ONTARIO PROPERTY AND ENVIRONMENTAL RIGHTS ALLIANCE
Post Office Box 483, Durham, Ontario, NOG 1RO - Phone: (519) 369-2195 / Fax: (519) 369-2992
E-Mail: - Web Page:
August 17, 2001
Mr. Knox Henry and Dr. A.B. Pearson, Hearing Officers
2001 Niagara Escarpment Plan Review
Niagara Escarpment Hearing Office
Post Office Box 2382
2300 Yonge street, Suite 1201
Toronto, Ontario, M4P 1E4
OPERA delivered written and oral presentations to the current Review in May and August respectively. We understand registered participants in that proceeding are invited to file a summation of their views after the full schedule of public hearings is completed. At the conclusion of OPERA'S submission at Milton on August 7 several questions relating to both our written and oral presentations were raised by the Hearing Officers which we now address in greater detail as follows:
Escarpment Rural Designation:
OPERA believes growing NEC intervention against small commercial operations that might improve economic prospects of rural landowners in this fringe area is unjustified and discriminatory. NEC staff now tells us Escarpment Rural occupies about one third or 150,000 acres of the total Escarpment Plan area and provides an essential link to other Escarpment land designations. In our view, a substantial part of this extensive acreage could be removed from the Plan area while still maintaining an uninterrupted corridor along the 450 lineal miles of the Escarpment between Niagara Falls and Tobermory.
We note that NEC staff suggests the current Plan area is the irreducible "gristle" of the Niagara Escarpment and already reflects a 60% reduction from the land mass originally contemplated for Escarpment status. Such a reduction was indeed approved as a political response to strong public opposition regarding the unreasonably broad swath of private land first defined as Escarpment during the initial NEPDA debates in the early 1970's.
However, it should also be remembered that Professor Goedler, a consultant engaged in 1968 to advise the provincial government of Escarpment geographic dimensions, suggested all sensitive areas thought necessary for Escarpment status protection could probably be acquired at that time by the provincial government at a total cost of approximately $38 million.
And a mid-1970's government Private Members Bill specified a centre core of exposed rock plus 300' on either side for legislated protection. These 2 recommendations, one monetary, the other geographic, both ultimately rejected have long since disappeared into the mists of time.
But, judging from recent comments, staff reference to prudent reduction in Escarpment boundaries 30 years ago is expected to deflect their further, and possibly overdue, contraction into the 21st century. .
Niagara Escarpment Designated as a United Nations World Biosphere Reserve:
Currently promoted as a special honour for Canada and Ontario, this designation was unilaterally applied to all Escarpment land, public and private alike, in February, 1990. This is perhaps a significant date for two reasons. First, in the following month of March, 1990 an PAGE impartial program for the then-approaching first Escarpment Plan Review was produced under contract by the University of Waterloo at public expense but, later the same year, was summarily rejected by the NEC without explanation. Secondly, Biosphere Reserves are mandated under the Convention For Biological Diversity, an international U.N. treaty ratified by Canada without public or parliamentary debate in 1992, a full 2 years after the Escarpment had been formally declared a Biosphere Reserve.
Mr. Frawley, NEC staff Director, assured the Review Hearing at Milton that he doesn't talk about Biosphere Reserves with the United Nations at New York or Geneva. As already stated, United Nations decrees are implemented and administered and presumably talked about under treaty with national governments only. Thus we understand Canada, in approving the above-noted Convention, now maintains a Biosphere Reserve auxiliary office attached to Environment Canada in Ottawa. And Ontario, one of the Canadian provinces that quietly ratified the Convention in lock-step agreement with the federal government, no doubt assigns space and/or staff in a similar facility at Queen's Park, probably under Natural Resources or Environment ministerial authority. Never mind about New York and Geneva! Does Mr. Frawley and his staff have any common interests and/or recorded liaison with Biosphere Reserve offices in Ottawa or Toronto? And, if so, is OPERA to assume relevant files are public documents available for public examination on request.
The illusion that Biosphere Reserve is a benign land use designation ignores strong evidence to the contrary. Nowhere can we find an explanation , justification or statutory authority for a so-called Convention that can impose international land use policies on vast expanses of public and private real estate legally owned by Canadians. Does such a covenant risk loss of national sovereignty and provincial autonomy? Absolutely!
Sovereignty and autonomy are about self-determination. Canada's Constitution and Charter of Rights and Freedoms mandate procedures by which only elected representatives accountable to all Canadians develop policies that govern their constituents. When administrative agencies of the federal and provincial governments in Canada bypass elected officials and implement policies and philosophies conceived by international organizations, our Constitution and Charter are rendered meaningless.
