I don’t normally write political letters on my blog about low waste and sustainable living, but to let this issue silently slide though would be, well, a waste. Here goes!
Dear Doug (if I may be so colloquial),
Based on appearances, it seems your agenda from the start has been one of self-interest and lining the pockets of your developer friends, and perhaps even your own pockets once you’re no longer the premier of Ontario.
You quickly changed your tune about your plans for development in the Greenbelt (the world's largest greenbelt, protecting farmland, forests, wetlands, rivers, and lakes) when it was clear you weren’t earning brownie points during your election campaign. You changed your platform briefly only to get elected, and not out of your interest to represent The People (of Ontario).
Let’s do a quick flashback to that time (from CTV News, May 1, 2018):
“Public backlash prompted Doug Ford to backtrack Tuesday on an election promise to allow housing development in a protected green space around the Toronto region, with the Progressive Conservative leader saying he's going to listen to those who want the area preserved.
A Tory government would maintain the Greenbelt in its entirety and enshrine that pledge in the party's soon-to-be-released platform, Ford announced in a statement issued a day after saying he'd open the region to some construction to ease the housing crisis in the Greater Toronto Area.
"I looked at it as making sure we have more affordable housing," Ford said of his initial position. "The people have spoken. I'm going to listen to them, they don't want me to touch the Greenbelt, we won't touch the Greenbelt."”
Oh, and let’s not forget this:
“"I govern through the people, I don't govern through government," he said in explaining the reversal.”
It seems now in 2020, with your focus on development in protected areas, including the development of Highway 413 right through the Greenbelt and weakening the role of Conservation Authorities, that you’re governing through the government, and not through The People, who are waging their own battle with the health and economic devastations associated with the Covid-19 pandemic. While people are inundated with exasperating news, lockdowns and isolation, along with many losing their jobs, struggling to keep their small businesses afloat, and trying to make ends meet, you’re getting legislation, policy, and projects through that wouldn’t otherwise fly with Ontarians (hence your backpedaling in 2018).
The proposed Highway 413 project will cost billions of dollars. How is this a financial priority when our healthcare system is overburdened? Why aren’t you more focused on a plan to better equip our hospitals and other healthcare services and workers for the ongoing pandemic, and backlog of surgeries? In addition to meeting the healthcare needs of Ontarians in the coming years?
You’ve dedicated less than $1 billion to support our healthcare system that has been burdened by Covid-19 and exhausted healthcare workers, meanwhile this unnecessary highway project will have loads of environmental implications, and cost taxpayers $6+ billion!! How is this justified? How is this prioritization appropriate for the citizens of Ontario? Especially during a time when more people than ever are working from home and are not commuting?
These actions seem to be lacking integrity.
Let me be clear. I’m not anti-development. I am pro-good development, development that preserves our farmland, forests, wetlands, rivers, and lakes. I’m pro-good development that supports access to housing for all Ontarians, and that maintains (or improves) our health and wellness.
Who am I to have an opinion on this matter? First and foremost, I’m a taxpaying citizen of Ontario. I also have a master’s degree in Urban and Regional Planning from Queen’s University, and applicable professional experience in land use planning, so I feel pretty comfortable when I say: this is bad planning.
If there’s anything we should learn from the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s simply that now more than ever, nature conservation is critical to the health and well-being of people. As humans continue to encroach on and develop natural areas, we are putting human health at risk. As the WHO puts it, “Human impact on the environment is increasing the risk of emerging infectious diseases in humans, over 60% of which originate from animals, mainly from wildlife.”
Weakening the legislation and policies that protect Ontario’s natural areas to allow for development is doing a huge disservice to Ontarians on many fronts.
For The People:
Please show us that Ontarians matter, and that your priorities, projects and spending are aligned with the best possible outcomes for Ontarians (like healthcare over highway development). Doug, it would be greatly appreciated if you could truly act For The People. Please protect (and improve, not weaken) the Greenbelt, and other conservation-related legislation and policy in Ontario and please scrap the Highway 413 project.
If you’re not Doug:
If you’re reading this and you’re not Doug Ford, and want to have your voice heard, please head over to Environmental Defence to take action to stop the Highway 413 project here. If you’re super keen, check out and support related campaigns here.
While this particular issue of Highway 413 is specific to the province of Ontario, it’s worth noting that politicians everywhere can take advantage of our focus on the pandemic to pass legislation, policy, and projects that we wouldn’t otherwise let happen. It’s worth keeping an eye on what’s happening outside of Covid-19 to make sure shit doesn’t slide. It’s not ideal, and not everyone will have the capacity for this. But if you do have the capacity, let’s get to work.