His Departure From Ontario Cabinet Would Only Comfort Those Who Mean To Do Our Earth Harm
By John Bacher
Posted June 23, 2016 on Niagara At Large
The departure this June of Jim Bradley, the veteran MPP for the Niagara, Ontario riding of St. Catharines, from the provincial cabinet is a good time to reflect on his remarkable achievements.
It also reminds me of the honourable record of another friend of mine, the late Cayuga environmental delegate, Norm Jacobs. The political legacy of both is shaped by a determined and difficult drive to put the well being of the earth first.
As Bradley exits the real corridor of power at the cabinet table, what drives home to me is the tribute that Jacob’s friend, Chief Arni General, gave to him. It was that his death will “be mourned by many, but not by all.”
Just as those who savoured mad schemes of urban sprawl gave a sigh of relief when Norm Jacobs died, people of a similar bent are no doubt relieved at the thought of Jim Bradley receding into political wilderness of the back benches.
Nor has there been much in the way of lament from the corporate owned media in Niagara even though, for the first time in well over a century, the region lacks representation in provincial cabinet.
Bradley’s greatness was shaped by the circumstances that launched his political career in his youth when, before his family moved to St. Catharines, he grew up in Sudbury, Ontario, in the shadow of the then polluting smokestack of an INCO nickel refinery where his father worked. He grew to be a rebel, but one with a noble cause.
He successfully defeated an opposing candidate Mackenzie Chown for the nomination in 1967 to be the Liberal candidate for provincial Member of Parliament. The differences between the two men became clear when they both sat on St. Catharines City Council during that period. Chown voted for every proposal to pave over unique fruit lands, while Bradley opposed them all.
After he was elected to the provincial legislature, Bradley was able to distinguish himself by upholding the principles of provincial land use planning during a heated debate on May 11th, 1978. At that time, the minority government of Premier William Davis battled the provincial Liberal Party’s efforts to abolish the Niagara Escarpment Commission. (NEC)
The Liberals were then headed by Stuart Smith, a reactionary leader who later spearheaded the privatization of Hamilton’s water.
On the vote to abolish the NEC, the Conservatives were split down the middle. Although Davis supported the NEC, the Niagara cabinet minister, Robert Welch, supported its abolition, an important event not reported in the St. Catharines Standard at the time. Bradley was the only Liberal to support Davis and the entire New Democratic Party, (NDP) caucus in a tight and historic 60-41 vote that saved the NEC.
Bradley’s defiance of Smith encouraged the growth of a close co-operation between him and the NDP member for Welland-Thorold, Mel Swart. This relationship provided many benefits during the crucial years between June 26 1985 and October 1, 1990, when Bradley served his first stint as Ontario’s Minister of the Environment in the then Liberal government of David Peterson.
During most of this time, Bradley and Swart developed careful strategies to achieve progressive environmental goals for the province on their train rides back and forth between Niagara and Queens Park.
As Environment Minister, Bradley was able to seize control of the NEC and dismissed previous biased hearing officers appointed by the pro-development Housing Ministry. He set in motion important improvements to the Niagara Escarpment Plan, which eventually resulted in restrictions on development, including a ban on new golf courses, in what was designated as a protected ‘Escarpment Rural Area’.
Bradley ably implemented the basic principles of an NDP-Liberal accord negotiated by then Ontario NDP leader Bob Rae and Liberal Premier David Peterson in 1985, including a controversial “Spills Bill” for protecting water courses from damaging discharges of chemicals and other wastes, and which had been obstructed for years by private insurance companies.
Bradley boldly backed a drive by environmentalists on both sides of the Niagara River to cap leaky American toxic waste dumps that were contaminating the river and Lake Ontario downstream.
A deluge of environmental reforms were unleashed during Bradley’s first tenure as environment minister – reforms that continue to provide the backbone of basic regulation in the province.
Garbage incinerators were banned from the rooftops of apartments. Oil laced with contaminants such as PCBs could no longer be spread on roads as a dust control. Log booms, a terrible source of contamination, vanished from provincial rivers.
Most significantly, he imposed a unilateral “countdown acid rain” program that required the province’s biggest emitters, including that INCO refinery in his birth town of Sudbury, to reduce their emissions by 64 per cent. This was the critical step to rid our continent of the curse of lakes and fish dying from sulphur induced acidification.
When the Liberals returned to power a decade ago, Bradley played a crucial role in the establishment of the provincial Greenbelt. This finally won protection for the Niagara fruit lands that his Liberal colleagues under Smith had pressured Davis to remove from the Escarpment Plan.
He was also a key player in the Liberal government’s decision to place any plan to move forward with a multi-lane, mid-peninsula highway in Niagara under the rigours of a full environmental assessment – making it that much harder for a highway proposal that had any potential to significantly damage the environment to win approval.
And when Bradley returned as Minister of the Environment, his greatest achievement was to impose a full environmental assessment on the proposed Dufferin County Mega Quarry. This terminated the scheme, which threatened both Ontario’s potato belt and the headwater of several trout streams.
It is easy not to celebrate our society’s heroes. Let us take a moment to do this for the very Honourable James Bradley.
John Bacher is a veteran conservationist in Niagara, Ontario and long-time member of the citizen group, Preservation of Agricultural Lands Society. A past contributor of posts to Niagara At Large, his most recent book is called ‘Two Billion Trees and Counting – The Legacy of Edmund Zavitz’. John also works with the Greenbelt Program Team at the Sierra Club of Canada Foundation.
His latest book on Ontario NDP icon Mel Swart is called ‘Mel Swart, Ecojustice Champion – 1919-2007 ‘. The book can be obtained from the Niagara, Ontario based Preservation of Agricultural Lands Society (PALS) for $15 by sending a cheque or money order to PALS at Post Office Box 1413, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, L02 1J0.
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