Ontario Auditor General Finds Niagara Escarpment Protections Lacking

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TORONTO — Ontario is not providing enough funding to provide adequate protection for the Niagara Escarpment, where nearly all development permit applications have been approved in the past five years, according to the province’s auditor general. .

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A recent report by the Auditor General indicated that significant areas of the escarpment are not covered by the official plan that guides land use of the escarpment, and that the plan allows development that harms the habitats of species. endangered.

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Additionally, the Niagara Escarpment Commission, an agency tasked with implementing the plan, does not have enough staff, resources or programs for some of the ongoing work, the auditor said.

“It is apparent that the commission does not have sufficient resources for environmental monitoring to assess the condition of the escarpment,” Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk wrote in her report earlier this month.

The purpose of the Niagara Escarpment (legislation) is to maintain the Niagara Escarpment and adjacent lands as a continuous natural environment and to permit only compatible development. Good stewardship requires constant improvements to better respond and adapt to increasing pressures on the escarpment, particularly due to significant population growth in the region.

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The commission had an environmental monitoring specialist on staff until 2015, but did not renew the position, according to the audit.

In 1996, the province cut funding for the commission by about a third, Lysyk wrote. The commission’s budget cuts again in 2010-11, the next two years, and again in 2019-20.

NDP representatives in the Niagara region are jointly calling on the government to increase funding so the escarpment can be better protected, though it’s not the only land they accuse Premier Doug Ford of not having. protected

“We have seen Mr. Ford break his promise and announce his intention to bulldoze the Greenbelt, and we know that means the province’s green spaces are now under threat,” wrote Wayne Gates.

Ford recently announced it would remove 15 different areas of conservation land from the Greenbelt so 50,000 homes can be built, while adding acres elsewhere. This is despite previous promises from Ford and his housing minister that they would not touch the Greenbelt.

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We are already seeing the consequences of Mr. Ford quietly withdrawing funds from the Niagara Escarpment,” Gates wrote.

Over the past five years, only 19 of 1,661 escarpment development permits have been denied in those years, according to Lysyk’s report. Some of the approved requests went against the official plan.

For example, in 2019 a request was approved to take 20,000 square meters of soil, sand and gravel to level a field for a vineyard, but according to the plan, only topsoil can be used for this purpose, according to The report.

Additionally, the commission failed to assess the cumulative effects of the more than 12,000 development permits issued since 1975, according to the report.

“The effect of multiple stressors poses a threat to the environment, but the commission views development permits in isolation,” Lysyk wrote, noting that the then-Liberal government in 2017 removed a reference to cumulative effects. in the escarpment plan, although the commission recommended strengthening this area.

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As part of the 2017 changes, the government also removed habitat protection for an endangered species as an explicit reason for denying a development permit application.

There are 54 aggregate operations on the escarpment and 17 are authorized for unlimited tonnage, according to the report. The commission recommended a ban on new aggregate operations in 2017 in the area covered by the escarpment plan, but the government refused to make that change, Lysyk wrote.

The commission did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but Natural Resources and Forestry Minister Graydon Smith said in a statement that the commission makes its decisions independently and within a risk management framework.

“The ministry works cooperatively with the Niagara Escarpment Commission, partner ministries, municipalities and conservation authorities to maintain the Niagara Escarpment and nearby lands as a continuous natural environment and to ensure compatible development,” Smith wrote.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on December 2. 16, 2022.



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