolates south, providing a refreshing rush of clean water for creeks, streams and other habitats dirtied by urbanization in the GTA. 

Professor Ryan Norris leads a group through a light morning rain, stopping at the edge of an ancient stone bridge spanning the Humber. This is the second time Norris has led a group through Nashville’s natural wonders, detailing what’s at stake should this area be destroyed by a highway. Part of today’s group are David Crombie, former mayor of Toronto and chair of Ontario’s Greenbelt Council who resigned in 2020 (along with five others) due to Ford’s absolute disregard for laws put in place to protect the environment, and Ken Greenberg an esteemed urban designer and planner. Both have been vocal that Highway 413 is not only bad for the environment, but poor urban planning at a time when the world needs to shift away from development that prioritizes the car.


University of Guelph professor Ryan Norris.

(Joel Wittnebel/The Pointer)


As an ecologist with a particular interest in the conservation of species at risk, Norris explains these thick forests are home to a large number of species who are already tipping closer to extinction as a result of habitat loss and other stressors created by Ontario’s rapidly growing population and urban sprawl. It’s this projected growth that Ford has used as the linchpin for his dogged determination to chip away at the foundations of environmental protections in Ontario. After four years in power, Ontario’s environmental protection regime is a shadow of its former self. In its place, Ford and the PCs have created a system designed to expedite development—the risks be damned—and promote sprawl.

“During an unprecedented pandemic, where people have been focussed on health and safety and trying to make ends meet while working in a virtual world, the Ford government has irresponsibly and inappropriately engaged in a systematic dismantling of Ontario’s planning and environmental legislative and policy framework,” wrote Victor Doyle in an op-ed published in The Pointer recently. Doyle previously worked as planner for the Government of Ontario and authored the Greenbelt Plan. “It has commandeered and squandered the ability/right of future generations to plan their future by committing us to a massive, permanent, new wave of sprawl—all while limiting and/or overriding our democractic rights.”

Norris explains conservative estimates suggest 29 species listed as endangered, threatened or of special concern would be impacted by Highway 413—a previous investigation by The Pointer found the same number—which could have ripple effects for all of Ontario. The federal government is currently considering Highway 413 for a federal impact assessment pointing to the project's potential impact on species at risk like the red-headed woodpecker and western chorus frog and rapids clubtail.  

“You might not see it when one species goes extinct or two, but as we chip away at biodiversity we know as scientists that lower biodiversity leads to ecosystem failure and changes in ecosystems and more invasive species and less productivity of those natural areas,” Norris says. “Every species is important.”

It’s a domino effect. Simply put, the wildlife that live in these natural spaces, support them through their typical behaviour. Feeding on insects which keeps population numbers in balance, building nests or hunting can help sow the seeds of trees and other plants. In turn, these natural systems support human life by providing invaluable natural services like flood mitigation, water filtration, carbon sequestration, and a place to escape and rejuvenate ourselves. Numerous studies have shown that forests have the ability to soak up our stress the same way they inhale CO2 and release oxygen. 


The Humber River and its watershed will be drastically impacted by Highway 413. 

(Joel Wittnebel/The Pointer) 


The late May storm that battered southern Ontario, killed at least 10 people and left thousands without power for days is a clear example of why these natural spaces matter. Despite Ford’s claims that the storm was a once in a lifetime event, he’s wrong. These storms will become more common as our climate continues to warm. Preserving natural spaces is one of the best and least expensive ways to mitigate climate change and limit temperature increase. The PC government has been incapable or unwilling to make this connection. 

“It is all connected,” Norris says. 

His head twitches to the side as a bird calls overhead. He lifts a finger. 

“There’s a kingfisher,” he says, noting that these birds feed exclusively on streams and rivers like the Humber. 

The redside dace, a small fish with a fiery red stripe along its side, and the rapids clubtail, a dragon fly—both endangered species—would both be significantly impacted by Highway 413. In fact, if one were trying to push these two species over the edge of extinction, one could probably do no better than the current route of Highway 413. 

