On Friday September 22, on the eve of our ECA event series with Edward Burtynsky, we received some great news – the CRA had officially granted Charitable Status to the Escarpment Corridor Alliance. This marks a very important milestone in our mission to protect the escarpment of Southern Georgian Bay. The work of the ECA is, by definition, expensive. We rely on a select group of professionals with expertise in natural heritage, environmental law, land use planning, government relations and marketing to name a few. Fundraising to meet these demands is challenging enough without charitable status and we owe a large debt of gratitude to the Small Change Fund for believing in our project, supporting our work and being able to give our donors a tax receipt over the past 15 months as our application was in process. The support of SCF has been critical to our rapid evolution as an organization and we look forward to continued partnership. Now, as a proud, standalone registered Canadian charitable organization, important new funding sources including public and private foundations and government grants are open to us. Of course, at the heart of our success will always be the grassroots support of individuals and families from across Southern Georgian Bay who, like us, say “Yes!” to a green escarpment forever!
Three critical lessons can be learned from the recent Greenbelt debacle:
- Ontarians care deeply about their natural spaces
- We don’t buy into false trade-offs. We can build housing, create more affordable communities AND NOT pave over our highly precious and limited greenspaces
- By speaking with one voice, we can make a difference
Like many others the ECA is pleased to support those MPPs from all parties that will vote for the proposed legislation and see the removed parcels reinstated into the Greenbelt. However, we caution that further work on this legislation is required to fully protect these lands, including the Niagara Escarpment which is a core part of the Greenbelt. The two links below from our partners at Environmental Defence and the Ontario Greenbelt Steering Committee provide a broad overview of some key shortfalls in the proposed legislation. Beyond their insightful critiques, the ECA is also proposing that the legislation clean up legacy planning mistakes like Castle Glen and Talisman. After five decades, these are no longer deserving of grandfathered protection based inapplicable resort recreational zoning designation by the Niagara Escarpment Commission. Both developments would irreparably destroy some of the most visible parts of the brow of the escarpment and sever important ecological corridors. In order to fully address the Greenbelt in totality, this legislation must also address the current and sizeable issues that the Auditor General described in her November 2022 report on the Niagara Escarpment Commission.
As the last few months have shown, Ontarians are proud of, and care passionately for their Greenbelt and the 2 million acres of protected farm lands, forests, wetlands and waterways.
The Province’s removal of 7,400 acres from the Greenbelt was met with overwhelming public opposition. Data did not support the Government’s false assertions that the land was necessary for solving the housing crisis. The Auditor-General, regional planners, and the government’s own Housing Affordability Task Force concluded that more than enough land has already been designated in towns and cities to build all the needed housing for decades to come. Destroying important Greenbelt lands had nothing to do with solving Ontario’s housing crisis and instead seemed more focused on creating massive speculative profits for urban sprawl developers well-connected to the provincial government.
Bringing these 7,400 acres of irreplaceable farmland and natural areas back into Greenbelt protection through this proposed Bill will correct this terrible decision by the government that was so against the public interest. We applaud all MPPs who will support the proposed Bill’s speedy passage into law.
As well, we applaud the new process proposed by this Bill for any future changes to the Greenbelt. We fully support requiring any future changes to be accomplished through legislation requiring proper processes, debate, public consultation, and recorded votes by elected officials instead of regulation requiring only Cabinet approval. The Greenbelt should never again be able to be attacked and changed in secret behind closed doors.
However, this Bill does not guarantee Ontario’s Greenbelt is now adequately protected. Other actions of this provincial government threaten many parts of the Greenbelt, specifically the proposals to build new mega highways through the Greenbelt such as Highway 413 and the Bradford Bypass. As well, land use planning policies found in Bill 23, proposed changes to the Provincial Policy Statement, the proposed elimination of the Growth Plan, forced urban boundary expansions, and the improper use of MZOs all threaten the Greenbelt and the lands surrounding it. Finally, the Minister’s comments at the press conference earlier today provide no assurances that the Government will not remove lands from the Greenbelt as part of the mandated 10-year review.
