Half of the remaining members of Ontario’s Greenbelt Council have followed their former chairman’s lead by stepping down in protest of pending environmental reforms.
Six members, all appointed under the previous Liberal government, resigned from the council on Sunday in the wake of a similar move by former Conservative federal cabinet minister and Toronto mayor David Crombie.
Crombie’s resignation notice said he was leaving the chairmanship in response to measures contained in the Progressive Conservatives’ omnibus budget bill that he argues would gut key environmental protections.
Crombie contends Schedule 6 of the bill would strip power from local conservation authorities and expand ministerial authority on zoning and other potentially sensitive environmental issues.
The six outgoing members all voiced the same concerns in their respective resignation letters and accused the government of ignoring Council advice and adopting reckless environmental policies.
Their departures leave just six members on the Council, five of whom were appointed since Premier Doug Ford took office in 2018.
“Conservation Authorities are key to the future of watershed planning in Ontario,” departing member Leith Moore wrote in a resignation letter. “Their continued long-term success is central to our environmental stewardship responsibility. The steps taken in Bill 229 put decades of excellent work across city and regional boundaries at risk.”
The resignations tendered by Deborah Martin-Downs, Wane Caldwell, Lynn Morrow, Pamela Blais and Kevin Eby all substantially echoed Moore’s concerns and explicitly cited the measures contained in the budget bill as the reasons for their departure.
One also pushed back at previous statements from Municipal Affairs Minister Steve Clark, who’s tasked with overseeing the council and said the terms of Schedule 6 don’t apply to lands that fall within the provincial Greenbelt.
Martin-Downs argued in her letter that the Greenbelt and surrounding lands potentially earmarked for development are linked and cannot be treated in legislative isolation.
Clark spokesman Adam Wilson said the Council had failed to deliver a plan to help the government “expand the quality and quantity of the Greenbelt.”
“We look forward to new perspectives on the Council that are serious about our commitment,” Wilson said in a statement.
Crombie, who was named to a three-year term as chair in March 2018, accused the government of failing to heed Council advice and ignoring pleas to withdraw Schedule 6 from the budget bill. Several of the departing Council members echoed those claims.