The PCs don’t want Ontarians connecting the dots on environmentally devastating policies
On a crisp winter day in March, politicians stood near the frozen edge of Loafer’s Lake in Brampton.
Elected officials were out in the cold to announce approximately $75,000 in funds for the City of Brampton and the Heart Lake Turtle Troopers to continue the valuable work of protecting species at risk in the Flower City.
The beneficiaries of this funding slept nearby, beneath a thick crust of ice, dormant in a state known as brumation—the cold-blooded version of hibernation. Loafer’s Lake is home to several turtle species, including the Snapping Turtle, of special concern in the province largely due to the incursion of human activity in their sensitive habitats.
According to the Turtle Troopers website, the organization’s mission “is to support the protection and monitoring of the local turtle population through a citizen science volunteer program, by working in partnership with community stakeholders to raise community awareness, recruit and engage citizen volunteers and organize and deliver public engagement activities.”
Some may not feel the same affinity for the cold-blooded, but turtles are a big part of why Ontario’s remaining wetlands stay healthy, serving as the ecosystem cleaning crew, eating dead plants, insects and animals.
The Turtle Troopers carry out their mission through the vital tasks of population monitoring, nest protection and education. Their Facebook group has over 1,100 members; their hatchling release events in the summer months draw large crowds, and the work of installing nest fencing and cages supports a species that is a key pillar in Ontario’s remaining wetlands.
When these volunteers speak on species at risk, especially their organization’s name-sake, citizens should listen.
Elected officials who joined them on that cold winter day might ask themselves what’s the point of appearing in a photo op one day, then voting against environmental protections the next.
Frogs, turtles and the many other species that rely on wetlands for survival are being put at risk by the policy decisions of Ontario’s PC government.
(Joel Wittnebel/The Pointer)
Brampton councillors and local PC MPPs each took their turn at the podium, celebrating the announcement and what it would do to protect biodiversity in the heart of the city.
One of those in attendance was Environment Minister David Piccini.
“When we think about the world and planet we’re going to leave behind for our next generation we must commit together to make sure it’s a better one,” he said. “And that means not just for the people who walk this Earth, but for the four-legged, two-legged creatures that we share this Earth with and we have to do more to protect them.”
The words ring hollow from a member of cabinet in the PC government, which since coming to power in 2018 has dismantled legislation meant to protect the environment and species at risk and has diminished Ontario’s plan to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.
Most recently, the PCs practically eliminated the language of “climate change” from the rewritten provincial policy statement.
If Minister Piccini truly prioritized protecting the planet for the next generation, why did he not speak up when his government moved forward with opening up large chunks of the Greenbelt for development? Or when Premier Doug Ford recently labelled the Greenbelt, the largest expanse of protected greenspace in the world, a scam? Why did Piccini remain silent when Ontario’s auditor general highlighted how the provincial government’s Species at Risk program was working opposite its intended purpose and actively harming species at risk? And why did he permit his ministry to mislead residents about the results of this audit, claiming to be prioritizing species protection while permits to harm the habitat of species at risk were being automatically approved?
Ontario’s environment minister David Piccini has remained silent on many of the PC government’s environmentally destructive decisions.
(Alexis Wright/The Pointer)
Similar questions can be posed to Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown, and his contingent of councillors in attendance. The City has done very little to prioritize environmental protection or efforts to mitigate climate change.
None of this is to diminish the work of the Turtle Troopers and how the money will help. The $75,000 will go a long way with this organization, enhancing its capability to protect species at risk in Brampton.
But elected officials in the PC party using this investment as a soapbox to expound on how much they care about species at risk is misleading at best and insulting at worst. Those who dedicate countless volunteer hours to doing the actual work required to protect these animals—made much harder by the PC government’s irresponsible land use planning policies that are forcing housing construction in places where more animals will be endangered—are frustrated by the hypocrisy.
It’s greenwashing at its most obvious.
To see how the PC government truly views the environment and species at risk, one only needs to look at its track record.
