Environmental groups happy with recent appointments to Niagara Escarpment Commission April 27, 2004 Carol Phillips The Hamilton Spectator
Barry Gray, the Hamilton Spectator
Former Burlington politician Joan Little is one of a
number of environment-friendly appointees to the Niagara
Environmental groups are worrying less about the Niagara Escarpment
A number of environmentally friendly appointments to the Niagara
Escarpment Commission (NEC), including Burlington's Joan Little,
signify a world of change to environmental groups that have
worried for several years about control over the Niagara Escarpment.
The former Burlington city politician is returning as a commissioner
to the Niagara Escarpment Commission after an eight-year absence.
Not coincidentally, that absence coincides with the period the
Conservatives held office in Ontario.
"I really think there will be a new frame of mind," said Little,
70, who served as a commissioner from 1986 to 1993 and then
as NEC chairperson until 1996. "The past four or five years
have been pretty bad for things being approved that shouldn't
The Coalition on the Niagara Escarpment (CONE), an environmental
watchdog group, is hailing the recent provincial government
appointments of 13 spots on the NEC. They include Ward 1 councillor
Brian McHattie as the City of Hamilton representative, Allan
Elgar representing Halton, and Michael Collins representing
Niagara Region. Little will sit as a public-at-large member.
"These are people we expect are going to support the policies
in the Niagara Escarpment Plan, which means we'll probably not
have to be looking over our shoulders every second wondering
what unpalatable decisions the commission may be making," said
Linda Pim, conservation policy analyst for CONE.
McHattie said he's very excited about the makeup of the commission.
"It's a very escarpment-friendly commission, which almost sounds
like a strange thing to say because the Niagara Escarpment Commission
is about protecting the escarpment," he said. "But certainly
during the Mike Harris years, there were a number of commissioners
appointed who outright said that their position was that the
escarpment commission should be dismantled. Kudos to the provincial
Liberals for choosing the people they did."
Little points to the controversial proposal by Dufferin Aggregates
to expand its quarrying operations in Milton as an example of
the kind of development that should not have been approved.
The proposal, which also received approval from councils in
Halton Region, Halton Hills and Milton, is now before a joint
board hearing of the Ontario Municipal Board and the Environmental
There are a total of 17 members on the NEC, nine representing
the public-at-large and eight representing each county and region
within the escarpment area. They review applications and decide
whether or not to approve development plans, based on the Niagara
Escarpment Plan. The purpose of the plan is to maintain the
escarpment as a continuous natural environment and "ensure only
such development occurs as is compatible with that natural environment,"
according to the NEC website.
Pim said she hopes the new NEC may look at certain issues in
a new light, such as the Red Hill Creek Expressway.
It has long been CONE's contention that the City of Hamilton's
development permit from the NEC, received in the late 1980s,
is outdated and the city should re-apply.
Hamilton Mayor Larry Di Ianni said the NEC staff looked into
CONE's request several months ago. "The staff position and recommendation
was contrary to CONE's," he said, calling it a "substantive
decision" rather than a political one.
Little, who is on record as opposing the expressway, said she
hasn't given that particular issue much thought and would have
to investigate the legal implications.
The new appointments could also have an impact on a controversial
proposed housing development on agricultural land near the southeast
corner of Highway 8 and Winona Road in Stoney Creek, which still
needs NEC approval.
The new NEC appointments are the first made by the new Liberal
government. The NEC came under fire from environmentalists and
opposition MPPs during the Conservative years when it was charged
the Mike Harris government made patronage appointments to the
commission and did not necessarily choose people interested
in protecting the UN-designated World Biosphere Reserve.
In a recent statement, CONE charged that "several commissioners
appointed by the previous government over the period 1996 to
2003 frequently ignored the policies of the Niagara Escarpment
Plan. As a result, during that period, new development crept
into the escarpment countryside in clear contravention of the
policies in the plan."
But both Pim and Little laud the efforts of current chair Don
Scott, whose term ends this summer.
Little was just ending her first three-year term as chair of
the NEC in 1996 when the newly elected Conservative government
decided it would not give her a traditional second term. She
was just the start. Four other commissioners also didn't have
their terms renewed, and they weren't replaced for several months.
That same year, Little recalled, the NEC's $2.57 million budget
was slashed by a third, its staff reduced to 22 from 34 and
the Grimsby office was closed.
"I believe the Conservatives had an agenda that precluded funding
agencies like the NEC," said Little, who served on the commission
during Liberal and NDP governments. "I just don't think they
were a strongly environment-oriented government."
Ted McMeekin, Liberal MPP for Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Aldershot,
agreed that while he was Flamborough mayor in the late 1990s,
he and other municipal leaders had concerns about the NEC.
"We had hoped appointments to the commission would be done
on the basis of being consistent with the mission of the plan,
and that wasn't always there," he said. "It needed to be revisited."
Little said she is particularly encouraged by the others who
have been appointed with her. The list includes Eric Johnston,
representing the Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation, Cape
Croker -- the first time a First Nations representative has
Little said she had been monitoring the NEC over the years,
especially in her role as freelance columnist for The Hamilton
Spectator, and decided in November to apply on the Internet
because she was becoming more and more dismayed that development
applications were being approved that went against the official
Niagara Escarpment Plan.
"I wouldn't oppose every development just because it was a
development," she said.
"If the plan allows something and you don't like it, you just
hold your nose and get on with it."