Members of Ontario’s three major opposition parties gathered Queen’s Park media for a press conference Tuesday morning with the message that they don’t like what Bill 108 has in mind for the province’s endangered species, and they want their government counterparts to vote against it.
“It’s time to put partisanship aside and put the public interest first. And I’m proud to stand with other parties, municipal leaders, citizens groups and responsible developers who are saying that we can build homes for people without destroying homes for wildlife,” said Guelph MPP Mike Schreiner, who literally took centre stage.
Schreiner was joined by Liberal MPP Nathalie Des Rosiers and NDP MPP Ian Arthur. Des Rosiers, who represents Ottawa-Vernier said Bill 108, called the “More Homes, More Choice Act” a big step backwards .
“Ontario used to be a leader on conservation and biodiversity. We deserve a plan for endangered species that values scientific integrity and the precautionary principle. I’m calling on the government to press pause on this legislation, listen to the evidence and reverse the changes made in Bill 108,” she said.
Bill 108 proposes to amend 15 laws including many significant changes to the Endangered Species Act. Among the more concerning elements are the “pay to slay” provision where developers can pay a fee in lieu of committing to protect or restore natural habitat, and changing the make up of the committee that reviews species at risk to allow people with no scientific expertise to be appointed to it.
“Bill 108 will grease the wheels of destruction, making it easier and faster for sprawl developers and industry to dodge legal requirements to protect endangered species and their habitats. The proposed changes will delay, limit and remove the safeguards that the law is intended to provide for species at risk, many of which are in steep decline,” said Dr. Anne Bell, Director of Conservation with Ontario Nature, who also took part in the press conference.
Other changes under Bill 108 will make it hard for municipalities to recover development charges to cover the cost for growth, and it will restore the old rules of the Ontario Municipal Board under the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal, which typically favoured developers in their decisions before the previous government made the change.
Alex Speigel, a partner with Windmill Development Group who rounded out the group, made the point that a developer can still act sustainably and be successful.
“We have a triple bottom line approach (people, planet, prosperity) to development — on under-utilized urban land, on brownfield sites, near transit hubs, and in the ‘missing middle’ — achieving densities that support transit, lower our carbon footprint and provide compact, livable and healthy communities while preserving our natural heritage: open space, habitat and agricultural land,” said Speigel, whose company is overseeing the Baker Street redevelopment here in Guelph.
Bill 108 is an omnibus bill that also includes changes to the Cannabis Control Act, the Education Act, the Environmental Assessment Act, the Labour Relations Act, the Occupational Health and Safety Act, the Ontario Water Resources Act, Planning Act, and the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act.
Guelph City Council has joined several other Ontario municipalities in officially opposing Bill 108, joining over 80 other municipalities along with environmental and housing groups. The motion was passed unanimously at the May 27 city council meeting.
The bill has been fast-tracked for potential passage later this week after only one day of debate.