I was honoured this spring to receive the Roland Michener Conservation Award from the Canadian Wildlife Federation. I travelled to Charlottetown for the award ceremony in my electric vehicle which was an adventure of its own and which I will talk about in another blog post. It was inspiring and empowering to meet the other winners and to listen to their stories. For more information on the award go to:
I have included the text of my acceptance speech below. It talks about the importance of support and community. I know I would never have been able to accomplish what I have done without the help of my community. King Township is a great place to live.
It is an honour to be here tonight to receive the Roland Michener Conservation Award and to be recognised by the CanadianWildlife Federation.
I have to admit when I first heard about the award I was somewhat surprised. Why was I receiving this recognition? I just plod along and do what I do because I think it is the right thing to do; because it is who I am. Then after discussions with my friends and family I realised that it is not really about me at all, but about the thousands and thousands of people like me; those that care about nature and the communities that they live in.
Behind me you are seeing photos of the Dufferin Marsh in Schomberg Ontario … a 5 ha wetland in the middle of the village … and pictures of some of the activities that the Dufferin Marsh Nature Connection has been doing over the last 30 years. I am a founding member of this community group and in reviewing the photos the first thing I noticed was how young I was. I am heartened to know that there are still many young people today that are active and passionate about nature and some of them are in this room.
I also realised that passion and tenacity and giving has given back to me. I have learned so much about nature, fund raising, project management, communications, governance, development processes, and what makes a community work. I have learned that through patience and persistence even the most ardent opponent can become an advocate. My work with the Dufferin Marsh Nature Connection has provided the opportunity to make new and lifelong friendships; it has opened the door to positive and productive community, business and agency partnership; it has allowed me to share my knowledge and passion with anyone who will take time to listen; and best of all it has allowed me to advocate for the protection of the little gem of a wetland just down the street.
When my 2 kids were growing up they had the luxury of roaming around and exploring our village. I remember once my son Garth and his friend Scott got lost among the six foot high cattails in the Marsh looking for a short cut through town. What an adventure they had. I don’t think there are many childhoods like that anymore. I was secure in the knowledge that they were being cared for and watched by the whole community.
My community of family, friends, neighbours and business people have supported me through everything. And most surprisingly they believe in me. I want to acknowledge my husband, who sadly is not with us anymore, for teaching me about nature and how to find it a source of peace and joy; and my two beautiful children who helped with so many restoration projects and other activities with hardly a complaint; so many friends and family who answered the call to volunteer and were there to guide me when things got me down; from dog walkers to Township staff I could not have achieved anything without them.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Emerging from COVID
Like many people, when the COVID pandemic was first announced I stopped writing my blog, hid myself away, took up new hobbies like jigsaw puzzles and learned how to communicate and socialise over internet platforms. My garden was my friend, and the grocery store was a bit scary. For me everything changed. Every personal interaction came with planning, logistics and the realisation of personal risk. Vaccines promised the return to a normal life but somehow that has not really panned out. Continuing uncertainty and pandemic exhaustion has reshaped my relationships and my community and has high-lighted weakness in our economy, service delivery, infrastructure and the social safety net. Society has become more polarized than at any time in recent memory and people are calling out (with anger in some cases) for affordable housing, food security, reliable employment, equitable health care and most of all respect.
We are not really emerging from COVID but rather limping into a new way of living. And clouding all this are new wars, climate change impacts, disparity in food supplies, fires, floods, and loss of species diversity. And as we speak democracy is being threatened around the world.
How do we find hope? I think we find hope in putting aside anger and fear and in building strong communities … communities that provide for the needs of all individuals. This has been my passion for years and I will doggedly talk about it, learn about it and advocate for it.
I know that most people who live in King Township care about protecting the environment. They care about clean drinking water, strong self-sufficient communities and effective public involvement in government decisions that affect them. Bill 66 (Restoring Ontario’s Competitiveness Act), a Bill that is being proposed by the Provincial government, opens the door to undermine all of these things. Under the pretext of supporting business and job creation, this Bill grants Municipalities the option to designate lands for employment purposes anywhere, ignoring the requirements of the Greenbelt Act, the Oak Ridges Moraine Act, the Clean Water Act, the Lake Simcoe Protection Act, the Planning Act and the Places to Grow Act, without any requirement or recourse for public input or appeal
So what is the Provincial government trying to do
- Providing Employment – So let’s examine this more closely. I live in Schomberg. This is a tight-knit community of residential neighbourhoods and commercial and light industrial businesses that provide services and jobs. It is functionally walkable and provides opportunities for both outdoor and indoor recreation. It meets many of the requirements for a “sustainable” community. Included in the Village of Schomberg is a large area east of Highway #27 designated as employment lands. Much of this land has been left vacant for years. In fact every community in the GTA, through public consultation and the desire to build strong communities, has already designated employment lands … there is no shortage. Instead of opening up lands arbitrarily, effort needs to be made to develop the existing employment lands where services and infrastructure are already provided or planned for and where there is a local employment pool.
- Cutting Red Tape – The government is trying to stream-line the development process by cutting red tape. I don’t know about you, but the Acts that safe-guard our drinking water, protect our right to effective public consultation and protect agricultural land and important environmental services and areas, do not seem like red tape to me.
- Downloading the development process to the Municipalities – On the surface it looks like the Provincial government is giving Municipalities more authority … and in some respects they are. However it also gives Municipalities more burdens and responsibilities. Let’s say the Township decides to designate industrial lands adjacent to the 400. Makes sense … until they are required to take on the burden of building and maintaining services and infrastructure and start getting complaints about increased traffic, noise and pollution. Bill 66 forgoes all checks and balances and promotes only a single consideration in the planning process. Where is the vision? And if something goes wrong or there is public back-lash, the Province gets to wash their hands of it.
I have to ask this question. Who is the Provincial government listening to? The only people who benefit from this legislation are developers, who own large chucks of land throughout the GTA, and big business. I doubt if many of the jobs created would go to existing local residents. There may be some tax benefit but will that be off-set by the new costs? In the end it will push our villages closer to bedroom communities and farther from the sustainable communities that we want.
Are you concerned? Not everyone has time to get involved in large picture planning considerations like this one, but there are a few things you can do. Contact your councillor … mine is Bill Cober (email@example.com), the mayor Steve Pellegrini (firstname.lastname@example.org) or the Township CEO Susan Plamondon (email@example.com). And you can contact your MPP Stephen Lecce (firstname.lastname@example.org). Ask questions. Let them know what you think. For more information or to sign a petition you can go to https://act.environmentaldefence.ca/page/35250/action/1environmentaldefence.ca.