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Trust in Nature: a rant by Betty Muise

Updated: Apr 10, 2021

If you are reading this “rant”, I probably don’t need to convince you about the vital role of nature and our environment, for the here and now and for the future. So, in this rant, I want to focus on trust as another vital element we need to prevail over our many current challenges, including environmental protection and the Covid-19 pandemic.

Recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic is fundamentally a social/collective action. Right now, the focus is on public health: I wear a mask to protect you and vice, versa. I severely limit my social interactions and I trust you to do so as well. The grinding public health measures we have been living with for almost a year all represent a collective effort to protect one another. Hopefully soon, we will shift to a phase of ensuring equitable access to vaccines and building more equality into our economic systems. But, we can’t do any of this, well, without trust.

Unfortunately, we have a government in Ontario that is pulling some fast ones on us. A prime example is the passing of the Protect, Support and Recover from Covid 19 Act. A deft “while you are not looking” piece of work, this law was passed in Ontario on the last day of the 2020 legislative session. In one particularly troublesome section of Bill 229, Schedule 6 undercuts the authority and resourcing of the 70+ year network of conservation authorities in Ontario. Huh? Not something related to making it easier for essential workers to take sick days, not something that helps people more readily access the healing effects of nature and natural systems… No, instead, they fundamentally undermined Ontario’s Conservation Authority system. The government undermined our trust by passing a piece of legislation that undermines the natural systems on which we increasingly depend.

Conservation Authorities were established to, and have since played a fundamental role in, protecting our watersheds and natural systems and have provided a sober check on inappropriate development on floodplains, wetlands and other hazardous or environmentally-sensitive lands. Meanwhile, along with this newly established mechanism to shortcut Conservation Authority oversight, there has also been an unprecedented use of Minister’s Zoning Orders (MZO) that overrule local municipal planning approval and citizen participation.

It’s a coup of sorts. Undermine local authority then dole out the spoils. This destroys trust.

Environmental NGO’s work tirelessly on our behalf and earn our trust by not having a self-interest in the environment other than its protection. Environmental Defence, along with other environmental NGOs, have banded together to push back as the Yours to Protect Coalition. As recently explained in a February 2021 press release:

“Last December, the Ontario government, in spite of a deafening chorus of warnings from Conservation Authorities, independent experts, farmers, the public, and its own Greenbelt Council, passed Schedule 6 of Bill 229, which undermined protections against floods, landslides and environmental hazards by hobbling Conservation Authorities. These changes are designed – and are already being used in conjunction with Minister’s Zoning Orders – to unleash residential and commercial sprawl in environmentally sensitive areas, like a Provincially Significant Wetland in Pickering connected to Lower Duffins Creek. Environmental Defence asked all political parties if they would commit to repeal Bill 229 Schedule 6 in its entirety upon forming government. While the governing Progressive Conservative Party did not respond, all three opposition parties have committed to do exactly that.”

I encourage you to check out the statement from Ontario’s opposition parties and to support their efforts.

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