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Does the Ford government care about the environment? Do they follow the rules on issues like environmental assessments?
The popular narrative would say no, that they simply want to pave paradise and put up a parking lot, or maybe some condos or McMansions.
A project in the Wasaga Beach area is calling that narrative into question.
Clearview Township, which sits just south of Wasaga Beach and Collingwood, taking in areas such as Stayner, Duntroon, Creemore and New Lowell, had plans to close one road and expand another. Those plans are now on hold after a requirement from the province to undergo a higher level of environmental assessment than the township and the developers involved were hoping for.
The township had wanted to close a stretch of County Road 91 between County Road 31 and Concession 10, moving the traffic north to Sideroad 26 and 27. As part of the plan, the portion of 91 closed off would have been turned over to Walker Agregates, which operates a sand and stone quarry along the road.
Many local residents disliked the plan, with a petition opposed to the changes collecting more than 2,700 signatures in an area with a population of just over 14,000. That’s pretty significant, but the township still wanted to plough ahead with the road changes — that is until the Ontario Ministry of Environment stepped in to order a Schedule C environmental assessment rather than the easier Schedule A that the township had wanted.
While Schedule A assessments are minimal in scope, Schedule C assessments are wider, more in-depth and much costlier to complete. The delay in the project moving forward has also driven up costs for the township, which still wants to proceed but now may not be in the position to do so given the changing financial situation.
“All these matters are under consideration and a decision needs to be made taking into consideration the best interest of the township and the public that it serves,” John Ferguson, the chief administrative officer of the township, said in an email last week.
Contacted for comment, the office of Environment Minister David Piccini would only say “the process is playing out” and the final determination on the project is yet to come.
That’s perhaps the biggest takeaway from this story of the small roadway in cottage country — there is still a process in play and no, developers don’t have full leeway to do what they want. Neither do groups opposed to development, like the Save 91 group that amassed the 2,700 signatures on the petition, get their way.
There is a process, there are rules and regulations, and they are followed.
The popular narrative right now is that in Doug Ford’s Ontario, anything can be paved, the environment is being gutted, there are no rules, only favours. That’s a narrative built on a lot of innuendo rather than truth.
Even the plan to remove 7,400 acres from the more than two million acres of Greenbelt protect lands was carried out by professional public servants who decided on the land parcels and then briefed the politicians on their proposals. It wasn’t the other way around.
The story of County Road 91 isn’t likely to change perceptions of people who prefer narratives over facts but for those who still believe truth matters, this story should assure them that in Ontario the rules matter.
What will happen to County Road 91? More hearings, more pleadings from all sides before bureaucrats and tribunals including the Niagara Escarpment Commission in the coming months.
That is how process works, even in Doug Ford’s Ontario.