For species at risk: a November 2021 report from auditor general Bonnie Lysyk highlighted how the Province has never denied a permit to harm species at risk or their habitat; permits to harm species at risk have increased more than 6,000 percent since 2008. Most of the permits are approved automatically; there is no analysis of government action to judge its effectiveness at protecting species at risk; there is no study of the cumulative impacts of development in Ontario on species at risk; and the government has said it has no plans to study these items; permits for development are fast-tracked while those for conservation work are delayed.
When it comes to Ontario’s greenspaces: the PC government is prioritizing two environmentally destructive highway projects—Highway 413 and the Bradford Bypass—which threaten two of Southern Ontario’s most significant environmental areas, the Greenbelt and the Holland Marsh Wetland Complex, respectively and will destroy the habitat for over 40 species at risk. Highway 413 alone will bisect four watersheds, cut across 85 streams and waterways and approximately 220 wetlands. This is not to mention the numerous woodlots, forests, grasslands and cultural heritage sites of the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation that could be impacted.
The true scale of the damage done by PC policies is hard to see, as many of its recent changes to supercharge housing development—Bill 23 and the proposed Bill 97—are still in their nascent stage. But it's clear the PC government does not want Ontario residents connecting the dots between its policies and the impact on the environment.
The PCs refuse to provide a consolidated report on the state of Ontario’s environment, something that could expose just how damaging the Ford government has been to Ontario’s wetlands, wildlife and greenspaces.
A report released May 16 by the Auditor General has done the work the PC government refuses to. The document offers a blunt reminder of just how destructive the collective policies forced onto Ontario residents by the powerful majority government are.
These cumulative impacts, startling to behold, are now brought together in one place, by two of Ontario’s most important watchdogs.
Auditor General Lysyk and Environmental Commissioner Dr. Tyler Schulz were forced to release their report themselves—despite repeated recommendations in previous audits from Lysyk for the government to create a comprehensive review that would serve as a one-stop account of Ontario’s environmental record under the current regime at Queen’s Park.
“Government decision-makers, businesses, citizen groups and the public need a clear picture of whether our air, water, soil and wildlife populations are getting better or worse,” Lysyk says. “This is the type of reporting the Province could be providing to the public demonstrating how well Ontario is doing in protecting the environment for future generations.”
But they’re not.
And the reasons are clear.
The report found that poor land use planning continues to threaten Ontario’s most valuable natural spaces. Wetlands continue to be lost; invasive species are spreading; and the number of native species on the at-risk list continues to grow. Surface air temperatures in Ontario continue to increase and the number of weather related disasters is on the rise.
Ontario continues to lose forested areas at an unprecedented rate, leading to habitat fragmentation and habitat loss, two of the most significant threats to wildlife in Ontario today. The rate of deforestation in Ontario is almost quadruple the amount of new forests being established, according to Lysyk’s report.
The Province has failed to meet the targets of its 2011 Biodiversity Strategy to conserve 17 percent of land and water systems by 2022. In 2022, only 10.8 percent of land and water were protected through conservation areas or other means.
“Outside of protected areas, wildlife habitat is highly fragmented—especially in southern Ontario. While the Province does not collect comprehensive, long-term data on wild pollinators (such as bees), evidence shows that some species have declined dramatically,” Lysyk’s report states.
Invasive species like the emerald ash borer are causing significant environmental and financial harm to cities across Ontario.
(Alexis Wright/The Pointer)
While all of this should speak to a need to enact iron-clad policies to protect the environment, this PC government is doing the opposite.
The true extent is absolutely startling to read, and that is exactly why the PC government refuses to record all of its destructive changes in one place.
