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.