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Ontario Green Party looks to expand Greenbelt into region, covering townships

[Submitted]

A Green Party initiative would double the size of Ontario’s Greenbelt, expanding to include most of Wellesley and Woolwich townships.

The motion tabled earlier this month includes a protected ring focused on water, called the Bluebelt.

The Bluebelt emphasizes the protection of the groundwater moraines which Guelph and Waterloo Region rely upon as their primary sources of drinking water, as well as wetlands and surface waters such as lakes and streams or rivers. Along with protection of water, the party also prioritizes protection of farmland.

“We know that we’re losing farmland at an unsustainable rate in Ontario, 175 acres a day on average. We need that land to feed us,” said Mike Schreiner, Green Party leader and MPP for Guelph.

“And we also know that because of the climate crisis, we’re going to be seeing increased flood risk.”

Schreiner says now is the time to emphasize protection of water and water systems because a community’s natural infrastructure is the most cost-effective way to deal with the water-related issues cities and municipalities are facing now and in the future.

“Just the average flooded basement cost somebody $43,000 to repair. I’d rather just avoid it by making sure we don’t pave over nature’s ability to protect us from flooding,” said Schreiner.

“The lowest cost, most financially responsible way to protect us from flooding is to protect nature’s ability to absorb that excess water. We also know that we are going to need to make sure that we have adequate groundwater supplies and so obviously, I have an elevated interest in that in Guelph because we have a large city that still relies heavily on groundwater for drinking water. So protecting the moraines in particular are vital to protecting the quantity and quality of our water supplies.”

Wetlands and river floodplains need to be protected because they naturally regulate floodwater to contain and release it slowly.

Moraines need to be protected because they are the primary source of drinking water for some major population centres including all of Waterloo Region and the entire city of Guelph. Moraines are vulnerable to over-development which impedes their recharge by paving over the areas where precipitation lands and seeps into the ground. Moraines  must be recharged to continue to provide drinking water.

The  Bluebelt idea is not new. Schreiner tabled the Paris Galt Moraine Conservation Act in 2019 before the pandemic. The bill had all-party support in its first and second reading and was to be discussed for its third and final reading before the legislature was prorogued in 2021 by the Progressive Conservative government. Proroguing the legislature means that all legislative business in provincial parliament is stopped, and all in-progress legislation ended – like a reset button.

The Progressive Conservative government also proposed expanding the Greenbelt in 2021 to include the Paris Galt moraine, and conducted public consultations about this. Ultimately the provincial government decided not to expand the Greenbelt to include the Paris Galt moraine because of possible impact to creating housing and jobs.

Schreiner’s goal is to table the Greenbelt expansion as an active discussion in provincial parliament now, so that it can be put forward as proposed legislation in the next parliament after the June 2 election.

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