Special to The Lake Report
For the past year, as your MPP, I have been making my voice heard for our community on protecting the Greenbelt.
But I haven’t been alone.
I was joined in my calls on the importance of protecting our natural heritage, biodiversity and agricultural lands by countless community activists, engaged citizens, farmers, workers, area business owners and young people, including Niagara-on-the-Lake environmental expert and activist, Owen Bjorgan.
Now, our advocacy has paid off – as Premier Doug Ford announced he will be reversing his decision on opening up the Greenbelt for development.
Firstly, I want to thank the people of Niagara-on-the-Lake, and across Ontario, for making their voices heard.
Every single person who wrote to the government, called an office, held up a sign at a protest, spoke to their local representative, or shared on social media – you played a role in getting this accomplished.
We know how important the Greenbelt is to Niagara-on-the-Lake – for countless reasons.
Protecting ecosystems within the Greenbelt benefits our agricultural land – this means the Greenbelt is key to preserving our local food supply and to a thriving agricultural industry.
We also know the role of forests and wetlands in the escarpment provide free flood protections, erosion control, cooling and recreational value for the community.
So much of original ecosystems in southern Ontario have already been lost. We cannot jeopardize losing any more because doing so harms the quality of our air, soil, water and more.
Of course, a thriving and healthy environment is key to protecting our farms, wine industry and unique natural heritage. Tearing up the Greenbelt to make developers rich would have had an irreversibly negative impact on our economy.
While we know we have a crisis in housing, the solution has never been to tear up precious ecosystems – and we know this wasn’t about building affordable housing. It was about benefiting well-connected developers.
I am thrilled at the victory for our community in restoring protections for the Greenbelt – but we still have work to do at Queen’s Park.
Firstly, as much as the premier would like to put this scandal behind him, we need to ensure this is fully investigated.
There are still many questions to be answered about the knowledge of and role the premier played in the corruption, as he has now had two cabinet ministers and a high-ranking staff member resign in the wake of this controversy.
The people of Ontario deserve full transparency.
And while this is a big victory, there are still other elements of the premier’s agenda that require scrutiny.
The government is still fighting nurses and front-line health care staff in court over Bill 124. It is still putting forward privatization of public health care services with Bill 60.
There are questions over potential changes the province will make to local governments. And as the official Opposition critic for long-term care, I am firmly committed to fixing that broken system.
Finally, I am focused on getting good things done for our local community as I continue to work with town staff and the Ministry of Health to get nurse practitioner services back in our community.
I also have put forward legislation to eliminate unfair taxes on local wines to help support the industry here in Niagara. And while much progress has been made, I will continue to work to get the south Niagara hospital built as soon as possible.
Much work remains to be done – but by coming together as a community, we can get so much good work accomplished for Niagara-on-the-Lake. I remain committed to working with all levels of government for the betterment of our community.
Wayne Gates is the provincial New Democrat member for Niagara Falls riding, which includes Niagara-on-the-Lake and Fort Erie.