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Thursday, August 18, 2022
Op-ed: Wayne Gates: Another attempt to pave over our greenspace

Wayne Gates
Special to Niagara Now

As an elected official during this crisis, the focus of my office remains primarily on stopping the COVID crisis before us and protecting our businesses and seniors until we get our fair share of vaccines. That said, we can’t take our eye of the continued efforts to pave over our greenspaces which unfortunately continue.

Many in our community were worried about provisions buried in the Ford government’s recent budget omnibus bill that allow it to use a Minister’s Zoning Order (MZO) to force conservation authorities to permit developments on wetlands and other environmentally sensitive areas where development is normally prohibited due to risks of flooding and other threats. MZOs are the “nuclear option” of planning powers. They allow the government to immediately authorize development, bypassing normal planning processes, public consultation, and environmental review. They are supposed to be used only rarely, but under the Ford government they have become commonplace. In fact, during the pandemic, the Ford government has quietly passed more than twice the number of MZOs than what the previous government passed during its entire last decade in office.

Our research has found that most of the beneficiaries of these MZOs are friends or donors to Doug Ford or his party.

Given attempts to open our greenbelt, agricultural land and environmentally sensitive areas have been habitual with Ford’s Government and given these removals of local civilian oversight were needlessly tucked into a budget designed to deal with the pandemic, our community has cause for concern. Residents of our Town and Region know this story all too well. Niagara Region residents successfully wrestled the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority out of the hands of special interests who sought to pave over protected wetlands. Our region understands the importance of making sure conservation authorities are truly independent and acting in the benefit of our environment.

One of the reasons our Region and Town see so many visitors a year is precisely because we have built our communities in harmony with our natural environment. Once it’s paved over or turned into a high-rise, you can’t get it back.

We have a responsibility to protect Niagara’s natural heritage and I will not support efforts to circumvent our local protection efforts to benefit developers. MZO use must be curtailed and the authority returned to local officials. Here in Niagara we have been blessed to have a community so filled with natural heritage and protected spaces, we owe it to our grandchildren to give them the same protected environment we inherited.