A News Commentary by Niagara At Large reporter and publisher Doug Draper
Posted July 18th, 2021 on Niagara At Large
A call by Niagara Centre MPP Jeff Burch for a deep probe of the Ontario Ford government’s controversial land-use policies has been answered with a green light at the Office of Ontario Auditor-General Bonnie Lysyk.
According to a breaking story in the Friday, July 16th edition of The Globe and Mail, Lysyk and her team of investigators, who have not shied away from being highly critical of the current Conservative government and former Liberal government of Kathleen Wynne when they believe the facts they uncover warrants it, have already begun looking into concerns raised by Burch and others that the so-called land-use policies the Ford government is pursuing are based far less on good planning practices than on the profit-making interests of their friends and allies in Ontario’s development industry.
Among the policy moves that has alarmed Burch and others, including conservation and environmental protection groups across the province, is an unprecedented use by Ford’s Municipal Affairs Minister, Steve Clark, in the number of once rarely used “ministerial zoning orders” (MZOs) to override municipal council decisions when it comes to allowing a developer to pave over wetlands, woodlands, farmlands and other natural heritage features.
Another issue of concern is the Ford government’s use of questionable growth projections for regions like Niagara and others across Ontario that could have a major influence on where municipal councils go with drafting new Official Plans for urbanizing their communities in the future.
“In April (2021),” said Niagara MPP Jeff Burch on his Facebook page this July 16th, “I wrote a letter to the Auditor-General requesting that she investigate Ontario’s growth plans, which have historically been inaccurate. In a response to my office, the Auditor-General indicated that she will be conducting a value-for-money audit of land-use planning.
“Inaccurate growth projections,” added Burch,” have several significant long-term consequences, including the excessive loss of farmland and natural heritage, costly overinvestment (or underinvestment) in infrastructure, higher taxes and infrastructure servicing costs that aren’t recovered from development charges, and unfair windfalls to land speculators.”
Inaccurate growth projections may also influence decisions our Niagara Regional Council makes on how much protection natural heritage should receive in an Official Plan, now on the verge of being approved, versus the need for new urban development in the years ahead, and on where that development should go and how much more green space should be sacrificed in the process.
As for the Ford government’s frequent use of MZOs to override planning decisions municipal councils make in concert with citizens at the local level, it is not out of the question that Ford and company use them to push through controversial development in treasured natural areas like Waverly Woods in Fort Erie and in Thundering Waters Forest and its provincially significant wetlands in the Niagara River watershed in Niagara Falls.
Globe and Mail reporter Jeff Gray reached out to Ford’s Municipal Affairs Minister, Steve Clark to discuss the use of MZOs and, as reported in Gray’s story, received this for a reply – ‘Krystle Caputo, a spokeswoman for Mr. Clark, defended the use of MZOs but added that the minister welcomes input from the Auditor-General.
“MZOs are a tool our government uses, in partnership with municipalities, to get critical local projects, like housing and long-term care homes, located outside of the Greenbelt, moving faster,” she said in an e-mail.’
At least some residents across Niagara may remember Krystle Caputo.
Caputo served in communications at the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA) when that Conservation Authority was run by the likes of administrators like David Barrick and when members of what became known as then-Niagara Regional chair Al Caslin’s cabal, including then Fort Erie regional councillor Sandy Annunziata and then St. Catharines regional councillor Bruce Timms, dominated the NPCA’s board of directors.
Following the 2018 municipal elections, Caslin and a number of other members of his so-called cabal were voted out of office, and the likes of Barrick and Caputo were eventually gone from the NPCA under a new board.
Now Caputo is a p.r. flak for the Ford goverment and Barrick is the CAO for the City of Brampton where he has become a figure of controversy there.
According to the July 16th Globe and Mail story, Ontario’s Auditor-General may be in a position to issue a public report on the conclusions of its investigation into the Ford government’s land-use policies by the end of this year.
Niagara At Large will have more to post on the Auditor-General’s probe into the Ford government’s land-use policies in the days and weeks ahead.
Here is a link to The Globe and Mail story on this news which you may or may not be able to open in full, depending on whether or not you have an online subscription to the newspaper – https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-auditor-general-investigating-ontarios-land-use-policies/ .
To read a news release from Niagara Centre NDP MPP Jeff Burch circulated earlier this year on this issue, click on –https://www.jeffburchmpp.ca/ndp_calls_for_investigation_into_pc_insiders_benefitting_in_majority_of_fast_track_development_approvals .
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