“There’s only a few places in Ontario where redside dace occur and a number of those places are creeks like this that the 413 would go over,” Norris says. And there are only three locations in Ontario where the rapids clubtail dragonfly can be found —two of them are along the proposed route of the 413. 

“You’re looking at a high percentage of extinction for those species that are associated with these streams,” Norris says. “Even if you take mitigation measures for crossing streams you’re still going to get stormwater runoff, salt deposition, metals and all of those things will affect the quality of the stream and the habitat around the streams.”

After four years of a PC majority, it’s obvious they care about none of these things. 


The dismantling begins


One of the first things Doug Ford did after his election victory in 2018 was dismiss Ontario’s chief scientist. A role created only months before under the Liberals and designed to provide critical advice to the Premier on scientific issues. 

“The Chief Scientist will also provide advice informed by science to help government decision-makers tackle some of the greatest challenges of our time, such as climate change, aging populations and the impact of transformative technologies,” a November 2017 news release states. 


Despite decades of failed transportation planning in Ontario that has prioritized new and expanded highways—with little impact on traffic congestion—Ford is promising his new highways will finally solve gridlock, but provides no evidence to support the claim.

(Government of Ontario)


The decision was made as part of the PC effort to “reduce red tape” within government, a process that has been ongoing for the last four-years and also resulted in limiting the ability of conservation authorities to intervene in development applications; exempting a number of “low risk” development activities from the environmental assessment process; and repealing Ontario’s Toxics Reductions Act, meant to hold industrial polluters accountable for the consequences of their activities. The PCs said this eliminated duplication with federal regulations. Advocates explained this was not totally accurate and the Ontario plan was seeing great success, resulting in a reduction in the use of 175,000 tonnes of toxic substances. 

“At a time when scientists and health authorities around the world are sounding alarm bells about the urgent and significant dangers of pollution, it is deeply troubling that our government has chosen to roll back protections from toxics,” wrote Muhannad Malas, a program manager with Environmental Defence in 2019. 

The PC government made a habit of ignoring established science, and altering or completely dismantling legislation put in place to protect the environment. 

These efforts have consistently been matched with misinformation or greenwashing campaigns and denials. 

When confronted with the lack of evidence to support a cull of the double-crested cormorant, the PCs attempted to provide studies to back up their decision. However, those studies actually proved the reasons the PCs were relying on to allow hunters to kill up to 15 of these birds a day during hunting season were flawed. When asked about this contradiction, the PCs went silent. 

When confronted with the absolute abysmal handling of species at risk law in Ontario, laid out in a damning audit from the provincial auditor general, the PC government refused to accept many of the basic recommendations that would strengthen government oversight of development to protect endangered species and instead insisted the government was doing a great job. Again, the PCs refused to acknowledge the misleading narrative, despite the AG’s audit stating government actions were currently harming species at risk, the exact opposite of what the PCs’ claimed. 

This same tactic of silent denial has been the go-to communication strategy for the PC government on both Highway 413 and the Bradford Bypass. The government has refused to acknowledge the environmental harm these projects will cause, only claiming the damage will be studied and mitigation measures will be determined through the environmental assessments (both of which have been weakened as a result of PC legislation to ensure the work can be done faster). Ford and his former transportation minister Caroline Mulroney continuously promote the alleged traffic benefits the two highway projects would create—30 minutes for the 413 and 35 minutes for the Bypass—but refuse to show how these estimates were determined. They also refuse to acknowledge the Ministry of Transportation’s own studies which have shown the Bypass would be congested a few short years after construction and would do nothing to address traffic on Highway 400 or 404—something the PCs have consistently touted as a large benefit of the project. 

Many are now seeing this refusal of accountability across the board as numerous stories have surfaced throughout this election period of PC incumbents refusing to attend all-candidates debates. 


The Climate Crisis


As the group heads deeper in the conservation reserve, the rain slows, the sun emerges from behind a veil of clouds. Blades of grass and pine boughs are encrusted with diamonds as the orange light illuminates the fresh rain drops clinging to their surface. 

