Schreiner Announces Private Members Bill, Feels Good About the Odds

Today at Queen’s Park, Guelph MPP Mike Schreiner unveiled his private member’s bill, the Paris Galt Moraine Conservation Act. The bill hits the local sweet spot of ground water protection, but Schreiner hopes to sell it to Ontario’s government since he’s “taken a good piece of Conservative legislation, and I’m applying it to the moraine in the region I represent.”

The proposed act would protect the land and water located within the ecologically sensitive area of the Paris Galt Moraine by amending the Planning Act and Development Charges Act to regulate development that threatens the integrity of the Paris Galt Moraine system. It would instruct the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, in consultation with the Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks, to establish a Paris Galt Moraine Conservation Plan.

“I believe that government has a sacred responsibility to manage water for the public good, and for future generations,” said Schreiner in a press briefing at Queen’s Park Wednesday. “For too long, we’ve put the priorities of private industry ahead of drinking water. For too long, we’ve allowed our most precious resource to be pumped for rock bottom prices.”

Schreiner said the bill will protect the moraine from pollution, sprawl, and reckless resource extraction, while protecting sustainable, responsible development. The moraine itself extends into areas in the south end of Guelph, including the Clair-Maltby area, which is presently the subject of a secondary plan being developed by the City of Guelph. The moraine also feeds and sustains ground water in the Grand River watershed, and Guelph is one of the largest communities in Canada that relies solely on ground water for water sources.

Schreiner hopes the economic argument alone will be a compelling one for his bill’s passage.

“This bill is modelled after the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Act, passed by a previous Conservative government, so I hope my colleagues across the aisle can see the financial value in passing this legislation,” he said.

“If we allow this area to be degraded, then the provincial government will be on the hook for millions of dollars in infrastructure to replace what nature provides us for free,” he added.

Local Governments, Including Guelph, Were Consulted

Schreiner said that he’s met with government representatives and staff in Halton Region, the City of Guelph, and the County of Wellington to develop the bill, and explained that they’re “largely supportive, but not 100 per cent supportive, which doesn’t surprise me.”

The devil’s in the details, but Schreiner says that everyone he’s consulted is behind the idea that ground water needs to be protected, and the benefits of a conserved moraine are undeniable as we’re confronted with new and greater effects from climate change.

“Moraines play a critical role in absorbing excess water, so not only is this an important function in drought, but as we have more extreme weather events, we need moraines to help absorb the water too, which, again, is a low cost solution to flood control,” said Schreiner.

Specific to Guelph, Schreiner anticipates no impact on the City’s plans for Clair-Maltby, whatever they may be.

“Nothing about this legislation will prohibit or prevent the development of Clair-Maltby,” he explained. “I think the City is very much aware that as development takes place, it’s done in a way that protects the integrity of the moraine, and city staff indicated to me what a priority that is for the City. So I don’t see any incompatibility between the two.”

Schreiner also pointed out that the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Act, which was passed in 2001, has provided environmental protection while not stifling economic development and job creation.

“What the new act looks at is putting down some principles, and one of those is the cumulative water taking impacts and making sure that with every straw that’s put into the aquifer, there’s still enough water to supply our needs, and preserve the integrity of the Paris Galt Moraine,” Schreiner said.

Support From Local Environmentalists

Representatives from local conservancy groups also took part in the presser. Linda Sword of the Concerned Residents Coalition said that her group “vigorously supports” the legislation as it will protect the hundreds of private and municipal wells that depend on the moraine’s filtration, recharge and storage systems.

“There is no doubt that the combined threats of population growth and climate change also shout out for the protection of moraines, and of the fresh water which is both a need and a right of future generations,” said Sword. “The proposed private members bill is urgent, affirmative, and farsighted.”

Arlene Slocombe of the Wellington Water Watchers agreed saying that the Paris Galt Moraine is an integral part of the backbone of the Grand River Watershed, and it’s integral to the health of the environment.

“Failing to properly protect the moraine, and in turn preserve the region’s source for fresh water, will lead to massive investments in infrastructure in order to properly provide the water that this growing region will need,” Slocombe said.

“We need stronger provincial protection to ensure that growth pressures, drought and climate change do not endanger water supplies into the future,” she added.

But Can It Pass?

The first question from the press for Schreiner was essentially that: how can one MPP’s bill get support from the majority government whose first acts repealed other pro-environment legislation?

“Conservative MPPs have given me feedback on the bill, which we’ve incorporated into the drafting of the legislation,” Schreiner explained. “I’ve also consulted with members of the New Democratic Party, and the Liberal Party as well, and with a variety of stakeholders, local government officials and First Nations, so I’ve tried to be as highly consultative as possible.”

If consultation doesn’t work, there’s always public pressure. Schedule 10 of the Restoring Ontario’s Competitiveness Act, which would have allowed municipalities to override key pieces of legislation like the Greenbelt Act, was pulled after outcries from municipal governments, environmental activists, and public policy leaders.

“The people spoke so loudly that the government backtracked, and this government doesn’t have a history of backtracking on many things,” said Schreiner.

“I think what that experience has shown us is that the people of Ontario care deeply about the people and places we love, and they’re willing to take action to protect prime farmland, to protect wildlife habitat, and protect resources,” he added. “The Greenbelt in particular is something that people have a strong emotional connection to it, and they recognize the environmental, social and economic value it provides.”

Having said all that though, a private members bill still has an uphill climb to becoming law, but Schreiner likes the odds.

“I think just introducing this legislation and highlighting the importance of protecting water in our region makes a difference in and of itself,” he said. “I’m working really hard to work across party lines to obtain support and hopefully have the legislation pass. I’m going to continue to work really hard to get support and pass the bill.”

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