The speedy passage of the proposed Bill is a necessary and welcome action that will restore Ontario’s Greenbelt. But it is only the start. We hope MPPs will listen to the vast majority of Ontarians and make Greenbelt protection a priority by undoing other policies that are threatening our beloved and precious Greenbelt that millions of people depend on for groundwater, local food, recreation, biodiversity, natural heritage, and ecological services. The government needs to abandon its many other proposed actions that will harm the Greenbelt. Instead, we urge them to focus on building affordable, sustainable housing within our existing towns and cities and expand the Greenbelt to improve our future resilience and preparedness in an era of global climate change.
The Escarpment Corridor Alliance (ECA), a beacon of environmental preservation in South Georgian Bay, recently marked a pivotal moment in its journey by welcoming fresh faces to its esteemed Board of Directors. While celebrating new beginnings, the organization also expressed profound gratitude for the contributions of two key members who had been instrumental since its inception in 2021.
In 2021, George Knowles and David Middleton were among the visionaries who joined hands to form the Escarpment Corridor Alliance. Their tireless commitment, dedication, and unwavering belief in the alliance’s mission have been nothing short of remarkable. As they step down from their positions on the Board, their contributions leave an indelible mark on the ECA’s history.
George Knowles, with his passionate advocacy for environmental preservation, has been a driving force behind the ECA’s initiatives. David Middleton’s financial expertise, as well as his adept management of the alliance’s resources, has played a pivotal role in the ECA’s achievements over the years.
The ECA proudly welcomes a new trio of exceptionally skilled individuals to the Board. These fresh faces, with their unique expertise and unwavering dedication, are poised to further the alliance’s mission:
- Ian Whitton – Treasurer: Stepping into the role previously held by David Middleton, Ian Whitton brings a wealth of financial acumen to the ECA. His background in fiscal management will be invaluable in sustaining the alliance’s conservation efforts, ensuring that they remain both impactful and sustainable.
- Martha McCarthy – Legal specialist: With Martha McCarthy’s legal expertise, the ECA gains a guardian of the law. Her insights will guide the alliance through the complex legal terrain of conservation and environmental preservation, ensuring that their mission remains ethically and legally sound.
- Dale Biddell – Expert in the charitable sector: Dale Biddell, an expert in the charitable sector, will contribute to the ECA’s operational excellence. Her deep understanding of the intricacies of governing a nonprofit organization ensures the alliance remains transparent, accountable, and effective.
The ECA’s commitment to conserving the unique and awe-inspiring beauty of South Georgian Bay’s escarpment remains unwavering. With the addition of these new Board members, the alliance is poised to reach new heights in its quest to protect this natural treasure for generations to come.
The ECA’s journey is one of ongoing dedication, and with this new chapter in their history, they are more determined than ever to safeguard the splendor of the South Georgian Bay escarpment for all to enjoy.
The future is looking bright and ‘green’ for both people and nature along the South Georgian Bay Escarpment. Larry & Barbara Hall, founding philanthropists of the new South Georgian Bay Innovation Fund (‘SGBIF’), and the Escarpment Corridor Alliance (‘ECA”), have come together in a new partnership.
The SGBIF has pledged $75,000 over three years to focus on three areas that align with the ECA’s strategic priorities. First is development of a youth environmental stewardship program. Second, is developing the concept of a ‘nature-based conservation economy vision’. Third is support for the planning and launch of an annual Nature & Conservation Economy Summit in Winter 2024.
