The Greenbelt has been carved up; the Conservation Authorities gutted; wetlands opened for paving; municipal governments financially hamstrung; and massive boundary expansions imposed onto Hamilton and Halton foodlands. There have been over 80 rallies across the province.
The tide of anger at Premier Doug Ford is understandable but probably misdirected. It mistakenly assumes that voters rule, not corporations.
The protests have little effect, since the Premier and his Progressive Conservatives clearly reject basic democratic principles. They have even overturned majority rule in city councils with their ‘strong mayor’ legislation. Now what?
First, follow the money. Virtually everything the Conservatives have forced through in the last three months has had one obvious objective – slashing growth fees and environmental rules to benefit billionaire land speculators and greenfield development corporations. These are obviously the real ‘governors’ in Ontario.
With no democratic options left for the public, shaming and blocking these puppet masters is an appropriate path forward. Direct action to defend farmland and wetlands is probably the only way left to prevent the further destruction of our environment and climate.
The huge political influence of big developers has been obvious in Hamilton for decades. They have consistently been the overwhelming source of campaign donations. But residents said enough and stood up to this in 2021. More than 16,000 replied to a city-run survey and over 90 per cent chose the option of no boundary expansion – at least 87 per cent in every ward.
City council then voted 13-3 for that option. Two of the three sprawl supporters didn’t even dare run again in last October’s elections, and the third was soundly defeated despite having been a councillor for nearly three decades. No one was elected on a platform of expanding the urban area onto more farmland.
But that was just the appearance of democracy. The big developers simply turned to their PC puppets in Queen’s Park who imposed a 5400 acre expansion onto local foodlands and wetlands plus 1900 acres of the formerly permanently protected Greenbelt.
Both city voters and councillors were treated as irrelevant. Officially the excuse is cities aren’t mentioned in the constitution so are deemed ‘children of the province’. Hamilton has more residents than each of two Canadian provinces; Toronto more than five.
Conservatives work overtime to make voting irrelevant, especially for city councils. Two decades ago there were 59 elected officials in Hamilton – about one per 8,300 residents. Forced amalgamation by a PC government slashed that to sixteen, and with 100,000 more people we now have one representative per 36,000 residents.
Higher populations per councillor requires more money to get elected so more dependence on rich donors. It also means much more work per councillor, and therefore much less time to respond to resident concerns.
Even then their decisions are overrun by the province whose legislation now comes in omnibus bills to avoid debate – Bill 23 changed nine separate previous acts and ran to hundreds of pages. Nor is democracy inside Queen’s Park, not even a hint that an MPP could vote against the party dictatorship. It is so locked up that media don’t even bother to report on the views of individual members.
None of what the PC government has done was included in their June election platform. Indeed their tactics then were say as little as possible about their plans, keep Ford under wraps, and direct their nominees to avoid all-candidate meetings. The low turnout was quite intentional! And combined with a broken electoral system just 18 per cent of eligible voters imposed a majority PC government.