“There is no way that you can absolutely remove any impact of the highway going through here,” Norris says, looking out over the trees. 


The Nashville Conservation Reserve is one of many natural spaces that would be destroyed by the PCs' agenda. 

(Joel Wittnebel/The Pointer) 


The world’s forests—next to the oceans—are the largest natural stores of carbon. Yet Ontario has continued to see a loss of forest cover across the province over the last two decades. According to data from Global Forest Watch, since 2000, Ontario has lost approximately 7.2 percent of its forest cover, mostly in the northern reaches of the province. With such thin forest canopy available across the heavily urbanized southern Ontario, protecting what remains is crucial. Under the PCs forestry operations on Crown Land have been exempt from several key pieces of legislation, including laws to protect endangered species, meaning clear-cutting of these lands can happen quicker and easier. 

The PC government has had four years of a majority at Queen’s Park to strengthen Ontario measures to protect remaining greenspace, and mitigate climate change. They’ve weakened both, pushing forward with a clear agenda to open up the Greenbelt for development and push climate action to the background. It’s something Ford vowed to do even before his election in 2018, captured in a now infamous leaked video where he promised a room of developers that he would open up a large chunk of the protected greenspace. He’s well on his way to keeping that promise. 


An anti-environment agenda


In the campaign’s early days, Ford made a concerted effort to paint himself as a changed man. While the leadership debate made it clear he had no defence for his shameful environmental record when questioned on it by Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner, he has heavily promoted his plans to increase electric vehicle production in Ontario. It’s a significant flip-flop for a politician who axed subsidies for EVs as one of his first orders of business after being elected, causing sales to plummet, and ripped out existing EV charging stations. 

The change of tactic is an attempt to greenwash his reputation, and while transitioning to EVs is a crucial step in the climate fight, it is completely overshadowed, and rendered mostly useless, as Ontario does very little else to combat climate change. 

The province’s Auditor General, Bonnie Lysyk, released reports late last year detailing the Ford government’s failure to address climate change and respect environmental law. Her findings were quite damning. 

Lysyk’s reports detailed mismanagement, secrecy and the utter lack of regard for legislation and existing policy, like the Environmental Bill of Rights (EBR), which stipulates all Ontarians have the right to a healthy environment. 

“Environmentally significant decisions are being made either by ministries that are not subject to the Act or under laws that are not subject to the Act. As a result, Ontarians do not have any EBR Act rights in relation to those decisions. We found that these issues, and other issues described in this report, stem at least in part from a lack of leadership from the Environment Ministry, which administers the EBR Act, and from a failure by individual prescribed ministries to prioritize their compliance with and implementation of the EBR Act,” the report reads. “These findings point to a lack of commitment by prescribed ministries to not only meet the EBR Act’s requirements in a technical way, but also consistently meet those requirements in a manner that achieves the purposes of the Act and respects Ontarians’ rights.”

Lysyk made it clear that the Ford government did not prioritize existing environmental law and ignored the growing number of residents concerned about the destruction taking place across Ontario as a result of PC decision-making. The end result is greenhouse gas emissions increased in 2018 after Ford was elected, the first such increase in Ontario in a number of years. A concerning reality for Peel particularly, a region that is warming at twice the rate of the global average.  

The Auditor General made it clear, the provincial government is actively hiding and preventing public input on massive projects that will alter the lives of Ontarians. The government has made very little progress on 50 percent of the GHG reductions recommendations by the Standing Committee on Public Accounts, responsible for ensuring the government is being transparent and engaging residents on issues of concern.

In short, the PCs knew they were breaking laws, knew they were ignoring existing legislation, and changed nothing. 

It doesn’t end there.

They cut flood management funding for conservation authorities, a crucial role for these agencies in managing the province’s watersheds; they ended Ontario’s cap and trade program almost immediately after being elected; they fought the carbon tax all the way to the Supreme Court (and lost), costing Ontario taxpayers an exorbitant amount of money; they paid $231 million to cancel green energy projects early in their tenure; cancelled Ontario’s rebate for electric vehicles and ripped out existing charging stations; and they axed plans to plant 50 million trees. 