“Our two organizations have found some wonderful common ground and shared vision which resulted in this three-year, $75,000 funding partnership. Early in our Fund’s launch in December 2022, Barb and I with our SGBIF team concluded that opportunities building new programs on the uniqueness of South Georgian Bay’s natural environment should be the focus of our initial grants. Fortunately, we discovered an organization that shared our vision and commitment to protecting and enhancing the experience of, and access to Nature, for those of us who live, work, and play, or visit South Georgian Bay. Stay tuned as we, together, help build a greener and enriched Nature experience here in South Georgian Bay.” – Larry Hall, South Georgian Bay Innovation Fund
“We are so excited and grateful to welcome the SGBIF as one of our founding Leadership Funding Partners. This philanthropic investment will be critical in executing our mission priorities. With the support of donors like the SGBIF and The Hall’s, we are confident that the ECA will be a leader in improving and sustaining the natural, economic and social environments in the regional South Georgian Bay community.” -Jarvis Strong, ECA Executive Director
About the South Georgian Bay Innovation Fund
The South Georgian Bay Innovation fund was established by Ravenna residents Larry & Barb Hall in 2022 with a $1.1 million fund held at Toronto Foundation. The fund supports organizations led by social entrepreneurs who are developing innovative approaches to issues across important pillars within the not-for-profit sector: social, economic, environmental and cultural. Its first two areas of focus are: increasing conservation and accessibility to maximize the healing power of nature; integration of nature and prevention strategies in youth mental health.
About the Projects
Youth Environmental Stewardship Program
The project will begin with a regional community scan and assessment of environmental and outdoor education, recreation and wellness programs for youth.
Research has demonstrated that nature immersion plays a critical role in youth mental health and wellbeing. If it is determined that there is a program gap and need for innovative new offerings, the SGBIF and ECA will conduct a feasibility study in the second year of this funding partnership for introducing new outdoor wellness related programs in partnership with local businesses, government and other local nonprofits.
Nature Based Conservation Economy Vision
Create a vision that would make South Georgian Bay a world class nature & wellness home and destination by developing and gathering support for an innovative model for sustainable, joint environmental and economic development.
Nature & Conservation Economy Summit
The Summit will bring together regional, provincial, federal and world environmental, conservation, environmental and wellness experts for a collaborative discussion around the concept of a nature-based conservation economy, the importance of nature for wellness and mental health, and the importance of eco-corridors in our region.
In a recent gathering of like-minded organizations, the Escarpment Corridor Alliance (ECA) hosted a partner meeting on June 23. The primary objective was to foster collaboration and strengthen alliances among the participants, all of whom share a common goal of safeguarding the Niagara Escarpment in South Georgian Bay. Guided by ECA Board Member, David Scoon, the meeting brought together over twenty organizations dedicated to the preservation of the region’s vital ecosystems, including forests, fields, wetlands, and watersheds.
During the meeting, an important contribution was made by Robert Wong from RMCG Research. Wong set the stage with a results presentation of the Escarpment Community Survey, a recent initiative that provided invaluable insights into the perceptions and concerns of the local community regarding the preservation of the Niagara Escarpment. This presentation served as a catalyst for discussions and played a significant role in shaping the collaborative efforts of the organizations moving forward.
- Thinking bigger is helpful. Working together and presenting a common front makes us all stronger….the voice of the whole is far greater than the sum of the parts;
- Different forms of coordination and resource sharing need to be encouraged. Common calendars and shared service models are examples of these activities;
- The ECA is in a unique position to help drive this partnership model forward and in so doing create opportunities to add incremental support to the valuable work of each individual partner organization.
Two critical events occurred in November 2022 that make the Escarpment Corridor Alliance’s work and plans for 2023/2024 so essential for the future of Ontario’s environment.
First, Conservative Premier Doug Ford announced the removal of 7,400 acres from Ontario’s Greenbelt. This announcement led to an immediate and immense public outcry from just about every stakeholder group, save the developers who stand to benefit.
Second, and with almost no fanfare, the Auditor General of Ontario released her “Value for Money Audit: Conserving the Niagara Escarpment.” It is a scathing indictment of neglect and lack of oversight of one of our provincial treasures and a globally significant UNESCO World Biosphere.
