By John Bacher
Many people care for our wounded earth here in the Niagara Region, but frequently despair about what can be done to preserve and protect it.
Farmlands are gobbled up, forests are slashed and streams are entombed in cement. Fish, frogs and turtles lose their homes with the waters. Native bird species vanish while alien pests such as starlings swarm in and deer are confined to parks where they become the focus of conflicts with park neigbhours, animal activists and native peoples.
Normally it is not easy to get be a serious earth protector. Consider the challenges, as I have, of getting elected to serve on a municipal council. This is truly a formidable task, going door to door and facing hostile audiences, and facing hostile political machines.
Service on municipal councils, despite what you may read in the media, is so important because of the power of zoning. Sometimes, especially during times of rapid growth, municipal politicians feel unhappy at getting elected to provincial politics. That is because they then miss the attention from those concerned if a parcel of land will be zoned agriculture, environmental protection or some urban purpose.
Don’t want to be a municipal councillor? Then where do you appeal zoning decisions? The answer is go to the Ontario Municipal Board.
If there is anything more torture prone than running for municipal council, it has to be fighting an Ontario Municipal Board hearing. What is even worse than in the olden days, when the Preservation of Agricultural Lands Society won OMB battles, is that at these hearings it doesn’t matter how many degrees or what work experience you have anymore. If you want to testify before the OMB and are a member of an environmental protection group, you might as well stay away.
Dr. Robert Hoover, a Brock University teacher and fully qualified urban planner from 1976 to 1983, did heroic service, representing PALS during those years at a number of OMB hearings.
In more recent times, having that kind of expertise and a prestigious degree is not enough for the OMB. Just ask the recently retired Brock University Geographer Professor, Dr. Hugh Gaylor. Although the OMB ruled that he was qualified to give expert testimony on the basis of his qualifications, he was ruled out by virtue of his alleged membership in PALS. To be an advocate is a cardinal sin.
Now for a window of a little over a month, there is an opportunity to protect the earth that involves relatively little pain. That opportunity is the Province of Ontario’s upcoming Greenbelt consultations. What is more the time and place for one of these sessions in Niagara are quite accessible, so write it down and encourage your friends to come.
The Greenbelt consultation for Niagara will be held on Wednesday, April 15, 2015, at the Holiday Inn and Suites Parkway Convention Center at 327 Ontario Street in St. Catharines. It will run from 6 to 7pm, followed by a meeting where deputations can be made from 7 to 9 p.m.
If you want to think globally while acting locally to heal the planet, be there.
John Bacher is working on the Greenbelt Review for the Sierra Club of Canada and the Niagara-based citizens group, the Preservation of Agriculture Lands Society. This is the first in a series on articles on the review. Later articles on the review will deal with wildlife, forests, fruitland , water pollution, the Niagara Escarpment and forests.
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