On Mar. 22 the Ontario Legislature unanimously passed a motion to review the Aggregate Resources Act, a move that Kitchener-Conestoga MPP Michael Harris believes is a step in the right direction. “Although specific questions on the review’s timeline and expected impacted on existing quarry applications are still pending, the unanimous approval in the Legislature is an important first step.” The motion came just days before the minister of natural resources was required to respond to a formal request made by Harris on Dec. 6 in which he asked for specific details on the promised review. In that request, Harris asked for a detailed timeline for completion of the review, an indication of the areas of the Act to be examined, and details of the review’s impact on existing quarry applications currently in front of local councils or the Ontario Municipal Board.
The motion passed last week provides few details, other than explaining that the standing committee on general government would review the Aggregate Resources Act and report to the House its observations and recommendations with respect to strengthening the act.
In developing those recommendations, the committee’s focus shall include, but not be limited to, “the Act’s consultation process; how siting, operations, and rehabilitation are addressed in the Act, best practices and new developments in the industry, fees/royalties, and aggregate resource development and protection, including conservation/ recycling.”
While the minister of the environment will still be required to respond to Harris’ request before Apr. 3, the MPP suspects that response will make reference to this unanimous passing of the review as proof that the government is moving forward.
He said he hopes their response will have a more defined timeline for the review than was supplied in the motion, and wants to see all stakeholders involved – including opponents such as the BridgeKeepers and the Conestoga-Winterbourne Residents Association as well as proponents such as gravel companies – will be consulted by the government throughout the review.
“(Those groups) could possibly think about getting a submission or a presentation together to present to the committee,” said Harris. “We’re still reviewing whether this would be a travelling committee so that it could come out to our community. I think that’s something that our community would welcome.”
Two weeks before last fall’s election, former Liberal MPP Leeanna Pendergast announced that her government intended to review the Aggregate Resources Act and to “put pits in their place” by finding a more sustainable balance between the needs of rural citizens with the demands of the aggregate industry.
The announcement followed through on a promise made two months earlier that the government would review the act, though up until now there have been few moves towards actually completing that review, prompting Harris’ request for more details on Dec. 6.
Currently, Woolwich has five gravel applications on the books, three of them larger projects within the vicinity of Conestogo, Winterbourne and West Montrose.
Two of those projects – the proposed Jigs Hollow gravel pit, and an application by Hunder Developments at 128 Katherine St. S. and 1081 Hunsberger Rd. – are subject to OMB talks next month, while a third bid to extract aggregate from 115 acres near West Montrose and its historic covered bridge by Guelph-based Capital Paving is on hold pending the township’s decision to designate the bridge and its surroundings as a cultural heritage landscape.
Harris has no direct involvement in the sub-committee that is conducting the review, though he said he has been in talks with colleagues to swap into it. The Liberals also hold a majority position within that committee, meaning the timing of the review is ultimately in their hands.
He also reminds those involved that this is merely a review of the act, with no revisions guaranteed.
“It’s a very large scope,” he said. “A very significant scope, but lets see how much detail actually comes out of it.”