Bill 23 does little to build more affordable housing while doing much to threaten ecological integrity

The following article was printed in the November 16 issue of Ayr News.

Conserving environmentally sensitive lands is an issue for all of us. Certainly, as a land trust and environmental institute, it’s rare’s priority.

At rare, our mission is to ensure that natural spaces are conserved within our urbanizing region. We know that protected natural spaces are important to our community’s health and wellbeing and its ability to prosper.  With that in mind, we must speak out about recent proposed provincial-level changes to the powers of public Conservation Authorities in Bill 23.

While Bill 23 is officially named the “More Homes Built Faster Act”, in rare’s view, the proposed changes do little to build more affordable housing, while doing much to threaten ecological integrity. Here in southwestern Ontario, Bill 23 calls for development in lands protected with the Greenbelt, a vital area of environmentally sensitive land protecting the headwaters of many of the rivers of the Greater Toronto Area and southwestern Ontario.  Across the province, public Conservation Authorities who steward environmentally sensitive land will see their power to take care of that land clawed back significantly. And to what benefit? Opening up developments on environmentally sensitive floodplains at the fringes of our urban areas won’t address the shortage of housing found in our city centres.

Moreover, Ontario already has sufficient lands set aside on which to develop affordable housing for the next 30 years, without forcing Conservation Authorities to curtail their responsibilities towards environmental sustainability and without opening up protected lands in the Greenbelt for suburban-style housing.

As a community-based land trust, rare is not directly affected by the proposals in Bill 23; we will always uphold our commitment to conservation even when government priorities change. We look forward to working with all our supporters in protecting the lands we currently steward and making sure that more environmentally sensitive areas are preserved for the health of the surrounding communities.

However, we do consider public Conservation Authorities to be our partners and peers. Any proposal that weakens their ability to preserve ecologically sensitive land risks meaningful conservation for everyone, and that affects the work rare is doing. It is now more important than ever that people in the community continue to support organizations such as rare to ensure that protected lands remain protected. To do otherwise breaks a promise we’ve made to future generations.

Photograph by Mike Weissmann

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