Area residents, community groups and politicians are calling on the provincial Liberal and NDP parties to reconsider the amount of time and assets being dedicated to a review of the Aggregate Resources Act.
The review got underway this past week with meetings of the standing committee on general government on May 7 and 9 and it continues next Monday and Wednesday. The all-party committee has allocated a mere 12 hours to the hearing of deputations and presentations over those four days, and has not given any time to travel to affected communities such as Woolwich Township.
“What’s most troubling is that these dates are all in Toronto,” said Kitchener-Conestoga MPP and PC environmental critic Michael Harris. “We are concerned about that and our caucus has called for the committee to consider taking these deputations out to areas where aggregate extraction occurs.
“As you are well aware, it does not happen in Toronto.”
On Wednesday PC member Laurie Scott tabled a motion to committee members to seek the authorization of the house leaders to allot more time to the review by having the committee meet in June after the House rises for as many days deemed necessary to hear from all stakeholders, to take the committee on the road to affected communities, and it would also allow the committee to visit current, proposed, or decommissioned aggregate sites.
The motion was supported by all committee members but still must be passed by the three house leaders – Liberal John Milloy, Gilles Bisson of the NDP and PC Jim Wilson – to take affect, and it must be done soon, since this past Wednesday was the deadline for presentation requests related to the evaluation of the aggregate act, which is currently scheduled to wrap up next week.
The review was formally approved unanimously on Mar. 22 by all three parties unanimously, following through on a Liberal election promise made last September by then-Liberal incumbent Leeanna Pendergast.
While the opposition NDP and Conservatives form a majority on the committee, Harris said that up until now the New Democrats and Liberals have formed a de facto majority to “stonewall” the attempts of Harris and Scott to expand the review and get it on the road.
What’s just as troubling for Harris is the way the government advertised the meetings through ads in just a few newspapers, including the Globe and Mail and Ottawa Citizen, last Monday.
“They had ads the day of when deputations were to begin. They’ve given little to no notice to people, so we’re disappointed,” Harris said.
One of the communities likely to be impacted by and changes to the resources act is the historic settlement of West Montrose, home of the last remaining covered bridge in the province and the BridgeKeepers who have fought against proposed quarries in their community.
The promise of the review was actually made by Pendergast and Milloy on a plot of grass beside the bridge.
One of the BridgeKeeper’s spokesmen said that the poor manner in which the meetings were advertised and the fact the committee is not visiting affected communities could skew their findings. The only reason they knew the meetings were to get underway was via an email from Harris last Friday.
“It certainly raises the risk that they’re not going to get much significant input from the rural communities where much of the aggregate production happens,” said Tony Dowling. “The early indication was that the review was probably going to go on the road and go across the province, so yeah, we were surprised.”
Minster of Natural Resources Michael Gravelle, however, said that the standing committee and his government are committed to being actively engaged in the review, and that the scheduling of the meetings and whether or not they travelled was in the hands of the committee members, not the MNR.
“It’s a very interesting issue, in the sense that the standing committee themselves make the decision about when the committee sits, how long the committee sits, how many days it sits, and they make decisions related to those issues,” Gravelle said.
“It’s not a decision of the ministry.”
The precedent of a standing committee travelling around the province to consult with municipalities and stakeholders is normally reserved for pre-budget consultations, said Woolwich Mayor Todd Cowan, who has years of experience in Queen’s Park, yet he believes that this topic is of such vital importance to communities that travelling should be part of the review.
“I feel that you don’t just want to hear from the Ontario Stone, Sand and Gravel Association, Gravel Watch, and the other big players; I think you need to hear from the municipalities on this.”
Cowan, along with Dowling and other community groups, are trying to schedule a deputation for next week, but should they not get a spot in the already-crowded schedule, the government is accepting written statements until this Wednesday at 5:00 p.m.
“When you look at the magnitude of the review of the act, and the magnitude of how many people would want to be at that table, there are a lot of people that would want to be at that table and who have every right to be there and would have a very good argument,” said Cowan, who said this review is more than the Liberals going through the motions of following through on an election promise; he believes real changes can still come from it.
“I don’t think they’re doing it just because they said they would. I do think they’ll listen and make some changes, much like the FIT (Feed-In Tariff) and microFIT review last year.”