A multi-generational crowd encompassing young children with their handmade signs through to young-at- heart elders with their walkers gathered this past Saturday to show their opposition to the now-passed Bill 23 that stormed its way at breakneck speed through the Ontario legislature.
Accompanied by appreciative horn blowing support from passing traffic, more than 200 people assembled to rally for the protection of farmland and nature, and in protest to this problematic omnibus bill and its attacks on vital farmland, natural areas, and local planning governance. Even though the passing of this Bill was imminent, an impressive turnout and obvious public support buoyed the crowd. With MPP Brian Saunderson away and his unmarked Stayner constituency office empty, others came forward to speak to the assembled attendees of the peaceful rally.
Speaker Catherine Daw from the Collingwood Climate Action Team thanked everyone for the great turnout and encouraged people to continue to their efforts to stand up for democracy and the environment: “We are in a marathon, not a sprint.”
Nick Clayton noted Bill 23 does nothing to address the housing affordability and homelessness crises but will create sprawl and developer profit at the expense of farmland, wetlands, and increased municipal taxes.
Wasaga Beach Climate Action Team member Ted Chrysler questioned MPP Saunderson’s commitment to the Escarpment Corridor Alliance, noting Saunderson had told ECA, “protecting these green spaces is absolutely critical… the need is really to make sure that we grow in our settlement areas and not in our rural areas, so that we are looking at densification as opposed to deforestation.”
Chrysler pointed out the government’s 2022 Affordability Housing Task Force determined there is already enough land available for development and that “greenbelts and other environmentally sensitive areas must be protected, and farms.”
Margaret Prophet of the Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition congratulated the rally for being the largest of many taking place in Simcoe against Bill 23. For Creemore’s Brenna Lattimore, this rally was about coming together, speaking out and giving hope to the children and those next seven generations.
First announced on Nov. 16, the rally unfortunately ended up overlapping with a funeral service at a nearby church. Rally organizers, upon learning of the situation, connected with funeral staff prior to the event, and in an effort to reduce their impact on the funeral, moved the balance of the rally to a side street location once aware the funeral reception had ended.
At the event’s conclusion, rally participants wanting to leave a message for MPP Saunderson placed about 10 signs neatly in his office garden and at the entry, which were retrieved on Sunday evening. We continue to hope that Premier Ford and MPP Saunderson will listen to those messages offered in good faith and keep their promises to leave the Greenbelt alone and protect our farmland and our critically important natural areas.
On Monday, MPP Saunderson voted in favour of Bill 23. The proposed Greenbelt amendments, which are being handled separately, remain open for public comment until December 4. If you care, please let the government know at ero.ontario.ca/notice/019-6216.
“The people have spoken. I’m going to listen to them, they don’t want me to touch the Greenbelt, we won’t touch the Greenbelt.” Doug Ford, May 2018November 28 – Simcoe County
Coalition response to province passing Bill 23[On Nov. 28] local Conservative MPPs voted to pass Bill 23 against the best advice from municipalities, Conservation Authorities, farming organizations, housing advocates, environmentalists, planners and civil society. Make no mistake, the changes in Bill 23 do not address the housing affordability crisis, rather they will simply put more money into the pockets of billionaire developers at the expense of Ontarians and the natural resources we depend on.
This legislation was passed despite massive opposition from citizens across Ontario, including here in Simcoe County, who want the housing affordability crisis addressed while we address social and environmental crises. Rallies over the past weeks have been held in dozens of communities, outside MPPs offices, and many more wrote letters and contacted their MPP by phone and email asking them to stop Bill 23.
At the rallies many local citizens came to protest for the first time because they felt that the concerns of the vast majority of Ontarians, as well as experts in housing, planning, and the environment, are not being heeded by this government. These people believe in the value of public participation, in the power of people – in democracy – and so do we.
Despite the fact that this bill has been passed, the power and unity shown around the region – and province as well – will not be dying out any time soon. In fact, the number of people who came to the rallies, who wrote letters to the editor and emails to their MPP, are a clear sign that people are awakening to the self-interested ideology of this government. Ontarians have seen fully and clearly that this government is willing to break faith with the people of Ontario and the things that have benefited us all, our healthcare, our education, our labour strength, and our environmental stewardship.
Our region is full of strong and caring people, and we are creating a movement that will overcome these challenges to build a positive future together. No bill or undemocratic dealings such as this will stop that.
A democracy is a tool of the people.
We will continue to wield it.
We will continue to build and unify for the long term.
Most importantly, we will remember who led with the people in mind and those who were beholden to deep pockets.
– Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition
Leslie Johnston photo