A few hundred people packed Grace United Church on Grove Street East in Barrie last night to hear a panel of guest speakers discuss the ongoing Greenbelt issue and answer questions members of the public might have had surrounding its future as a protected area across the province.
The panel included former Beausoleil First Nation chief Jeff Monague, Environmental Defence executive director Tim Gray and David Crombie, former mayor of Toronto and former chair of the Greenbelt Council.
Monague opened the meeting and gave the audience an impassioned speech about the historical importance of the Greenbelt land and how it affects his people, how they dealt with government land agreements both in the past and in the present.
"This government has gone so far as to run roughshod over us, but they don't even look at you guys, either," he said. "They don't even help you. They walk past you. They don't even talk to you. And that's wrong."
Ontario created the Greenbelt in 2005 to protect agricultural and environmentally sensitive land in the Greater Golden Horseshoe area from development.
A recent auditor general's report found Ontario's decision to open up protected Greenbelt land for housing was influenced by a small group of developers.
Margaret Prophet, executive director of the Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition, which hosted Tuesday night's event, said it was an opportunity for the community to ask direct questions.
“We are having a public forum on the Greenbelt to make sure that the public can provide some scrutiny and accountability to the MPPs here, and make it feel like their voice is heard," she told BarrieToday just prior to the start of the meeting,
“This is about the health of our democracy. We want a democracy that is transparent, that is accountable, and so far we are feeling with developers given preferential treatment, with brown envelopes being passed, unrestricted and unregistered lobbying happening, that the transparency of our democracy is at threat,” Prophet added.
Prophet explained there is a direct impact on the Barrie area itself, as there is Greenbelt land within the Simcoe County region — in Clearview Township, New Tecumseth and Bradford West Gwillimbury as well.
She also said Lake Simcoe is the keystone body of water of this area, with two-thirds of its shoreline protected by the Greenbelt.
Prophet noted she had reached out to government ministers to invite them to the event.
“We’ve invited the cabinet ministers, specifically because in December of 2022 it was the 30 cabinet ministers, along with (Premier) Doug Ford that signed off on this Greenbelt giveaway," she said.
“So we want MPP (Caroline) Mulroney, MPP Jill Dunlop and MPP Doug Downey to be accountable. Why did you sign that? Why are you giving away the Greenbelt when you know that houses are not a problem or that there is not enough land? So we want them to come here to be accountable tonight," Prophet added. “That’s who we invited, but zero response. No response. Several emails and voicemails, and no response.”
No MPPs attended the event.
A call from BarrieToday to Barrie-Springwater-Oro-Medonte MPP Doug Downey, whose riding the event was held in, was not returned by the time of publication.
Former Toronto mayor David Crombie said he was “here helping to bring some thoughts about what we should do with the Greenbelt.
“There’s a government that’s bent on destroying it. No matter what they say, they are bent on destroying the Greenbelt. Recent reports have pointed out that they are willing to go to any ends to get what they want, and that includes corrupting the process. We are here to rally folks to a cause,” he added.
Decades ago, Crombie fought to protect the Niagara Escarpment and the Oak Ridges Moraine.
“I’ve been at this for 40 years, and my knowledge in it, my interest in it, with my willingness to get out there and do something about it ... I’m an old guy now and I should probably be doing something else,” he said.
Tim Gray, executive director of Environmental Defence, an advocacy organization, was blunt with his assessment of how the issue will play out.
“I think it's the members of provincial parliament realizing that their constituents are not going to stand for it," he said. "They have no future, I don’t think, as a government, unless they change their direction on this.”
A battle between governments and concerned citizens seems like a David-versus-Goliath situation, the audience heard.
“It is,” Gray added, “but David always wins."