Doug Ford’s promise to not touch the Greenbelt was turned into a hip-hop beat, and it led a couple of hundred people milling about in the Boathouse parking lot over the covered bridge York Road Park. And they kept coming. Guelph joined the province-wide series of protests happening around Ontario this weekend, another loud choir of voices who are against recent changes the Ontario government’s made to planning rules.
“Everything about [Bill23] and many other bills, has not only been an affront to us and our rights, but to the rights of the original, ongoing and enduring stewards of these lands,” said Arlene Slocombe of Wellington Water Watchers, one of the speakers at Sunday’s demonstration.
“I think it’s really incredible that we can come together in masses, which we’re seeing all over the place, to take seriously our responsibilities to speak truth to power, and make sure that we are connecting the dots between the issues. We have to understand that the issue here is also a treaty rights violation, and that we need to speak about that as well,” she added.
As the speeches began, more and more people filed into the park, and their presence stymied the many joggers and dog walkers who normally mill about the area on a Sunday morning. Among the attendees were several members of city council, but only one of those local politicians spoke publicly and he didn’t mince words.
“Premier Ford, I’m asking you for just one thing for Christmas: Please repeal bills 109, 23 and 39, just like you repealed the repugnant Bill 28 a few short weeks ago,” said Ward 3 Councillor Phil Allt. “Would you please admit that the massive property tax increases people can expect shortly are your fault and will inflate housing costs not bring them down?”
Allt said that Doug Ford and the Ontario government expected everyone to be complacent as they radically changed the rules, and he tied it to the government’s recent move to use the notwithstanding clause in labour negotiations with Ontario’s education workers. He also called it a “bold faced lie” that the changes in Bill 23, and the changes to the Greenbelt, will result in cheaper housing.
“I know that my letter to Santa has already been answered. I asked for people to be united in upset and anger, and I asked for the public to be motivated for political change and for democracy,” Allt added. “It might take voting, it might take working for a candidate clearly committed to housing and care to the Greenbelt, and it might tempt some of you to peaceful civil disobedience, and I stress ‘peaceful.’ Protests are of the day, and tirelessly calling upon your MPs to resist tearing down democracy is something that we need because we cherish democracy.”
Guelph MPP and Green Party of Ontario leader Mike Schreiner said that the Greenbelt belongs to everyone, and not eager developers looking to exploit the land, which is why this week he asked the provincial integrity commissioner to investigate the Province’s decision to change the layout of the Greenbelt. Schreiner also tied the government’s moves to the territorial acknowledgement from Slocombe.
“I think we all need to acknowledge when Steve Clark, the Housing Minister, admitted on Monday when they passed this bill that they failed to consult with Indigenous people. He acknowledged that and said they would, but I don’t know what kind of free informed prior consent that is when you say that you’re going to consult after the passed the bill!” Schreiner said.
Like Allt, Schreiner encouraged the protesters to keep up the fight because the Government of Ontario has shown itself before that its susceptible to persuasion.
“Yesterday I was in Toronto, there were thousands of people marching on Queen’s Park, and people were carrying reuse signs from Bill 66,” Schreiner said. “Do you remember Bill 66? That was the first time Doug Ford tried to open the Greenbelt for development, and we the people pushed back and he backtracked. That’s what it’s gonna take this time.
“So I’m saying don’t give up. Let’s continue to push for the repeal of Bill 23,” he added. “The Premier just backtracked on taking a chainsaw to Charter Rights and lowest paid education workers in this province. We can get him to backtrack on protecting the places we love.”
After the speeches in York Road Park, members of OPIRG’s drumming group led a procession up Wyndham Street to Guelph City Hall where protesters lent some emotional support to city council who will have to deal with the follow up all the Province’s changes.