 “What we have seen so far from a policy perspective is a license to destroy.  From encouraging sprawl to highways in the Greenbelt with no real plan to protect Lake Simcoe or our climate, this government is setting a destructive and costly agenda for Ontario,” stated Margaret Prophet, the executive director of the Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition in an Earth Day press release. “Sprawl and highways won’t make our communities cheaper or reduce traffic congestion. Sprawl makes traffic, housing costs, air pollution, and water quality worse.  Instead of investing in our healthcare, affordable housing or education, our tax dollars are being used to promote profoundly irrational, destructive development.”  


Preventing further loss


The reality is that many of the natural spaces in southern Ontario are already harmed by human activity. This includes the Nashville Conservation Reserve. 

Approaching the river’s edge, Norris rips a plant from the ground. Invasive garlic mustard. Green shoots of it frame the pathway. 

“This place will never be pristine,” he says. “But it’s an important place, for everything, even for species who don’t live here year round.”

A rose-breasted grosbeak chatters overhead. A flash of blue marks the departure of a blue jay. 

“You think about migratory birds coming through and coming from central and South America and going up to the boral forest, where do they stop? What places do they have to stop? Not many if they’re coming through Southern Ontario,” Norris explains. “Certainly if you’re migrating over Toronto this is going to be a place that you’re going to land and refuel to get back to your home in the boreal forest.”



But if this forest is replaced with a highway, or one of the many subdivision developments—a number of rich, PC donor developers have amassed large swaths of land along the route of the 413, detailed in various reports from the National Observer and Toronto Star—that will surely follow the roadway’s construction, that valuable space is lost. The impact doesn’t end with the forest that lies directly in the path of the highway either, those habitats on the edge of development will also be impacted by runoff, noise and light pollution and just the presence of people or buildings can be enough to scare species away for good. 

“Some of these migratory birds coming back to woodlots that they’ve bred in previously and now there’s different structures around it, they’re out, they’re gone,” Norris says. “There’s nothing directly affecting them…there’s just a new surrounding, a new environment, something they’re unfamiliar with and they’re gone.”

But a large woodlot like Nashville, is enough to mitigate most of those impacts, but only if it remains in its current state. Something that won’t happen if the PCs are reelected to a second majority government after June 2. 


June 2 is a watershed


Speaking outside the reserve, Crombie has strong words for the Ford government. 

“When I say a betrayal of the public interest, that’s not too strong.”

It’s also not wrong. A December EKOS poll found that 49 percent of respondents did not support Highway 413, 65 percent said Ford had done a poor job protecting the environment, 69 percent said the Greenbelt needs more protection; 75 percent said the provincial government needs to treat climate change as an emergency; and 76 percent of respondents said the Greenbelt is no place for a new four-to-six-lane highway.

Yet, the PCs have made new highways a pillar of their reelection campaign. 

Crombie is urging Ontarians to use the election as an opportunity to tell the new government that the environment and climate change matters, and four more years of the same PC rule will cause irrevocable damage for future generations. 

“I’ve been around and seen what energy from the public can do to motivate policy changes,” he says. “Now is the time to say no, stop.”


Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @JoeljWittnebel

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For those interested, here’s more on the PCs’ environmental record:


  1.  October 2018 - Is the GTA West Highway good transportation planning or a gift to developers?

  2. May 2019 - Pave paradise: $388M in city revenue at risk as Ford’s Bill 108 offers massive give-away for developers

  3. June 2019 - Brampton MPP pushes to resume GTA West Highway study as province passes sprawl-inducing bill 

  4. June 2019 - Opposition gearing up for round two in fight against GTA West Highway 

  5. May 2020 - Provincial changes will slash public parkland Brampton and Mississauga warn 

  6. May 2020 - ‘You don’t think of protecting something you don’t love’: reconnecting with nature could trigger a wider movement

