Hamilton New Democrats press feds over Ontario development plans

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Published January 27, 2023 at 7:11 pm

Hamilton Centre MP Matthew Green. (House of Commons)

Two Hamilton legislators are calling on the federal environment minister to use the tools at his disposal to dig in against Ontario’s development plans. Both cited the potential environmental effects on human health.

Hamilton Centre member of Parliament Matthew Green, of the federal New Democratic Party, issued a statement Friday urging Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Environment Minister Stephen Guilbeault to nix Premier Doug Ford’s plans to allow development on designated Greenbelt lands. At the provincial level, Ontario NDP MPP Sandy Shaw (Hamilton West—Ancaster—Dundas) shared that she had written to Guilbeault to ask for a new environmental assessment of the controversial Bradford Bypass highway project. The last one is over 25 years ago.

Guilbeault said Friday that he might do so. Ford, speaking in Brampton, said the matter was, “our jurisdiction.”

Both politicians cited the federal Liberals’ own Impact Assessment Act, a 2019 piece of legislation intended to support “Canada’s ability to meet its environmental obligations and its commitments in respect of climate change.” Green also highlighted the Species at Risk Act (SARA) and noted Guilbeault used the federal powers bestowed through it in late 2021 to stop a residential development in order to protect the critical habitat of a frog species.

More than one-fourth of the 7,400 acres that the Ford-helmed PC Party of Ontario (PCPO) government intends to remove from the Greenbelt — while adding 9,400 acres elsewhere — is within Hamilton. That roughly 1,900 acres of Greenbelt land in the city includes some that was added in 2017 while Green was the Ward 2 city councillor. Former Ward 12 councillor Lloyd Ferguson, a noted fiscal conservative, was integral to those additions.

“Time is running out. Trudeau and Guilbeault can’t be toothless — making threats for headlines, then turning their backs on Ontarians,” Green said in a statement posted at ndp.ca. “We’re calling on the federal government to use its power urgently to stop Doug Ford and save the Greenbelt.”

Hundreds of local residents have attended rallies in Hamilton against the Greenbelt changes, the province’s Bill 23 housing legislation and its recent order for Hamilton to expand its urban boundary.

Multiple media investigations have suggested that developers who are PCPO donors bought land within that 7,400 acres before Ford and the Ontario PCs announced the changes. Those Greenbelt changes are under investigation by the Ontario integrity commissioner and the auditor general.

Ford has maintained no one in his government tipped off developers before his changes made land became developable. But in 2018, when he was leading the party to the first of successive majority-election wins, a leaked video showed him promising to open up the Greenbelt. He promised almost immediately that the government would not alter the Greenbelt.

Along with preserving fecund farmland for growing produce at a time when climate change-influenced droughts affect food security, the rationale behind the Greenbelt is to prevent flooding in densely populated Southern Ontario. In early December, Guilbeault warned the Ford government that that the feds would not provide disaster compensation where development is allowed in areas prone to flooding, and Ford replied by saying there was no plan to allow homes to be built on floodplains.

Green’s statement mentioned the functions of the Greenbelt, but evoked the possibility of floodplains being lost.

“The Greenbelt grows our food, cleans our water and prevents (Greater Toronto Area) homes from flooding,” Green stated. “For Trudeau and Guilbeault, it should be a simple choice now between protecting people’s food and our future, or letting the floodwaters rise up into our homes and our communities.”

Shaw, meantime, posted a letter she has written to Guilbeault calling for a new environmental assessment on the area where the Bradford Bypass would be built. The highway extension was a key plank in Ford’s re-election campaign in 2022. But the Hamilton MPP, in her letter, accuses Ontario of having “misled” former federal environment minister Jonathan Wilkinson and residents of the provinces.

The timeline in Shaw’s letter says that Ontario told Wilkinson in May 2021 that it would follow its Environmental Assessment Act if it was to build the Bradford Bypass. By the end of ’21, it had exempted the project from the terms of that law.

“This highway project will result in adverse environmental effects within federal jurisdiction, as well as adverse and incidental effects, and meets the criteria for public concern,” Shaw writes.

The notion of the Bradford Bypass project has floated around the halls of power in Ontario politics for a generation with both PCPO and Ontario Liberal governments. The last completed environmental assessment for it was in 1997.

— with files from The Canadian Press

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