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'A matter of principle:' Niagara MPPs, NPCA respond to Greenbelt Council resignations

Chandra Sharma, chief administrative officer of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA) said she was not surprised by the resignations which came over the weekend
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Niagara’s MPPs are speaking out following a string of resignations from the province’s Greenbelt Council, including chair David Crombie.

Six members resigned from Premier Doug Ford’s Greenbelt Council, along with Crombie, in response to the government’s passing of Schedule 6 of Bill 229, legislation that would see major change made to conservation authorities across the province when it comes to watershed management.

Chandra Sharma, chief administrative officer of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA) said she was not surprised by the resignations which came over the weekend, adding that Crombie, the now former chair of the Greenbelt Council, has been a champion of conservation authorities for decades.

“Many conservation authorities used his pioneering work in developing their watershed plans in the '80s and '90s. He is an expert, and most of the members of the council were on the same page as him so, it is a matter of principle. I think that is the reason they have handed in their resignation.”

Niagara’s three NDP MPPs had strong words of opposition to the legislation proposed in Bill 229.

Jeff Burch, Niagara Centre MPP, said he hopes the resignations coming from the Greenbelt Council will send a message to the Ford government.

“The resignations of David Crombie, and the other members of the Greenbelt council, is an indictment of Doug Ford and his continued war on conservation, the Greenbelt and the environment. The Greenbelt Council, The Ontario Federation of Agriculture, the Ontario Society of Professional Engineers, the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, conservation authorities, local councils and thousands of regular people, have asked this government to stop their attack.”

Niagara Falls MPP Wayne Gates sent a similar message, saying the changes made to the role of conservation authorities in development, land use planning, and the issuing of permits could have long-term consequences.

“Our kids,’ our grandkids’ futures are at stake. I hope these resignations are the needed encouragement for this government to finally understand how dangerous their plans are.”

Bill 229 passed its third reading of the house on Mon. Dec. 7 following the resignation of Crombie and six others from the Greenbelt Council.

Niagara West MPP Sam Oosterhoff, who is also a sponsor of Bill 229, said the government is already looking to fill the empty seats on the Greenbelt Council, and hopes to work closely with those appointed.

“Our government is actively working to appoint a new chair and other council members to bring in new voices. We look forward to sharing those details in coming days. We are hoping that with a fresh perspective on the council, we will be able to fulfil this commitment.”

St. Catharines MPP Jennie Stevens joined her NDP colleagues in condemning the legislation and said the resignations from the Greenbelt Council should serve as a warning to the Ford government of the potential environmental impact of Schedule 6 of Bill 229.

“These resignations are people ringing the alarm bell, because the environmental risk is that high right now. The greenbelt is more than a symbol for the environment in Niagara. We’ve got a situation right now where decision-making is being shifted from communities like ours and put in the hands of developers.”

Speaking on behalf of the NPCA, Sharma said whatever course of action the government chooses to take, local conservation authorities will continue the work they do in watershed management, in whatever way that may be.

“If the province thinks this is the right way to go, then we will make it work.”

- Bryan Levesque, Local Journalism Initiative, Grimsby Lincoln News