ONTARIO PROPERTY AND ENVIRONMENTAL RIGHTS
Hearing Officer and Panel Chair - Mr. Knox M. Henry
Hearing Officer - Mr. David A.B. Pearson
Good morning. I’m Bob Fowler, a
OPERA is a coalition of 7
Our coalition was launched in mid-1994 at the conclusion of hearings by the then-current Escarpment Plan Review. In the intervening 7 years we’ve responded, on behalf of our combined memberships, to numerous provincial and federal decrees that impact ownership of private real estate in Ontario and, indeed, across Canada.
I personally don’t own Escarpment land but my remarks to-day are intended to address some concerns of country folk who live and work there. For the most part these are people dedicated to environmental protection as a social prerogative and an economic necessity. But they believe not only Escarpment land must be protected. What goes into the land - money, time, resources, sweat and tears - should be protected too.
Certainly endangered wildlife and rare flora and fauna and unspoiled landscapes should be preserved where possible. They agree with that. But so too should the lives and property and democratic rights of our human species be preserved. Rural Escarpment residents are not unsympathetic to naturalist causes espoused by their urban guests. But one person’s leisure activity should not compromise another person’s livelihood.
OPERA believes Escarpment landowners are the original and most important, yet one the most socially and economically challenged, stakeholder groups on the Escarpment. Unfortunately, they are less charitably described, and often disdainfully ignored, by some bureaucrats, academics and urban-based special interest groups.
Let me preface my presentation to-day by reporting that I visited a Hearing session at
If my personal understanding of the Panel’s summation is correct, an Escarpment Plan Review is a multi-stage program initiated, structured and directed entirely by the NEC. Its objective is to develop an internal report on a number of pre-selected Reference Topics for its supervising agency, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and the provincial Cabinet.
These Topics are put forward by staff for Commission endorsement, subsequent Ministry acceptance and interim citizen comment. Area information meetings, said to qualify as public consultation, are convened and monitored by appointed NEC Hearing Officers whose report is directed to the Commission for study and possible revision. The Commission then prepares a response to the Hearing Officer overview and forwards it, with supporting Discussion Papers, proposed Amendments, public submissions and its own recommendations, to the MNR. There, after possibly more revision, the material is synthesized into a Ministerial summary report for Cabinet debate and approval.
Public input is solicited and encouraged at every stage of this long process and may even contribute to final Commission proposals and hence to the composite MNR report to Cabinet. But the primary function of the Review is to advise the MNR and, eventually, the
In my opinion, it may be a Review in principle but, in practice, it might be more accurately described as internal communication between a government Ministry and one of its satellite agencies.
I find it exceedingly strange that one university professor, alone and unaided, could attach a global identity and its management obligations on 450 lineal miles of Ontario geography in the name of an international tribunal that’s publicly opposed to private ownership of land. Especially when guidelines for an impartial NE Plan Review, prepared under government contract at public expense by a committee of his peers at the same university, were rejected without explanation by the NEC.
For historical interest, a copy of those discarded procedural recommendations is appended to my remarks today for examination by this Panel at its discretion and convenience. It should be noted they were produced in 1990 at the
OPERA devoted a good deal of research time and print space to the Biosphere Reserve issue in our Written Submission to this Review. We would hope that effort and the legitimate concerns that prompted it, as well as later reference to the issue in my presentation today, will be duly recognized by this honourable Panel.
Finally, at the
This Criteria is highly subjective and not scientifically validated. But, under the proposed Amendment, separate documents entitled Landscape Analysis and Visual Landscape Assessment respectively can be demanded at the sole discretion of “the implementing authority”, presumably at applicant expense. I note the Amendment doesn’t further identity or describe the “implementing authority” assigned to enforce Visual Landscape Development Criteria.
Given the opportunity in advance, I think OPERA may have been sympathetic to the intent, but not the scope, of this Amendment. But it’s disturbing to learn it emerged only in a second edition of the Estate Wineries Discussion Paper. This is a document, a topic and an industry many unsuspecting respondents, including our coalition, had originally left to more qualified commentators.
In my view, this Amendment is a license for “the implementing authority” to re-visit Escarpment sustainable development on subjective grounds of its own or Biospheric invention.