  7. June 2020 - Greenbelt Foundation sets its sights on Peel’s lack of trees 

  8. July 2020 - ‘This is a government that would pave the Greenbelt’: Ford moves to ‘streamline’ environmental study for GTA West Highway 

  9. August 2020 - The project should be cancelled’ — new report from Environmental Defence takes aim at GTA West Highway 

  10. September 2020 - ‘A highway to nowhere’: Green Party Leader, community advocates, push back against GTA West Highway 

  11. December 2020 - People should be worried’: Province moves to hobble conservation agencies, hand power to developers

  12. December 2020 - PCs ram through budget bill, sending environmental protections back to the days of Mike Harris

  13. January 2021 - NDP will scrap sprawl-inducing GTA West Highway  plan if elected in 2022 

  14.  February 2021 - Environmental activists ask Ottawa to intervene on controversial GTA West Highway

  15. February 2021 - Plowing a highway through the green heart of Ontario when the natural world has been our pandemic oasis 

  16. February 2021 - ‘We’ve been subject to these gravel guerrillas for 50 years’: Mississauga renounces developer driven GTA West Highway

  17. March 2021 - PCs signal GTA West Highway might not happen as opposition grows

  18. April 2021 - 'Death by 1,000 cuts’: GTA West Highway exposes the cataclysmic impact our addiction to urbanization has on wildlife

  19. May 2021 - Ottawa will scrutinize GTA West Highway plan, citing concerns about at-risk wildlife 

  20. June 2021 - Peel’s conservation authorities are under siege by developers and Doug Ford 

  21.  July 2021 - ‘We can’t keep doing this’: PC government speeds ahead with Bradford bypass; advocates say process lacks proper scrutiny

  22.  July 2021 - PC ‘greenwashing’ makes climate change worse

  23.  August 2021 - Electric cars are a key solution to our climate crisis but Doug Ford killed their sales

  24.  August 2021 - Earth’s doomsday scenario is here and municipal leaders could not care less 

  25. September 2021 - Southern Ontario, once home to a thriving monarch butterfly population, is the flagship of habitat fragmentation; the GTA West Highway will only make it worse

  26.  October 2021 - ‘A bird that can’t speak back’: The Ford government’s mass killing of the double-crested cormorant reveals its true stripes

  27. November 2021 - Will Doug Ford’s highway gift to developers cost him a majority government?  

  28.  December 2021 - Brutal Auditor General report shows PC government ignoring environmental rights of residents 

  29. December 2021 - Has Ford’s ‘end run’ around environmental protections to build highways handed Trudeau a perfect opportunity?

  30. January 2022 - Peel is warming twice as fast as the global average; will the climate emergency be taken seriously?

  31. January 2022 - Nowhere to hide: A look at how lobbyists & the PCs have left species at risk to die & the conservationists trying to save them

  32. January 2022 - Peel’s climate goals compromised by provincial love of natural gas 

  33. January 2022 - Gord Miller, Ontario’s former environmental commissioner: Trudeau must do what Ford won’t―kill the Bradford Bypass

  34. February 2022 - ‘A shame and travesty’: Despite damning audit, PCs double-down on harms to species at risk

  35. February 2022 - Healing Ontario’s fractured ecosystems: how grassroots efforts are stitching greenspace back together 

  36. March 2022 - Scrapping the Ontario Land Tribunal—a double-barrel solution for the housing and climate crises

  37. March 2022 - Case for Bradford Bypass ‘thin at best’: environmental groups take federal environment minister to court 

  38. March 2022 - Greed and waste’: Campaign seeks stronger regulations on land gobbling gravel industry 

  39. April 2022 - Doug Ford rushes to start Bradford Bypass ahead of June election without costing or proper studies

  40. May 2022 - Victor Doyle: Ford government is squandering the future of the Golden Horseshoe

  41. May 2022 - PC highway plan will destroy the Greenbelt’s natural capital, polls show vast majority of Ontario residents don’t support it—environmental groups demand a ban 


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