Alternative land use bill passes second reading

By MPP Toby Barrett

The Ontario Legislature recently debated and voted in favour of a bill to support the concept of setting aside land for wildlife and other environmental purposes.

In addition to support from all political parties, the Private Member’s Bill – which I authored – received support ranging from Delta Waterfowl to the World Wildlife Fund; from the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters to Ontario Nature, the Ontario Home Builders Association, the Insurance Bureau of Canada, and all three of Ontario’s general farm organizations.

This proposed legislation recognizes the right of farmers and other landowners to voluntarily set aside any part of that land as fallow for either of the following two purposes: to establish, restore or preserve a natural ecosystem; and to establish and maintain projects that produce services for natural ecosystems.

Following second reading approval, I requested the bill be referred to the Standing Committee on Regulations and Private Bills for possible public hearings.

If this proposed legislation becomes law, the Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry has 12 months to develop a provincial framework and action plan that does things such as the following: provide guidelines on how land can be used for these purposes; provide for the government to put out standardized educational materials; promote research; promote the holding of international symposia and encourage fundraising.

During parliamentary debate, John Vanthof, Opposition Agriculture Critic, stated, “ . . . we are supportive of this bill. We have some comments and questions that we think should be discussed as part of this bill as it goes to committee. But the basic concept, that there is agricultural land in this province that would be better off and provide more benefit to the environment and, quite frankly, to the economy of the province, if it was set aside – we fully agree.”

I am pleased the Liberals accommodated the Green Party an opportunity to speak to the bill. And Green Party MPP Mike Schreiner had this to say, “Research shows that the greenbelt alone provides $85 billion worth of environmental of goods and services for the people of Ontario. Imagine the ecosystem benefits that farmers can provide across Ontario if we can provide them with more support to do that. It benefits our economy, it benefits our environment and it benefits our communities.”

And this from government members like Cabinet Minister Sylvia Jones, “I just want to briefly say I think this is a fabulous concept. I’m happy to support Bill 28 primarily because it shows very clearly that we do not have to have a ‘them’ and ‘us’. It does not have to be about agriculture fighting against the conservation movement or the environmental movement.”

Perth-Wellington Randy Pettapiece MPP, Parliamentary Assistant to OMAFRA, stressed the Canadian Agricultural Partnership and the best management practices fostered there. Again, an example of government money going into these good purposes. He made mention of how the Rural Ontario Institute has an Ontario Soil Health Network amongst farmers.

The member from Barrie-Innisfil Andrea Khanjin, PA to Environment, quite rightly mentioned the many years of work by MP Bob Sopuck. He was involved from the beginning. His emphasis was on results, not process, not just regulation and enforcement.

It was a good afternoon of debate and quite heartening to see the support!

Toby Barrett is the MPP for Haldimand-Norfolk