OPERA contends the NEC has been actively supporting and promoting a United Nations Biosphere Reserve designation on the Niagara Escarpment. Why else does this classification appear with growing frequency in NEC Plan review documents and glossy tourism brochures?
In that context the NEC, an unelected administrative tribunal appointed by the Ontario government, apparently considers itself at liberty to impose land use definitions and restrictions on an invaluable provincial resource to satisfy international protocols never presented to affected voters in advance. In these questionable circumstances, we believe a clear and unequivocal public statement from the Ministry of Natural Resources that discloses all aspects, present and future, of a United Nations Biosphere Reserve designation on any land in this province should forthwith appear in every daily, and especially in every rural , Ontario newspaper.
Over the past two years OPERA, in preparing for submissions to the current Review, has sought complete background details of the NEC - United Nations relationship. Those enquiries have been consistently bent, blunted or blurred by assurances that the Commission is flattered by, but did not seek, that connection but now feels it is an appropriate, worthwhile and compatible tool to "achieve provincial objectives on the Escarpment". Ontario taxpayers, if and when given the opportunity, may feel otherwise. In April this year we faxed a request to the NEC for a list of its "obligations" under the Biosphere Reserve program and for copies of NEC file correspondence with Canadian government offices assigned to deal with that program. The response subsequently received did not address the specifics of our request and copies of both documents are enclosed for independent evaluation of that opinion.
Influence of Non-Government Organizations (NGO) on The Niagara Escarpment:
One of the Discussion Papers in the current Review identified several NGO applicants for "public body" status on the Escarpment and a related Plan Amendment endorses that request. Original supplicants are not named in the Amendment but entry qualifications clearly indicate only those organizations with conservation credentials and a charitable tax exemption for donors need apply. Needless to say, both attributes now mark or can be later made to fit selected beneficiaries of whatever long-term rewards accrue from the mailed fist of land manipulation encased in the velvet glove of environmental prudence.
Favoured applicants for Escarpment "public body" status coincidentally share other characteristics as well. Most attract urban, not rural, memberships, many are inordinately wealthy, several are Canadian clones of American organizations accredited to the United Nations, all are skilled in the fine art of private fund raising while simultaneously extracting vast sums of public money from government agencies. None are elected by public vote and none are accountable to the unsuspecting citizens whose taxes often help support them. Whether called land trusts, conservancies or nature clubs, these are the folks who propose to help manage public and private lands on the Escarpment as a "public body" with all the authority that title implies.
In Ontario, qualified conservation land attracts no municipal property taxes and real estate so classified by recognized "public bodies" is therefore exempt from that levy.
Under an NEC proposed Amendment, any NGO with charitable tax status and a claimed intention to establish "nature preserves" on the Escarpment can, through a requisite shell "foundation", apply to have its property described as conservation land thus permanently avoiding municipal property taxes.
In addition, an NEC Discussion Paper prepared for the current Review suggests that such favoured owners may "dispose of conservation land remnants" considered to be inappropriate for a nature preserve or otherwise surplus to requirements. The related Amendment doesn't mention future sale of tax-free conservation land but, in the fullness of time and by the interpretative talents of NEC staff, that license will no doubt be also awarded to these freshly minted "public bodies".
We see obvious as well as disguised inequities in this Amendment and the Discussion Paper overview that initiated it. For example, eliminating property taxes on cleverly designated Escarpment conservation land shrinks local municipal revenues, deficiency private landowners outside the "conservation" loop will have to make good. Solicited gifts of land to an NGO for a nature preserve in return for a charitable tax receipt negatively affects federal revenues, a shortage all Canadian taxpayers will also have to make good. So urban-based special interest groups, some with proven ties to the United Nations, can acquire more and more land free of property taxes, while a good many private landowners on the Escarpment lose twice in this orchestrated land lottery - once by higher municipal taxes and once in higher or re-aligned federal taxes. Jesse James was a less innovative bandit - he did it with a gun!!
Associated in name with Canadian groups of the same persuasion, some very powerful, very affluent, very experienced American lobby groups within the enormously profitable environmental industry are identified as applicants for "public body" status on the Escarpment. This disturbing projection encourages review of a 1996 U.S. best-seller called "Trashing The Economy" and a video cassette entitled "Behind The Green Curtain" sponsored by a Texas bank. These works are validated by extensive reference notes, documented events, first person interviews and archival records. While both originate in the American perspective, they direct attention to the history, connections, strategy and tactics of some organizations whose Canadian counterparts evidently seek to become Escarpment "public bodies". Several paragraphs with direct quotations from "Trashing The Economy" are instructive. Please note the following excerpts date from 1996, currency values are expressed in U.S. dollars and published comments refer to only one of the 25 environmental lobby groups analyzed in this book.
