The Tyandaga Environmental Coalition (TEC) have been quite active in the past year or so in Burlington since it was revealed that Meridian Brick was planning to cut down thousands of trees in order to expand their existing quarrying operations.
It was only natural that with a provincial election on June 7, the local candidates in Burlington running to be the city’s next MPP would be asked some tough questions about the environment by TEC, as they had already grilled the incumbent MPP Eleanor McMahon, as well as the federal MP for Burlington on their views regarding Meridian’s actions.
TEC sent out a questionnaire to five of the seven candidates running to be the next MPP in the Burlington riding: Andrew Drummond of the NDP, Vince Fioritto from the Greens, Jim Gilchrist of the Libertarian Party, Jane McKenna of the Ontario PC Party, and Liberal candidate McMahon, who’s running for reelection.
A copy of the respective candidates’ answers was emailed to inhalton.com; only Drummond did not respond to TEC’s questionnaire, and as you can see the questions centred very much around the issue of the Meridian quarry.
The following are the questions posed to the candidates and their respective answers. Some of the answers have been condensed for the purposes of clarity.
What is your opinion in the permitting of “heavy industry” aggregate pits and quarries, such as Meridian Brick’s quarry to be operated / expanded near intensified residential businesses, schools and protected ‘green’ areas?
FIORITTO: My answer will focus on biodiversity and human health. The proposed quarry expansion threatens a pristine environment which provides habitat for species threatened with extinction is reason alone for me to lead a fight to halt this project as an immediate post election priority. As an MPP, I will fight for “rights of nature” and against actions rendering the Species at Risk act into a worthless piece of paper.
Back in 2015 the City of Burlington passed a Blue Dot Declaration and joined the movement to enshrine our rights to clean air and water. If our elected representatives truly supported that, city council, our MPPs and MPs would have acted by now, but they haven’t. Why would Tyandaga residents elect anyone who doesn’t support you and your family’s right to health and safety?
GILCHRIST: Heavy industry aggregate pits and quarries should not be permitted near intensified residential, businesses, schools and nearby protected green areas. The Ontario government needs to identify potential development sites that are a suitable distance away from these locations, and municipalities need to consider and incorporate these identified locations in their long-term growth plans. That said, it is my understanding that the Meridian Brick quarry is a current allowable usage, and that they are meeting the necessary environmental standards so, as long as they comply, I would accept their current operations.
As for expansion, if no lease is in place, I think that municipal site planning should be able to control growth, and if a lease does exist the potential remedy would be for them to be compensated (based on property rights) should it be decided that expansion should be stopped. I would see my role as a contributing intermediary to help settle any dispute between the stakeholders.
MCKENNA: The provincial government should review its legislation governing aggregate and quarry development in Ontario. All legislation should reflect current environmental requirements and standards.
MCMAHON: I believe that companies must comply with existing legislation and must adhere to all provincial government monitoring and the rules established on the approved site plan, as well as licence conditions. The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry confirmed that it regularly reviews the Aldershot Quarry plans and the requirements of Meridian Brick’s operating licence.
What would you do to work effectively and progressively with the city and region to ensure “appropriate” provincial frameworks, efficient funding mechanisms and regular stringent monitoring are in place to protect green space and enact laws to protect human health as first priority?
FIORITTO: Besides laxed regulations, there is also the lack of political will of elected representatives to represent your interests. I don’t believe any of our current elected officials felt compelled to act, and that should concern you.
As Burlington’s MPP, I would push for a coordinated effort from Burlington City Council, Hamilton City Council, Halton Regional Council and fellow Ontario MPPs to stop this quarry. I will participate in protests to delay this quarry until the October 22 municipal elections, when I hope to see many new faces on city and regional councils. Each will have to decide where they stand on this quarry. Hopefully Burlington residents will vote wisely and elect representatives I can work with, rather than be forced to politely work against.
The long term solution to this resource extraction problem includes a requirement for all resource extraction operations to be regularly reviewed against ever more restrictive environmental regulations before initial approval until after final remediation and end of life approval. Grandfathered quarry operators like the Aldershot Quarry have a right to fair treatment.
They deserve compensation for any contractual changes which negatively affect profitability. Each resource extraction operation will have to be judged against a set of health, safety and environmental standards. Failure to meet those increasingly restrictive standards will require contractual changes to their operator’s license. I expect we will discover many problems in Ontario requiring solutions. I will only support win/win outcomes. I consider the quarry operator to be an important constituent in Burlington along with residents, businesses, tourists/visitors and ecosystems.
GILCHRIST: A basic foundation in the Libertarian philosophy is the ‘protection from harm’ to person or property, and this should be a fundamental role for government. So, the protection of human health would be a top priority in policy making and influence. Obviously, we need to protect greenspace and prime agricultural land (based on high soil capability) from improper development, while still protecting the property rights of landowners.
With ‘protection from harm’ as a driving force, I think that we need to again encourage the provincial government to permit these sites far from potential development, to support our urban and regional planners in the more effective use of the planning tools that they currently possess, and to move more planning control to the municipal governments.
MCKENNA: My role as MPP is to work with all stakeholders including municipal leadership to bring any of their concerns regarding provincial environmental legislation to our government. Legislation needs to be effective and fair to all stakeholders.
MCMAHON: I have met with and heard from residents who have expressed concerns about the plans for the east cell at the Aldershot Quarry. The health and safety of residents and the well-being of our endangered species are very important to me.
