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Planning in Ontario is all words, no action

Tuesday, December 4th 2007 11:26:50am

Planning in Ontario is all words, no action

Conservation group calls on Ontario government to heed report warnings

(Toronto, December 4, 2007) The Environmental Commissioner of Ontario’s Annual Report has confirmed what Ontario Nature (ON) and its 140 member clubs have suspected for years – that good planning in Ontario is still ‘all words, no action’ – in southern and northern Ontario.

In the report, “Reconciling our Priorities”, the Commissioner outlines the urgent need to address the issue of long-term environmental sustainability through effective policies and planning processes in the south where most of the Ontario’s population lives, and in the north where most of the provincial Crown land is.

The report also points to urban sprawl that continues unabated in areas outside the Greenbelt. It highlights the serious threat this poses to water in such ecologically sensitive areas. Intense development pressure in areas such as the Grand River watershed around Kitchener- Waterloo, Cambridge and Guelph require immediate attention.

“Ground water carrying capacity has already being exceeded in some areas, as evidenced by York Region’s Maskinonge River drying up this past summer due to excessive ground water use,” said Natalie Helferty, Director of Policy for ON.

The report highlights ongoing wetland destruction despite historical loss of over 80% of southern Ontario wetlands and their crucial role in reducing floods, storing water during droughts, filtering water and providing habitat wildlife.

ON was the lead organization that pushed for a wetlands protection policy that was adopted by the Ontario Government in 1992.  Fifteen years later, they support the Environmental Commissioner’s assessment that the protection policies need to be upgraded and enforced to prevent further loss of these vital functions, particularly in the face of climate change.

ON also agrees with the Environmental Commissioner that aggregate extraction is not an ‘interim use’ when it results in huge exposed open water pits drawing groundwater from aquifers on the Niagara Escarpment and Oak Ridges Moraine, despite the Source Water Protection planning for these same headwater areas.

The Government needs to recognize the connection between aggregate exploitation, the paving over of southern Ontario and car-based planning that adds more highways and their accompanying ‘big box’ developments. These have direct links to smog and water pollution. ON agrees that the reversal of fortune for the environment through anticipated and sound integrated community planning has yet to materialize.

“With unchecked urban sprawl outside the Greenbelt and ‘big pipe’ infrastructure and highway expansions still on the books to support this unsustainable growth, ON wholeheartedly supports the Environmental Commissioner’s recommendations pushing for integrated long-term planning to ensure natural resources are protected,” said Natalie Helferty, Director of Policy for ON.

ON has been a long time advocate for large scale, science-based land use planning currently absent in northern Ontario’s boreal region. The Environmental Commissioner’s report highlights this glaring deficiency. ON urges the Government of Ontario to move beyond the current unambitious and defeatist objectives that accept much of the status quo presently driving land use in Ontario’s boreal region.

“Gord Miller’s report lays out the blueprint for long-term sustainability of the unique and fragile boreal ecosystem, which makes up half this province’s landmass,” said Caroline Schultz, Executive Director of ON. “This is a road map the government needs to follow when implementing long-term ecologically sound measures to unequivocally protect woodland caribou and biodiversity in the southern boreal.  It is also an important framework for directing land use planning for the northern boreal, where measurable objectives and timelines to achieve protection of ecological integrity is critical.”

“The McGuinty’s government needs to aggressively address the policy gaps and inconsistencies that are resulting in unsustainable development on a grand scale across Ontario – north and south, “concluded Ms. Schultz.

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For more information or to arrange interviews, please contact:

Natalie Helferty, Director of Policy, ON, (416) 444-8419 ext. 273; cell (416) 460-2460, natalieh@ontarionature.org

Caroline Schultz, Executive Director, ON, (416) 444-8419 ext. 237; cell (416) 768-9795 carolines@ontarionature.org

ON is a not-for profit that works to protect and restore natural habitats through research, education and conservation. It connects thousands of individuals and communities with nature through various conservation groups across the province (charitable registration # 10737 8592 RR0001). For more information, visit www.ontarionature.org.