"The Nature Conservancy was founded in 1951 and, by 1993, controlled net assets of $855,115,125.00 with an annual budget of $278,497,634.00. It employs a staff of 1150, has 708,000 and 405 corporate members and operates offices in 8 major U.S. cities and in 50 state chapters.
TNC buys private land in the U.S., sometimes at the request of the federal government, and then sells the bulk of it to that government at substantial mark-ups. Outside magazine called TCN "Century 21 with a built-in buyer". TCN also builds commercial housing developments and has operated commercial farms, including cotton plantations, on its "saved" properties. TCN also runs a "save the rain forest" project with no accountability to prove it did anything beyond selling its donors a promise of pie-in-the-sky.
TCN has been known to hide behind phoney front companies to get land from owners who would not have knowingly sold to this group. It has also been known to join with higher-profile groups to politically intimidate owners into selling. Since its founding in 1951, TCN has bought more than 5 million acres of private land in the United States, largely through outright purchases or gifts from donors, and (a combined total of) 20 million acres in Canada and throughout Latin America in "debt-for-nature" swaps in Costa Rica, Ecuador and the Dominican Republic. Its holdings of 1631 nature preserves in the United States form the largest private sanctuary system in the world, according to the New York Times Magazine.
TCN refuses to sell any of its real estate to locals. One top TCN official told a colleague, "We're going to get all of those people out of there and put our kind of people in". His kind of people is multibillionaire John Kluge of Metromedia Company , to whom TCN has sold property. Here the pattern that was to shape a number of environmentalist land trusts emerged: Create an exclusive private nature preserve as a magnet for profitable upscale adjacent residential and commercial development, then use the profits to finance still more nature acquisitions. But do it quietly. TCN is perhaps the most dangerous of all environmental groups, not only because it is the richest, but also because it appears to be harmless and idealistic." Un quote.
Meanwhile, in Ontario a 2001 NEC Discussion Paper reports The Nature Conservancy of Canada has lobbied the Commission and the Ontario government for "public body" status on the Niagara Escarpment. In 1996 Ontario's Ministry of Natural Resources approved a grant of $600,000.00 to The Nature Conservancy of Canada to "design a program under which the Ontario government might acquire more private land for public parks".
In 1999 The Nature Conservancy of Canada, supported by generous donations of public money from the federal and Ontario's provincial government, purchased an environmentally sensitive island in Lake Erie on the promise that part of it would remain a bird sanctuary. For the past several years The Nature Conservancy of Canada in partnership with the Ontario Federation of Naturalists and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources has maintained a so-called natural heritage information service at Peterborough. This program, said to be financed by Ontario taxpayers through the MNR, monitors all land and land use in Ontario with satellite technology. It also maintains an Internet web site that, beyond a certain point, requires an access password from any curious taxpayer not connected with the environmental industry.
On this record OPERA contends no strategic or operational distinction can be made between The Nature Conservancy of the United States and the Nature Conservancy of Canada. Other opinions are, of course, welcome.
The elastic, often opaque definitions employed or implied in NEC documents do nothing to bridge the widening gap between NEC staff and private landowners on the Escarpment.
For example, at the Review Hearing in Milton, we heard the dictionary interpretation of the word "transcend" is quite different from its intended NEC meaning in the phrase "transcends public land and private land". No explanation or example of what constitutes a "Biosphere-related activity" has been offered. A sequential word rendition of Visual Landscape Development Criteria, evidently a brand new science invented by NEC staff, has suddenly appeared as part of a single Reference Topic but applies, by some miraculous osmosis, to the entire Escarpment Plan area. Even the term "Biosphere Reserve", like "sustainable development" means whatever its NEC proponents want it to mean. Which may be very different from the dictionary definition of either word in those innocuous phrases.
OPERA agrees that the Niagara Escarpment is a provincial treasure owned jointly by Ontario government agencies and private citizens and that its pristine landscape and unspoiled grandeur must be rigorously protected. We also believe a formal, fair and far-reaching Escarpment Plan is the most effective administrative tool to achieve that objective. We do not, however, subscribe to the view that anticipated social and economic consequences should not and need not delay or modify protective initiatives. Nor do we believe that Escarpment management is best left to a coalition of Ontario bureaucrats, paid academics and international interveners. And we strongly oppose any arrangement that would allow, or is perceived to allow, special interest groups of whatever persuasion to transform - would "transcend" be a better word - any part of our Escarpment into their own private cash cow and protected playpen.
We're pleased to enclose random documentation relating to the subject matter of this long overview and we look forward to your further comments and advice, if indicated, concerning the issues here summarized.
R.A. (Bob) Fowler