O.P.E.R.A. ON STAGE

Information, reports and commentary for landowners and government

Vol. 1 No. 1
January, 2002

print friendly version

THE ONTARIO PROPERTY & ENVIRONMENTAL RIGHTS ALLIANCEUP-DATE

NEWS AND VIEWS

Since its 1994 inception OPERA has enjoyed growing public interest in its activities and a resulting increase in requests for OPERA reports and comment on a wide variety of issues.

To more efficiently address those requests and, at the same time, better utilize our citizen and government mailing lists, OPERA now plans to publish a bi-annual, or possibly a tri-annual, Bulletin.

This is the introductory issue of that publication. We hope you like its format and content and we welcome your suggestions for change or improvement in subsequent issues.

R.A. (Bob) Fowler, Secretary

CONTACT US

Ontario Property & Environmental Rights Alliance (OPERA)

Toronto (905) 453-1174
Ottawa  (613) 926-2305
Durham (519) 369-2195

WHAT’S IN A POLL?

In May, 2000 a Pollara poll commissioned by Environment Canada indicated “the vast majority of Canadians had never even heard of proposed Species At Risk legislation and that those who had were less than impressed. In Ontario most respondents familiar with the legislation considered it unbalanced when it came to protecting wildlife and respecting Canadian’s social and economic concerns”. Un quote.

But what a difference a few months and a wealthy new client make!!

Another Pollara poll, this one funded by the Sierra Legal Defence Fund in early 2001, reports a brand new outcome. Quote: “90% of public backs protection of species - Canadians in large numbers are willing to restrict mining and logging activities, leave lands undeveloped and even accept fewer tax cuts to protect wildlife”.

So which is it? Are most Canadians unaware and unsupportive of SARA legislation or do 90% of them know about it and support it at any cost? Get answers-to-fit from the federal government, the Sierra Defence Fund or the elasticized Pollara pollsters!

ESCARPMENT PLAN REVIEW

by Norm Seabrook, GDG

This Review was announced in June 1999, massaged by NEC staff until Nov., 2000 and selectively advertised in April, 2001. Public Hearings in 4 locations, all poorly attended and all restricted to only 6 issues decided in advance by NEC staff, began in July and concluded in August this year.

Some NEC recommended Plan amendments:- promote Escarpment  planning control partnerships with the United Nations Biosphere Reserve program; prohibit tourist-oriented small business in the Escarpment Rural Area; selectively award “public body” status to Non Government Organizations to expand designations of so-called “conservation lands” on which no municipal property taxes would then apply;  have “the implementing authority” enforce Visual Landscape Assessments to further restrict  development. Want more? Just ask us. See contact info on Page 4 or talk to an OPERA member.

This month the Hearing Officer’s report will be delivered to the NEC where it will, as usual, be modified to accommodate staff views. So what else is new in the world of whitewash.

THE  NGO  SAGA

Since 1994, three perceptions emerge from OPERA’s monitoring of provincial and federal legislation that affects private landowners..

First, powerful Non-Government Organizations (NGOs), many based in the United States and all totally unaccountable to Canadian taxpayers, have become accredited land-use advisors to provincial and federal agencies in Canada and to various United Nations tribunals.

Secondly, a number of the richest NGOs are exempted, as registered “charities, from Canadian income tax although it’s hard to distinguish some of their initiatives from attempts to re-engineer Canada’s social, economic and political balance.

Thirdly, reputable critics of the hugely profitable environmental industry are often branded “anti-environmentalist” and are far outnumbered by bureaucrats, academics and NGOs with a vested interest in demoting private landowners to unpaid janitors on their own land.  These are now called “stewards” or “stakeholders”, labels, let it be noted, that doesn’t confer or admit legal title to property.

OPERA members enthusiastically support legitimate environmental objectives. Many of them have a long and proven history of protecting the habitat where they live and work. And they are among the first to commend the aims of genuine environmentalists. Particularly those who agree the human species is no less important than any other in the world at large.

That said, invention and enforcement of arbitrary government land use rules  without notice or consultation is not legitimate environmental planning but, rather, a one-sided game of regulatory roulette.

SPECIES AT RISK

AND LIVING LEGACY, ACT 1

from a Canadian trade magazine

Rejection by Ontario’s Minister of Natural Resources of an application for a quarry near Belleville and  the Mellon Lake Conservation Reserve is applauded by the Partnership for Public Lands (PPL), a coalition of the World Wildlife Fund of Canada, the Federation of Ontario Naturalists and the Wildlands League, the latter being part of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society.

