A large commercial development on 22 hectares of provincially significant wetlands in Pickering, Ontario is expected to be approved after the provincial government loosened environmental protections last month. The proposed project is the construction of a warehouse by Triple Properties Inc. However, conservation authorities warn that the project will destroy a key part of the local watershed and poses a high risk for flooding. This is the latest example of the Ford government’s total disregard for the environment for the sake of capitalist profit.
The proposed development is on Duffins Creek, a wetland area that stretches from Pickering to the neighbouring city of Ajax. Up until recently conservation authorities had the power to restrict building on this site due to its status as “significant” to the environment. But on Dec. 8, the Ontario PC government passed legislation in an omnibus budget bill which amended the Conservation Authorities Act. The amendment gives Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark the power to build on “protected” sites and ignore environmental rules. To do this, Clark can issue a minister’s zoning order at a municipal government’s request, which overrides local zoning and planning processes and skips the usual conservation authorities approval process. With this change, conservation authorities are essentially rendered powerless to protect the Ontario environment.
Pickering city council requested a zoning order after voting in favour of the development last May. Clark quickly approved the order. In response to concerns about the environment, Clark’s office and Pickering city council challenged the conservation authorities’ designation that the area is of any real provincial significance.
We must point out that the only reason for the government to go to these lengths to approve the development is sheer profiteering. There is ample available land that is not environmentally significant only a kilometre away from the proposed wetlands site. Ajax Mayor Shaun Collier, who opposes the development, points out that there are hundreds of acres of land on which the warehouse could be safely built. The only real reason that the development company is building on the wetlands is that the real estate is incredibly cheap and building on it will raise its value from next to nothing to almost $1 million per acre. The low cost of land at the point of purchase will make the warehouse extremely profitable for Triple Properties Inc., and the long-term increase in land value will be profitable to local and provincial governments. These expected financial gains are why the project has been pushed forward despite much concern from the general public and environmental protection agencies.
Both governments say that environmental concerns about the project will be addressed because the company promises to replace the area they are destroying with new “wetlands”. But actual environmental advocates and experts have made it clear that building new wetlands is very different from preserving native wetlands that have taken thousands of years to form. The specific ecology can never be replaced.
The approval of this project both by the municipal government of Pickering and the provincial government is also directly tied to the financial interests of involved politicians. Reports show that the owners of Triple Properties Inc., billionaire Andreas Apostolopoulos and his son Steve, both made significant “donations” to the Ontario PC party and Conservative MPPs in Pickering-Uxbridge. Additionally, the Apostolopouloses made a large donation to the most recent campaign of Pickering Mayor Dave Ryan. All parties deny that the approval of the use of the site is linked in any way to these financial contributions, but this is clearly a blatant lie.
The sale of Duffins Creek is not an isolated case of development on irreplaceable ecosystems. Southern Ontario has already lost more than 85 per cent of its native wetlands as capitalists have converted the land for other uses. And as ministerial zoning orders are being increasingly used to override environmental protections, Ontarians can expect to lose even more of what little natural environment remains. If the Ontario government wants to protect the irreplaceable ecosystems in the province, it must immediately halt the sale of Duffins Creek to Triple Properties Inc., reinstate the land’s protected status, and return authority to conservation organizations to make evidence-based decisions on how to keep what remains of the province’s environment safe. However, the government does not want to, as its interests are the same as the capitalists. Instead, we need community control over protected areas, and workers’ democracy to make sure that private profits don’t trump the well-being of the environment.
The eradication of important ecosystems is not limited to just Ontario. Global climate change and environmental destruction are one of the most pressing risks to humanity. Capitalism, with its inherent profit motive, is killing our planet. We cannot rely on politicians to solve this crisis, nor can we rely on existing bureaucratic regulations that can be overturned on a whim. It is only when the economy is in the hands of the working class and run for need instead of profit that environmental destruction can be brought to a halt.