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Voices unite against Ontario's Greenbelt, Bradford Bypass and Bill 23 plans

Rally planned in Holland Landing outside office of Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney
Nov. 23, 2022
Kim Zarzour

Gloria Marsh remembers driving on Woodbine Avenue in the 1970s.

It was unpaved road back then, and she had to stop when a male pheasant flew across the road just above the hood of her car.

The other day, she snapped a photo of a rabbit who’d slipped into her “wee backyard” from the conservation lands behind her house.

That pheasant is long gone, and Woodbine is paved, urbanized, looking much different today.

Marsh now wonders if the rabbits will disappear too, and all the small creatures living in protected conservation lands across the region.

What will it look like, years from now, should the Ford government go ahead with plans to chop up the Greenbelt? “Will this preserved land be sold off? Will I be looking at a subdivision?”

The Richmond Hill resident has been fighting on behalf of the environment for decades and at 78, she is battling still -- this time taking up arms against Bill 23 and the province’s plans to remove 7,400 acres from the Greenbelt.

“The future is still important,” she says, “because I have grandchildren and because I want to see nature protected for all species and countless generations to come.”

Marsh is executive director of York Region Environmental Alliance, one of several organizations sounding the alarm on the provincial government’s proposals via a “big tent” statement released Nov. 21.

The seven-page document -- with voices from agriculture, labour, tenants’ association, urban planning, health care, environment and housing -- claims the province’s proposed changes would bring chaos to land use planning and ecologically damaging sprawl to the Greenbelt -- while doing little or nothing to address the housing crisis.

The government’s plan will “supercharge expensive and wasteful urban sprawl, undermine environmental protection, threaten farmers, prevent the transformation of existing sprawl communities into climate resilient communities, and transfer money from taxpayers to land speculators and developers,” the statement says.

A rally is planned Nov. 27 outside the Holland Landing offices of member of the provincial parliament Caroline Mulroney.

“There are so many legitimate reasons for people to be concerned and angry about the province’s manoeuvres -- from the Greenbelt land cuts, Bill 23 and the Bradford Bypass,” said rally organizer Claire Malcolmson, the coalition’s environmental consultant.

“We want all the people who care, to learn more, to meet others who share their views and engage in these issues.”

A survey conducted for the North Gwillimbury Forest Alliance found 63 per cent of voters in the regions of Halton, Peel, York and Durham oppose Ford’s plan to allow developers to build houses in the Greenbelt.

The survey also found 74 per cent oppose the plan to sell Conservation Authorities’ nature reserves and park lands to developers, and 61 per cent don’t want the Bradford Bypass built in the Holland Marsh.

The 900-person telephone survey was conducted between Nov. 15 and 19. Its margin of error is plus or minus 2.5 per cent 19 times out of 20.

Bill 23 is so sweeping, so fundamentally wrong, Malcolmson says, that people and organizations are working across lines they don’t normally cross, to make a stronger point together.

Marsh agrees.“I think we’re going to be so sorry. All these areas will be fragmented. We’ll have tiny little pockets of colonial parks that are grass, not nature.”

This “Swiss cheese” development will damage York region’s wildlife corridors -- essential to species at risk, cold-water fish habitat and significant woodlots and wetlands, she says.

“People might not give a damn about Redside Dace (endangered fish in Ontario), but there are other ways they’ll be impacted.

“When I go for a walk in the forest, there’s 10 times more people than there ever were before COVID. People are realizing the importance of nature and that connectivity. We are nature. If it’s gone, we’re going to be dehumanized. It’s frightening.”