PPL said “mining” destroys natural values and diminishes the Living Legacy accomplishment” while the Sierra Legal Defence Fund was “encouraged” by the MNR decision.

The coalition wants to remove mining company claims in 190 newly protected areas saying “we look forward to working with the Minister and the mining industry to make parks permanently mine-free”.

The proposed quarry is not in a park at all - it isn’t even in the Mellon Lake Conservation Reserve. It’s in a Forest Reserve, a 1999 compromise designation in the province’s Lands For Life planning process. Living Legacy is the outcome of that process which seeks to blend the interests of resource developers and environmentalists.

All parties agreed resource activity would be allowed in Forest Reserves under certain guidelines. Mineral claim-holders as well as forestry companies were told their pre-existing rights would be respected.

But Gregor Beck of the Federation of Ontario Naturalists said “if this mines (Mellon Lake) goes ahead it will set a precedent that could allow mines in many of our new parks”. (No mention, of course, that the proposed quarry is not in a park.) Clearly, promises made to claim-holders during the Lands For Life exercise may not be worth much.

British Columbia’s mining community learned this the hard way which is why it pulled out of the land-use planning process altogether. During negotiations, environmental groups promised to respect multiple-use designations to gain concessions from mining interests saying there will be peace in the valley if you will just agree to this ... and this ...and this.

Nonetheless, all lands under agreed designation eventually were treated as “parks” so peace never came to British Columbia but hard times sure did, especially in rural areas. Mellon Lakeis a tale that will surely be repeated across Ontario. Doubters should peruse: www.wildontario.org

To add to all this, Canada’s environment Minister is trying, for the third time, to pass endangered species legislation. All sorts of promises are being made to bring rural landowners and resource developer’s on-side but, as sure as God made little green apples, most of them will be broken.

CONSERVATION TAX  SCAM

by Bob Woolham, ARPO

Municipal levies aren’t the only way in which local citizens are expected to pay for Conservation Authorities’ “green” initiatives that often end up floating in red. Once upon a time, the Province gave municipalities grants of money in lieu of paying property tax on land owned by Conservation Authorities. Then the grants stopped. At first some CAs panicked and considered selling properties to meet tax costs and other expenses. Some even used public funding schemes such as “adopt an acre” or “plant a tree in memory of a loved one”.

But provincial tax assessment rules also changed - for land classed as “managed forest” the tax ratio would only be 25% of the regular rate. And if it was called “conservation land” owned not by a CA but by a charitable organization the tax rate dropped to zero.

So there has been a scramble  to move CA property into the “managed forest” category or set up a charitable “Foundation” in which the deeds of  CA lands can be vested and “conservation land“ (no tax) status thereby obtained. Set Up is the right phrase since it’s a neat way to avoid paying municipal taxes.

Thus in addition to a prescribed CA levy, local ratepayers now pay more taxes to make up for those lost on CA lands in their municipality. The same thing results when lands purchased by or “gifted” to private charities, land trusts, universities and other special interest groups are assessed as “conservation land”.

It appears to work this way: A generous landowner “gifts” land to a Trust, it’s valued at “market value” but, instead of paying capital gains tax, the donor gets a tax credit. And presto! The property is then re-labelled and assessed “conservation land” and, as such, will not attract property taxes ever again leaving the rest of us to make up the shortfall. Some “gift”.

WHAT’S YOUR LAND WORTH?

by Jim White

If your land is designated Endangered Species Habitat under Bill C-5, you may be compensated. But, from then on, it’s more and bigger “Ifs”.

The first “if” requires that property be designated by the Federal as opposed to the Provincial government. (and Ontario, for one, doesn’t pay owners for down zoning their land).

The second “if” requires you to prove, at your own expense, the species designation has caused extraordinary damages.

The third “if” requires that you refuse to participate in a government stewardship program and the fourth “if” requires you to absorb most of the loss in value.

Although its predecessor Bill C-33 was withdrawn when the last federal election was announced, the “new” Bill C-5 still:

        Allows anyone 18 years of age or more, to anonymously petition the federal government for an investigation of any landowner. Sections 93-96.