So much for personal opinion. Let’s cut to the chase.
Given what we saw as procedural flaws in the 92-94 Review, OPERA didn’t this time comment directly to the Commission on the narrow range of Reference Topics it allowed for the current proceeding. So we haven’t thoroughly studied all material distributed by the Commission over the past 6 months. But we have scanned a mountain of documentation, on and off the Internet, provided by both the NEC and its Hearing Officers. If nothing else, we’re impressed with the rhetoric of the former and we appreciate the heavy burden of reading and reflection it transfers to the latter.
However, we wonder how many
Which could perhaps account for the disappointing level of public attendance so far experienced at these Hearings.
Might we further suggest the NEC advertising budget, presumably soon enlarged to promote government-managed Escarpment tourism, provide for newspaper notices of proposed Plan amendments and any modifications in Escarpment status or management obligations.
This is a legislated practice of municipalities and utility companies seeking official plan modification and improved public relations. We realize this suggestion is outside the scope of the current Review and, accordingly, will refrain from further comment in that direction.
OPERA’s Written Submission to this Panel addressed the 6 Reference Topics specified. A word-for-word recitation of that document would serve no useful purpose today. Instead, attention is respectfully directed to fundamental concerns that, in our opinion, desperately need to be addressed in the Hearing Officer’s report to the NEC.
This Review was announced by MNR Minister John Snobelen in June, 1999 and in July of that year an OPERA delegation met with 2 NEC executives.
Discussion at that time focused on our request for public consultation to decide Reference Topics in advance. And for an explanation of circumstances that prompted the Commission to declare the Escarpment a United Nations World Biosphere Reserve without public notice or debate.
Assured, so we thought, of an opportunity for public input before final Reference Topics were established, it was later discovered such consultation would be limited after the fact to Topics pre-selected by the NEC alone. Our concerns about the Biosphere Reserve designation were similarly deflected when that term was characterized as merely a flattering but incidental award in which the Commission had no advance knowledge, special interest or assigned staff.
Yet this designation has emerged in this Review as an important component of NEC Discussion Papers and Plan amendments. Now we’re told of “obligations” to the United Nations, Biosphere-related activities that “transcend” public land and private land and perceived opportunities for promoting, at public expense, a massive government-run, Biosphere-oriented tourist operation.
In August, 1999, hoping to encourage a more transparent and accountable process, OPERA filed with the NEC, copy to Minister Snobelen, an outline of our own suggestions for an impartial, effective and comprehensive Review.
A copy of that communication, its receipt acknowledged but its recommendations never specifically addressed, is also appended to my remarks today for the interest and information of this Panel. Meanwhile, OPERA still doesn’t believe a Review that seeks public input is impartial, effective or comprehensive when it lacks, as this one does, any opportunity for public discussion of the cost and performance of those entrusted with its implementation and administration.
In December/99 the
But that option wasn’t mentioned when, for example, Hearing Officers in past Reviews suggested the Plan should be administered by upper tier municipalities on the Escarpment, not a separate Queen’s Park bureaucracy.
With apologies, we turn again to the question of United Nations World Biosphere Reserves and arbitrary installation of that designation on the Escarpment. Numerous and reputable writers, scientists, activists and Internet links occupy both sides of this street. So OPERA, like everyone else, must voice its opinions on the subject in a widening morass of rumour, speculation, uncertainty, information and misinformation.
Nevertheless, there appears to be definitive, independent evidence that suggests world governance on environmental grounds is a U.N. objective. That international control of world resources is a U.N. tactic designed to support that objective. And that the Biosphere Reserve program is a first step towards accepting a U.N. presence in global resource management.
