Niagara Council and Regional staff need to take their cues from constituents not Doug Ford and his developer friends
When Niagara Region hired Michelle Sergi as the Planning Commissioner from the Region of Waterloo in June of 2021, many local citizens who had been involved in planning and environmental matters hoped to see progressive changes here, too.
Unfortunately, they have been disappointed.
Her report to a recent Regional Council meeting recommending the removal of parcels of Greenbelt land is an example of why.
Next to her picture and contact information on the Niagara Region website, the goals of the commissioner are laid out: “The Provincial Growth Plan requires that Niagara Region plan to accommodate 610,000 people and 265,000 jobs by 2041. Proactive planning will play a central role in helping us ensure that the forecasted growth in Niagara over the next 25 years is developed to help make our cities livable and communities complete.
“Planning and Development Services makes recommendations, guides and regulates community development in Niagara to ensure future development is sustainable, healthy, economical, and supports prosperity.”
None of this is achieved through the type of planning Sergi has recommended, in lockstep with the PC government and the developers pushing the destruction of the Greenbelt. Their plan, under Bill 23, to construct 1.5 million homes by 2031, does not follow the approach laid out under the Places to Grow Act, passed in 2005. It provided a blueprint for exactly what Sergi is supposed to do―help create “sustainable, healthy, economical” community development. Sprawling subdivisions and monster homes in the middle of the Greenbelt and other vital lands where development makes little sense, is not what smart planning looks like. It harms our natural world and will cripple municipal finances when costly infrastructure must be provided for far flung, disconnected subdivisions.
A recent survey by Mainstreet Research showed citizens overwhelmingly are against the Doug Ford government’s plan to remove land from the Greenbelt. Support for the Greenbelt was highest in three regions including Niagara.
Niagara's citizens have been demonstrating their support for Greenbelt protection by turning out in all weather to protest, by writing letters to regional politicians, local MPPs, the federal government, by emailing and calling the Premier and Niagara West PC MPP Sam Oosterhoff, by making submissions to standing committees, putting "Protect the Greenbelt" signs on their front lawns and commenting on the Environmental Registry.
Deaf to all that, Sergi and team provided a report to the Region that not only stated it did not object to the PC government's plan to remove two parcels of land from the Greenbelt in Grimsby, but suggested two additional sites!
And to make matters worse, our Regional Council, after much back-and-forth confusing discussion, let the report go forward to the provincial government without any additional wording that clarified the Regional Council's position on the matter.
We realize new Council members have just taken their seats, but they had better get their legs under them in a hurry. They are the decision makers and they will be the ones answering to the public for their actions or inactions on issues that citizens deem important.
This was a sad start to a new Regional Council term on a matter of critical importance to our community, and to the province as a whole, as Greenbelt removals are only one part of the Ford government's dismantling of decades of good planning and environmental policy.
Communities around the province, including our local councils in Grimsby and St. Catharines, have indicated resistance to these destructive policies being pushed by the PC government and its powerful donors in the subdivision development industry.
Regional Council needs the courage to do so as well.
We all recognize the requirement for sound planning to help provide the type of housing Niagara, and the rest of the province, needs. But ripping apart the Greenbelt to make way for more monster homes, will not address the problems facing regions across Southern Ontario.
It's time for Regional Council members and staff to protect the public interest, instead of the profits developers seek.
Liz Benneian is a member of The Pointer Niagara editorial board.
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