        Requires defendants to prove their innocence under “strict liability” rules i.e. they’re guilty until proven innocent. Section 32

        Authorizes appointment of anyone as a police officer to enforce Bill C-5 with arbitrary power of entry, search and seizure. Sections 85-86

        Provides penalties for convicted defendants of up to 5 years in jail AND $1,000,000.00 fine even if alleged violation is accidental. Section 97

        Orders defendants to produce self-incriminating evidence. Section 91-92

What’s your land REALLY worth? See Internet www.speciesatrisk.gc.ca

A POINT TO PONDER

The Ontario planning process has been and remains an urban-oriented activity because a lot of the electoral vote, most of the money and practically all political power is concentrated in metropolitan areas.

Urban concerns for rural land use focus on only two issues - food land sustainability and environmental preservation. In the first case, a reliable supply of cheap food is the main goal and, in the second, free visitation rights for recreation. Rural areas are seen as otherwise unimportant geography that exists to service the needs and leisure activities of city dwellers.

Thus it’s implicitly understood that people who live and work outside major urban centres have very little to say about how their land is used.

TRAILS UNLIMITED

from Frontenac Landowner files

The following 2 statements appear in a letter to Ontario municipalities from a major insurance company regarding the Trans Canada Trail.

(1) Multi-use trails may impose additional liability on the municipality where such uses are not compatible

(2) From a Liability & Risk Management perspective we recommend your Council carefully review ALL aspects of a proposed trail system to be established in your municipality.

Concerned private landowners now seek answers to these questions:

(a) Where is the Master Plan, Economic Study, Business Plan and Environmental Assessment for this national trail as well as unbiased proof that no soil contamination exists from previous railroad track operations.

(b) What is the actual cost of trail preparation including fencing, bridges, grading, signage, brushing, farm crossings, etc.

Why have insurers removed the molestation clause from Ontario Conservation Authorities policies.

(d) Does the Trans Canada Trail Policy save harmless adjacent landowners in event of accidental deaths on trail property.

(e) What are annual trail operational costs including policing and rescue services (an Ontario study estimates $550.00 per kilometre per year).

(f) How will these costs be funded? Federal tax dollars in the form of government grants are already being used to fund trail operations. When these grants are exhausted costs will, as usual, be down-loaded to adjacent municipalities thus increasing local property taxes.

Even with volunteer help, user fees and government grants the Trans Canada trail is not self-sufficient. And the statement that public trails are uniting communities is a myth. Whatever happened to roads?

In many areas, this trail is, in fact, disrupting people’s lives and dividing communities as well as being a never-ending, pork-barrelling project.

MILESTONES

OPERA activities in 2001 included:

        2 coalition member/adherent  conferences at Peterborough input and contribution to National  Citizens Coalition SARA campaign

        2 detailed submissions to the SARA  Standing Committee in Ottawa speaker attendance at General  Meetings of several member groups up-dated programming, format and  content of OPERA web site dialogue with NEC re: Terms of  Reference for its Plan Review

        3 written and oral submissions to NE Plan Review Hearing Officers

O.P.E.R.A. MANDATE

“To protect, and entrench in law, the rights and responsibilities of landowners against arbitrary decisions and restrictions of government”.

PROFILE

The Alliance is a research facility, data centre and communication hub for its members and adherents as well as for numerous advocate groups and interested citizens.

Organized in 1994, it functions without Officers or Board of Directors, supervises its operations by an appointed Management Committee, compensates no one for time or expenses and relies entirely on member/supporters to fund its substantial communication budget.

Voting Member Organizations:

Association of Rural Property Owners
Georgian Triangle Development Institute
Grey Association For Democracy & Growth
Morewood Esker Landowners Association
Ontario Ski Resorts Association
Ontario Taxpayers Federation
Voice of King Area Landowners
York Durham Farmers Assessment Association

NOTE: In addition to the above-noted groups, we routinely provide informative material to private members, government agencies and interested organizations in Ontario and across Canada.

CONTACT US!

Ontario Property and Environmental Rights Alliance
Post Office Box 483
Durham, Ontario
, NOG 1RO
Phone: (519) 369-2195 / Fax: (519) 369-2992
web site: www.bmts.com/~opera/
E-Mail: mailto:opera@bmts.com

ANNUAL MEMBERSHIP

Voting Organization                      $ 400.00
Non-Voting Organization              $ 100.00
Non-Voting Private Member        $   50.00 

If you have any questions or comments, please Mr. R. A. Fowler, Secretary.
or write
O.P.E.R.A. c/o R.A. Fowler, Secretary P.O. Box 483, Durham, Ontario. N0G 1R0