TORONTO — The Government of Ontario is coming under fire from municipalities throughout the province for an omnibus bill that threatens to open up critical wildlife habitat to developers. With just a few days left until Bill 108, the More Homes, More Choice Act, reaches third reading in the Legislature, several municipalities are voicing opposition to Schedule 5 of the bill, which would drastically reduce protective measures in the Endangered Species Act, 2007.
The municipalities of York, Muskoka Lakes, Oakville, Aurora, Archipelago and Lennox-Addington have voiced their opposition to the bill, which would also reduce municipal planning oversight. Several other municipalities and townships will be considering similar motions this week. They are critical of sweeping changes proposed for 15 laws that would negatively affect community-building and proper planning.
“Aurora values its biodiversity, and this bill will eliminate the ability of local councils to make decisions pertaining to how the natural areas that support wildlife in our communities are managed,” said Aurora Mayor Tom Mrakas. “Once again, an unelected, unaccountable body will be making decisions for our communities, and a profit-driven building industry is not just changing the rules, it wants to rewrite them entirely to suit its purposes.”
Several communities are concerned that the bill, if passed, would harm local biodiversity. Municipalities including the Township of the Archipelago raised concerns about the proposed “Species Conservation Fund,” which would enable developers to pay into a fund instead of actually protecting and restoring habitat of at-risk species. Still others articulated that passage of the bill would undermine the ability of municipalities to make important planning decisions for their communities.
“Bill 108 undermines community-based planning and rolls back protections for the province’s most vulnerable plants and animals and their habitats that were established in Ontario’s Endangered Species Act, 2007,” said Oakville Mayor Rob Burton. “It is an onslaught on everything we’ve been trying to do for the past 12 years. The province’s proposed changes to the Endangered Species Act could best be described as ‘pay to slay’ because it establishes fees and a fund for harming endangered species and their habitats that would have been protected under the previous legislation.”
“Public opposition to Schedule 5 has been remarkable across the province,” said Anne Bell, Ontario Nature’s director of conservation and education. “Tens of thousands of people have voiced their opposition and 96 organizations signed a joint submission urging the government to remove Schedule 5, which would undercut crucial legal protections for at-risk plants and animals.”
“We have heard growing opposition to this bill,” said Rachel Plotkin of the David Suzuki Foundation. “The Government of Ontario says it’s for the people but doesn’t seem to recognize that the people happen to care about wildlife. Plants and animals need homes too.”
The bill will go before the Justice Policy Committee on May 31 and is tentatively scheduled for third reading on June 4.
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The David Suzuki Foundation (davidsuzuki.org) is a leading Canadian environmental non-profit organization, collaborating with all people in Canada, including government and business, to conserve the environment and find solutions that will create a sustainable Canada through evidence-based research, public engagement and policy work. The Foundation operates in English and French, with offices in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal.
Earthroots (www.earthroots.org) is a grassroots conservation organization dedicated to the protection of Ontario’s wilderness, wildlife and watersheds. Earthroots conducts species at risk research, educates the public about the environment and inspires Ontarians to participate in protecting the ecological community of which we are all a part.
Ontario Nature (www.ontarionature.org) protects wild species and wild spaces across the province through conservation, education and public engagement. Ontario Nature is a charitable organization representing more than 30,000 members and supporters, and 150 member groups across Ontario.
Barn swallow © Thomas CC BY-SA 2.0
Blanding’s turtle © Scott Gillingwater
Little brown myotis bat © Ann Froschauer USFWS CC_BY-SA 2.0