The list of items below are all taken directly from Lysyk’s report, which detailed how ministries meant to protect the environment, under the PC government, are doing quite the opposite: Since being elected in 2018, the PCs:
have revoked regulations that outlined monitoring requirements and limits on industrial wastewater discharges
amended the Planning Act and Conservation Authorities Act to expand the powers of the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing with respect to Minister’s Zoning Orders, orders that bypass parts of the land-use planning process that require public consultation, largely at the municipal level and are not subject to appeal to the Ontario Land Tribunal
removed and re-designated lands in the Greenbelt
repealed the Duffins Rouge Agricultural Preserve Act, which had restricted the use of these preserve lands to agriculture
made amendments to other acts to accelerate the delivery of major public infrastructure projects, such as transit and highways, often without necessary studies or public consultation
cancelled Ontario’s cap-and-trade program
launched the Natural Gas Expansion Program to expand access to natural gas to areas of Ontario without access to the natural gas distribution system, significantly impacting Ontario’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions
amended legislation to permanently exempt logging operations on Crown land from requirements to comply with the Endangered Species Act
made changes to the Ontario Wetland Evaluation System (the policy framework for determining which wetlands are significant and therefore receive additional environmental protections) making it harder for individual wetlands to be designated as provincially significant.
amended the Far North Act, cancelling a goal set out in the law to protect 225,000 square kilometres of the Far North in an interconnected network of protected areas.
amended the Endangered Species Act to enable developers to pay a regulatory charge to a designated conservation fund as part of a permit, agreement or conditional exemption instead of undertaking certain on-the-ground actions to provide benefits to species at risk
made legislative and regulatory changes limiting the work and role of conservation authorities in reviewing the impacts of development and other activities before permits are issued.
Declared a hunting season for the double-crested cormorant without any scientific backing to support a cull on this native species. The government has repeatedly failed to provide data or studies to back up the cull.
While the PC government will attempt to deflect these facts with “what abouts” like: what about the $4.5 million we invested into protecting species at risk? Or what about the 390,000 acres of protected greenspaces across Ontario? Or the 340 provincial parks and 295 conservation reserves managed by the Province?
These are all misleading facts, small elements that contribute to preserving specific features, while Ontario’s environment as a whole is under attack. Putting aside the reality that the $4.5 million for the species at risk program is a cut from the previous $5 million (cut by the Liberal government and yet to be restored by the PCs), and protected greenspace is well shy of the goal Ontario set for itself; all of this money and protected land is being undermined by PC decision making at Queen’s Park, policies that are gutting Ontario’s natural resources and putting our wildlife and residents at risk.
Conservation Authorities, the main line of defence, have been battered since the PCs came to power in 2018. Many of their most critical oversight mandates have been challenged by the government, which issued an alarming letter to each of the province’s 36 CAs in 2019, instructing them to stop interfering in development applications, and to “wind down” activities that might prevent the government from fulfilling its priority to build more homes across the province.
The chair of the Credit Valley Conservation Authority at the time, replied to the former environment minister, Jeff Yurek, who had issued the shocking letter (which put development ahead of environmental protection), telling him, “We find the content of your letter very troubling.”
Recovery stories for species like the Trumpeter Swan are rare in Ontario. Under the PC government more native species are finding their way onto the at-risk list.
(Joel Wittnebel/The Pointer)
There is a storm cloud on Ontario’s horizon, one every resident can see, but the PC government wants to take away our umbrellas.
Extreme heat, flooding, air quality warnings, worsening freshwater sheds, encroachment into the Greenbelt and other sensitive ecosystems, the rapid loss of farmland as food costs are driven higher by the impacts of climate change and a future without the wildlife we love which keeps the entire cycle of life in balance—all of it poses a growing risk.
Lysyk’s report sums up Ontario’s situation quite succinctly.
“Just as past actions have impacted the environment, future actions too will affect the air we breathe, the water we drink, the land we live and grow crops on, how we handle waste, the changing climate, and the state of nature and wildlife in Ontario. Unless the environmental outcomes of actions are effectively measured, monitored and publicly reported, there will be limited transparency, accountability and understanding of their impacts,” her report warns.
“It is well worth remembering that protecting, conserving and restoring the environment requires a longer-term perspective. Whatever the politics of the day, elected governments are called upon to hold this longer-term perspective in sight. The actions they take, or fail to take, will be measured in the long run by future generations of Ontarians.”
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