Global land use control, whether by invitation, regulation or manipulation, is reflected in a published U.N. protocol that states private ownership of land is a symptom of individual wealth accumulation and thus “contributes to social injustice”. After 70 years of social engineering, eventually at gunpoint, the pervasive doctrine that insists economics is the root cause of injustice helped ruin
In short, OPERA doesn’t believe the interests of Escarpment private landowners or, indeed, of the
As demonstrated at
Apart from the case for or against these concepts, OPERA whole heartedly agrees they must not be debated and decided behind closed doors by a select few. But wait! So far as we know, the
Since it appears the NEC is unable or unwilling to publish Biosphere Reserve origins and objectives OPERA offers the following overview which the Commission is welcome to confirm, deny or modify:
World Biosphere Reserves are part of the United Nations program known as “Man and the Biosphere”. This program is mandated in a United Nations treaty entitled “The Convention For Biological Diversity”, an international covenant signed by
A Canadian government web site (http://www.ec.gc.ca/agenda 21/part1.html) demonstrates the subtle language and insidious logic inherent in all these inter-related documents. Which, directly or indirectly, advocate sweeping changes in the nature and structure of governance without the consent of the governed.
Biosphere Reserves are installed in a manner and by a process not ratified in advance by local municipalities, ordinary citizens, private landowners or statutory law. And they are attached to an entire geographic area such as the whole
NEC Discussion Papers and proposed Amendments relating to Topic 5 seem to imply that Biosphere Reserve “obligations” will be honoured only in Escarpment Parks. But selective recognition doesn’t fit the U.N. specification for Biosphere Reserves. And the general public is not aware of the precise location and geographic boundaries of such Parks. Might we then deduce these Parks with their U.N. restrictions may be re-located or enlarged at any time.
Such a statement is absolutely essential if the provincial government hopes to arrest growing doubt as to the validity, if not the legality, of Biosphere Reserve “obligations” on public and private Escarpment lands.
We note a Dr. Roger E. Soles, past Director of the
Our member groups are also concerned about the identity, mandate, authority and long term intentions of non-government organizations interested in
OPERA counts itself in that number and we admire the dedication and recognize the diverse, sometimes opposing, views of similarly motivated volunteer groups. However, in recent years other voices, louder, stronger, richer, are heard across the Escarpment landscape. I refer to professional lobby organizations endorsed by regional and national government agencies as well as by the United Nations. Many of these are energized by charitable tax status and, in
Theirs is a playing field constructed of powerful connections, manipulative skills and somebody else’s money in the hugely profitable environmental industry. It’s a playing field, uneven and exclusive, where local citizen’s groups are routinely outnumbered, out maneuvered and outgunned. A field to which OPERA, a very different species of non-government organization, is not invited and does not aspire.
It’s reported there are now more than 17,000 non-government organizations world wide, many accredited to, listed by and heavily involved in various United Nations agencies.
Several of these have lobbied the NEC and the MNR for “public body” status on the Escarpment. This to facilitate title acquisition, transfer, severance and conditional sale of private land and thus enlarge existing inventories of “conservation land” located there.
One of the NEC Plan Amendments suggested to this Review would award “public body” status to unnamed special interest groups with qualifying credentials such as a charitable tax exemption for its donors. The relevant Discussion Paper and proposed Amendment doesn’t mention any reaction, requested or received, from provincial and municipal authorities responsible for administering
Nor is it explained that designated conservation land is exempt from local property taxes and that resulting shortfalls in municipal revenues will produce increased taxes for Escarpment landowners outside the “conservation” loop.
Perhaps steadily rising property taxes combined with Visual Landscape Development Criteria will finally rid the Escarpment of its pesky human population.
Meanwhile, OPERA suggests to this Panel, to the NEC, to the MNR and to the
We hope our remarks here today properly reflect OPERA’s concerns with regard to the Reference Topics of this Review. We are pleased to furnish a copy of this presentation to both Hearing Officers and a brief summary of the issues it attempts to address is attached to assist later evaluation.
This long commentary has at last come to a merciful conclusion. On behalf of OPERA and its member organizations, I thank the Hearing Officers for their kind attention, the NEC for past courtesies and this audience for its quiet patience. If there are questions, I will do my amateur best to answer them.
SUMMARY OF OPERA CONCERNS
* The Plan does not conform to all requirements of the NEPDA
* Reference Topics are selected by the NEC alone
* No opportunity for public discussion of NEC cost or performance
* Escarpment Park(s) boundaries and restrictions are not publicly defined
* Biosphere Reserve designation installed without advance public notice
* Amendments affecting the whole Plan can appear under a single Topic
* Selective “public body” Amendment is unjustified and discriminatory
* Social and economic consequences of Amendments not mentioned