Lately I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the overall welfare of Ontario youth as the world tries to find the right pathways to deal with the multitude of issues that the pandemic is raising. A year ago if you’d have asked me to list all the ways that a potential world pandemic that got a footing here in North America, admittedly my list would be dwarfed to what I’d say now. A year ago if I were listing how a pandemic would affect our children and youth, most of my list would have been generally focussed on their physical health. I probably would have included education to some degree, but primarily thinking of missing school because they were sick or teacher absence.
As my thoughts about Ontario youth ventured into the many different possibilities, it occurred to me that in some ways, when it comes to learning about what people themselves are all about, kids have this skill all over adults in many respects. I came to the conclusion that one of the most effective methods kids have in determining what a person’s true values and goals are is to pay less attention to what adults say, and focus instead on what they do.
For example, an adult may take great pains to make sure their children learn the importance of being polite and respectful to others. The adults may even make an effort to model such behaviour. The children may see and hear what the parents are doing and saying on such occasions. But in fact the mold is actually set on other real life occasions when they observe or hear their parent being rude, talking back or disrespecting others that they see day in and day out while working, shopping, at the arena or driving down the street – occasions when adults least expect to be observed.
In this respect, kids have it all over adults in determining a person’s true values and goals. We adults can learn a thing or two from our youth in this respect.
Governments are a perfect subject to study as proof of the accuracy of this method or learning. We all know that governments are famous for making statements and promoting platforms that they say will meet particular needs and goals. All governments have what are known as “spin doctors” — experts who can put a favourable spin to the interpretation of events to get the public to see things from the particular fundamental perspective that the party supports.
For example, a government can promote its policies as making the protection of the environment among the highest of their overall values and political priorities. They go to great lengths to explain all of the things they have done or will do that will ensure that our wildlife, lands, waters, and air are going to be safe and therefore all generations to come.
This fact is what makes a strong opposition party so important in a democracy. It is the duty of the opposition to look at policies and issues through a different lens and from different perspectives, including regional, cultural, economic, and environmental among many others. I am proud of the success that my fellow new democrats and I have had in fulfilling this duty in a constructive and positive manner. We don’t just oppose but propose realistic viable alternatives.
Since first being elected, Doug Ford has stated time and again how important the environment is to the safety, health, and prosperity of all Ontarians. But let’s take a lesson from our youth and see if what the Ford Conservatives say parallels what they actually do.
To begin with, three times Doug Ford has tried to pave over essential Greenbelts by trying to slip through zoning changes that would allow numerous friends and supporters who are contractors and developers to build huge housing and commercial projects over top of these precious areas that have been set aside for generations. When Ford has been caught each time, he just tries to slip it under the rug and say that the rumours have no foundation.
Ontarians will also recall that one of the Conservatives’ very first acts was to rip up the cap and trade program that Ontario had entered into with Quebec and California under Liberal leadership. Ripping up that contract cost Ontarians a huge penalty as well as the loss of revenue that had been dedicated to pay for badly needed repairs and renovations to our aging schools.
In addition to ripping up the cap and trade agreement, Ford went on to pay to have brand new green energy wind farms ripped down, he tore out newly installed electric vehicle charging stations out of the ground, and then went on to decimate the budget assigned for Climate Change and Resiliency to just $20.8 million in the 2020-2021 budget – slashed from the original $2 billion. It is now looking like Ford will spend less to fight the actual climate crisis than he’ll spend in the courts in defending his destruction to the environment.
Now, Ford is at it again.
Recently the Conservatives slipped into the COVID-19 omnibus budget bill, the removal of Schedule 6 which in effect takes away decision-making power from conservation authorities and gives it to the minister and cabinet. This allows a minister to override all of Ontario’s Conservation Authorities who base their decisions upon science rather than political or business economics.
Ontario’s 36 Conservation Authorities are there to protect our wetlands, floodplains, wildlife, and water sources. They are not there just to protect nature and natural beauty. They are there to protect people from such dangers as flooding, disease, and contamination of our food and water supplies while at the same time taking into account necessary economic growth. The authorities are designed to take a fully balanced approach, basing decisions on science, not politics.
The bill amendments will allow a minister to unilaterally override Ministerial Zoning Orders (MZPOs), deciding on a political whim how lands are to be zoned. In fact, in the past year alone, the minister has issued 38 MZOs, which in many cases are found on environmentally sensitive lands on which development would not normally be permitted. 38 MZOs in one year is more than all MZOs in the previous decade. Interestingly, 19 of the MSOs would go on to financially benefit influential Conservative Party donors and supporters.
The bill amendments are so incredibly egregious that it has caused Ontario’s Green Belt Council Chair David Crombie and six other council members to submit their immediate resignations. One such council member, Deborah Martin-Downs stated, “It is now clear that the government’s direction … is a blatant assault on conservation, the environment and transparent governance.”
Something is wrong with this picture. Ontarians deserve an explanation for why Doug Ford’s allies and political backers are receiving huge financial benefits while everyday working families are paying the price, having the environment around them destroyed.
In oh so many ways, this is about our children and grandchildren’s future. The onus is upon us to not only do what is right and in the best interest of Ontarians now, but also for our children and grandchildren.
Let’s take a lesson from our children and pay more attention to what our politicians are doing and less upon what they and their spin doctors are telling us.
As always, please feel free to contact my office about these issues, or any other provincial matters.