The Greenbelts

It’s getting harder and harder to follow issues like this with most of the news media retreating behind paywalls or advertising barriers. Governments count on that.

Just so, it was a struggle to find out just why half the province’s Greenbelt Council (along with its president) resigned this week. The CBC article on this is a convoluted mess (which is unusual for CBC). The double-negative in the headline makes it clear how much they’re trying to tiptoe around political sensibilities.

The Canadian Press is clearer, and here’s the story: “the bill would strip power from local conservation authorities and expand ministerial authority on zoning and other potentially sensitive environmental issues.”

Now why would the province need to do this? Sure, there’s that whole argument about red tape blocking development, but these are conservation lands. They’re not supposed to be developed. So let’s be clear: the province wants to develop conservation lands.

Now as the CBC article (ever so tactfully) says, “Premier Doug Ford’s government has vowed, repeatedly, to not allow development in the Greenbelt — a permanently protected area of green space that surrounds the Golden Horseshoe area.”

But who believes that? More to the point, if the conservation authorities are stripped of all authority, who is there to stop them? In today’s dearth of news coverage, who would even notice? Once the decisions are taken from public bodies and put into back rooms, nobody will know the decision has been taken until the bulldozers roll through.

And that’s a problem. As David Crombie says, as we wipe out these natural areas, we’re less and less able to deal with natural disasters like flooding, which leads to greater costs in the future. We also lose habitats for wildlife, and we lose the green space urban dwellers need in order to rest and relax.

The government can dance around this all they like. But decisions on protected land belong in the public spotlight, where the interests of the entire community can be heard, and not only those of developers looking for a windfall.

Greenbelt forest scene in winter. Photo by the author.

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