Ontario set to remove protections for Pickering’s Duffins Rouge Preserve


Published December 6, 2022 at 12:17 pm


The Ontario Government’s removal of environmental protections for green spaces continued with another bill set to repeal the conservation of Pickering’s Duffins Rouge Agricultural Preserve.

Ontario’s Municipal Affairs Minister Steve Clark has put forward Bill 39, the Better Municipal Governance Act, in Queen’s Park. While the bill’s first and third schedules are concerned with municipal governance, the second is environmental.

The first point would allow the mayors of Toronto and Ottawa to override a city council majority if a bylaw they propose is deemed a “provincial priority,” the so-called strong mayor powers.

The third section would give Clark, and future Municipal Affairs Ministers, the ability to appoint the Regional chair in Niagara, Peel and York. Currently, the regional councils vote for who should be the chair in their first meeting. Conversely, Durham directly elects the Regional Chair.

However, most relevant to Durham Region residents is the second point of the Bill which repeals the Duffins Rouge Agricultural Preserve Act of 2005. 

As it stands, the 2005 Act prevents the use of lands in the Duffins Rouge Preserve for anything but agriculture. The preserve protects roughly 5,200 acres of land from development. The new bill not only ends the restriction but legally renders the protections as having never existed at all.

This retroactive application is particularly relevant following the discovery that wetlands with in the protected area had been tilled. Previously, they lands were a candidate for an Amazon warehouse, and Premier Doug Ford fast-tracked an MZO (a special zoning order) to make it so.

However, local conservationists rose up to reject the proposal, and the warehouse instead settled at the former site of the Pickering Markets. After this fight, the owners of the wetland, Triple Group, pledged to keep the land undisturbed.

Despite these assurances the land was tilled and ostensibly prepared for “farming,” thereby destroying the wetland.  The Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation (MSIFN) and numerous environmental groups have decried the destruction.

The MSIFN was equally troubled by Clark’s previous Bill 23, which like Bill 39 opened large swaths of the formerly protected Green Belt. The First Nation called Bill 23 and the lack of Indigenous consultation during its development “disgusting.”

Much of that previous land has been recently purchased by developers, some as recently as September, prompting allegations the government tipped them off. Opposition leaders have called for a an integrity commissioner review. Ford and Clark have denied wrongdoing.

Numerous communities across Ontario have also railed against Bill 23, including Oshawa, Whitby, and Durham Region. Their concerns are more economical, however.

Bill 23 also removes many development fees paid by construction firms to offset infrastructure costs where they build. As a result, municipalities will have to reduce services and increase taxes to cover millions of dollars in budget shortfall. This will hit Durham Region particularly hard since residents on average already have some of the largest tax bills in Ontario.

While Bill 23 passed back in November, Bill 39 is still up for debate. During debate on the bill on November 27, Oshawa MPP Jennifer French railed against its proposals.

While French represents Oshawa, as the only opposition MPP in Durham Region she often critiques moves across the region including tolls on Hwy 412 and 418 in Whitby and Clarington and the proposed license renewal for Pickering’s Orchard Villa long-term care facility.

Over heckles from Brampton North MPP Graham McGregor, French first attacked the strong mayor powers as a direct assault on democratic norms which grants, in her view, excessive power to the minority voices on city council.

On the Duffins Rouge Preserve French told the assembly, “Oshawa tells Queen’s Park hands off the Green Belt.”

“Bills 23 and 39 are all attacks on our future,” she said, “Schedule two of [Bill 39] say that Duffins Rouge Agricultural Preserve Act should be repealed. That like this government has to peel off that safety, that protection, in order to take that chunk of land out of the Green Belt.”

“This has to happen first because this is super, duper protected land,” she said.

She additionally cited a 1999 agreement between Pickering, Durham and Ontario to keep the preserve agricultural in perpetuity, “which means forever and ever and ever.” After this agreement the province sold the land on the cheap to farmers on the condition it was always used for agriculture.

The Ford government has argued that lands need to be opened up for development to alleviate the Ontario’s long standing housing crisis. However, Bill 39 includes no mention of housing needs.

The Toronto and Region Conservation Authority found otherwise in a November report, noting there is enough developable land to solve the crisis without removing Green Belt protections.

Finally, following a lengthy special council meeting on December 4, Pickering’s newly elected council voted to reject Bill 39. They will send letters Ford, Clark and Pickering MPP Peter Bethlenfalvy to inform the trio council stands against the removal Green Belt protections.

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