The connection is very important. Many people do not realize that the Niagara Escarpment formed the original part of the Ontario Greenbelt and, to this day, makes up 25% of the total Greenbelt area. In fact, Castle Glen (the proposed site of a Blue Mountains mega-development) was listed as one of the Ontario Greenbelt Alliance’s Top 10 Hotspots in its 2005 report card – FYI, it scored an ‘F’. The other common link is that The Greenbelt Act (2005) and the Niagara Escarpment Planning & Development Act (1973) are just that … Acts. They are pieces of paper and, as we have seen, subject to arbitrary change at the drop of a hat.
So, on to the year ahead.
Events & Awareness – Ed Burtynsky Partnership
An explicit goal for the ECA in the coming year is to make sure everyone who treasures the Niagara Escarpment explicitly understands that we can no longer count on the protection of an Act or the Niagara Escarpment Commission to keep our escarpment green and intact for future generations. Proposed developments threaten to behead the escarpment in two of its most iconic and sensitive locations – Castle Glen in The Blue Mountains and Talisman in the Beaver Valley. To protect these areas, these stories need to be told across the province.
To help build that awareness, the ECA is excited to announce that world renowned landscape photographer and filmmaker, Edward Burtunsky, (www.edwardburtynsky.com) is partnering with the ECA on a weekend of environmental leadership, arts, and educational events in Collingwood (Sept. 22nd/23rd). I will write more about this in an upcoming blog, but we look forward to using this partnership to raise the ECA’s profile and our fundraising reach across the province.
Data Driven Dialogue
The ECA recently engaged RCMG Inc., a top regional survey firm, to conduct a widespread analysis of how residents and visitors work, live, and play across the escarpment of Southern Georgian Bay as well as examine their attitudes towards specific proposed developments like Castle Glen, Talisman, and Silver Creek Wetlands. We are pleased to report that this survey generated over 3,000 responses following promotion by radio, direct mail, a poster campaign, social media, and other channels. This response rate far exceeds other surveys that have been done at the municipal and/or organizational level in our region and gives the ECA the data required to engage our local, regional, and provincial governments and agencies with an even stronger, and more legitimate, voice. Expect the data to be released in early May.
Working across multiple local and regional governments is critical if we want our environment to be protected – and it can be very complex and challenging. In my last blog, I discussed a motion recently passed unanimously by The Blue Mountains council that called for the protection of greenspace and the creation of natural corridors in Southern Georgian Bay. We are delighted to see the second half of this motion begin to take shape starting in May when the Chief Administrative Officers from adjoining municipalities will meet with the ECA and other stakeholders in order to determine how we can extend this vision for protected natural corridors across Southern Georgian Bay.
Environmental, Legal, Planning, and Economic Work
The ECA is embarking on significant projects with multiple professionals in 2023 as we build the case for land conservation, not just in our hotspots, but also across our broader region. At the scientific level, wetland and watershed evaluations, species at risk analysis, GIS and constraints mapping, and much more work is underway or being initiated to support our advocacy with governments. Legal and planning projects continue to focus on understanding how today’s legislation is best applied to overturn 50-year-old legacy planning mistakes that almost nobody believes serve the public interest nor our environment. Finally, we have several projects focused on building the case for a Conservation Economy approach to how we manage and profit from our natural assets for generations to come.
From Grassroots to Professional Organization
From the onset, our Board of Directors have been fully aligned to our mission of keeping the escarpment across Southern Georgian Bay green and free of inappropriate and unnecessary development. We were also in agreement that, to do so, we would need to supplement our cherished grassroots approach. We would need professional elements in our organization who will make sure the volunteers, who will continue to be the lifeblood of the ECA, are more effective.
The person who will help the ECA to move to the next level is Jarvis Strong, who we are delighted to have hired as our first Executive Director. Jarvis will initially be working on a part-time basis out of our new HQ at The Foundry in Collingwood. His background as an accomplished ED along with his fundraising experience, energy, and passion for outdoor education make him a perfect fit for the ECA. Under Jarvis, the ECA will build out the systems and governance required to achieve maximum impact across our community.
Our escarpment, the Giant’s Rib, that stretches across our regional landscape represents something essential, something that we passionately believe is worth fighting for. We hope that you feel the same and that we can count on you for your support in the year ahead.