Over the past several months, I have spoken regularly with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) about the quarry and the concerns of residents. MNRF is the lead agency responsible for oversight of the Meridian quarry and has posted some information online answering questions that I have brought to their attention, on behalf of residents. In addition, Mayor Rick Goldring and I have met a number of times with Meridian Brick representatives to convey the concerns of residents and to encourage them to continue communicating proactively with their neighbours.
As a result, Meridian has created a question and answer page on its website to address some of these concerns. Further, I have attended all of the public meetings, continue to meet with residents, and secure answers to their questions and connect them directly with relevant provincial Ministry staff to get answers.
What would you and your party do to protect rural and urban communities being threatened by adverse social / environmental impacts, such as contaminants of the air, soil and water, from aggregate pits / quarries, and how would you level the playing field for communities forced to defend themselves from these threats?
FIORITTO: I don’t oppose all quarries. Ontario needs quarries to build our cities and create jobs. I oppose this quarry expansion specifically, because of the impact on a residential neighborhood, a pristine ecosystem and distance to a rapidly intensifying urban area. I would have less opposition to a similar quarry located near fewer people, that can operate without digging into aquifers… which isn’t just destructive… it’s also expensive.
The Queenston Shale deposit runs from upstate New York to the Bruce Peninsula. I doubt this current location is the best possible location. The closer these operations are to people and pristine natural areas the more difficult they must be to build and operate.
Stakeholder consultation must be more than a checkbox to impose unwanted change on people. I support win/win stakeholder consensus level agreements, where everyone leaves the negotiating table with smiles on their faces.
Ultimately this is a consumerism/consumption problem. Resource extraction must become expensive to encourage less destructive choices. We must refuse, reduce, reuse, repair, recycle and rethink. A green economy is a circular economy.
GILCHRIST: Again, provincial planning should control location away from growth areas. Ministry of Environment personnel, and other relevant governmental bodies, should continue to use, and further develop, acceptable emission/pollution standards as well as measurement methodology. When appropriate, I would advocate on behalf of the affected communities.
MCKENNA: Strong, science based and comprehensive environmental protection legislation needs to be in place that is fair and provides the appropriate protections to all affected by the law.
MCMAHON: Our platform is a comprehensive plan to address climate, provide green rebates, protecting nature and protecting our water.
If elected how would you and your party advocate for, and add or improve policies / laws protecting Ontario’s groundwater from potentially negative effects of aggregate pits / quarries and other ‘heavy’ industries?
FIORITTO: I oppose resource extraction operations that lower water tables or alter waterway courses…without a full environmental assessment of that change, including less destructive choices or options. I will support Ministerial Zoning Orders where they are in the best interest of people and planet.
GILCHRIST: Again, provincial planning should control location away from growth areas. Ministry of Environment personnel, and other relevant governmental bodies, should continue to use, and further develop, acceptable emission / pollution standards as well as measurement methodology. When appropriate, I would advocate on behalf of the affected communities.
MCKENNA: Same answer as the first question.
MCMAHON: Our plan will invest in the health of our Great Lakes and other water systems, such as technologies to remove excessive algae, microplastics, road salt and toxic chemicals. We will protect Lake Erie by continuing to work with partners to reduce phosphorus from agricultural sources and to enhance storm water and wastewater management. We also need to better manage the effects that population growth and development are having on Lake Ontario.
Other initiatives include enhancing monitoring and research to protect the Great Lakes, extend the moratorium on new and expanded water bottling if, by the end of 2018, the science shows that is the best approach to protecting our water resources, working with municipalities to standardize sewage bypass reporting to the province, support municipalities on how to best notify local communities of bypasses and complete low-impact development guidelines to reduce water flows entering sewers.
TEC sought a “Request for Review as per Part IV of the Environmental Bill of Rights, requesting an investigation into Meridian’s site plan and need for potential amendments, based on expert evidence that would protect sensitive flora, fauna and habitat on site. The Request sought a regulation to be issued under Section 47 of the Planning Act, to establish a Minister’s Zoning Order prohibiting future industrial land uses on the site. Would you support such a request for an MZO?
FIORITTO: As Burlington’s MPP, I would push for a coordinated effort from Burlington City Council, Hamilton City Council, Halton Regional Council and fellow Ontario MPPs for two MZO’s.
The First MZO to rezone this quarry as high intensity residential and/or commercial (foundation already excavated), recreational (garden/amusement/park…) or some other land use that helps the quarry operator develop or sell the property as approved by a consensus of Tyandaga residents and stakeholders. The second MZO would be to increase the quarry operator’s Queenston shale reserves, in a location that does not disturb a pristine natural area, a residential area or an aquifer as approved by a consensus of residents and stakeholders at the new quarry location.
My goal would be to use my influence as MPP to facilitate negotiated outcomes where all stakeholders win including the quarry operator, the province and all local stakeholders. I would accept consensus level (2/3) stakeholder approval as undesirable but acceptable.
GILCHRIST: Honestly, I am not that familiar with the details at this time, so I would want to learn more from all of the stakeholders. My understanding is that there is currently a 30 year lease on this property, and that the owner has agreed to return it to a ‘green state’ when the lease is finished. I would be fine with supporting a request for a MZO that prohibits future industrial land use on the site, provided that any owner is appropriately compensated as per their property rights should it be appropriate to do so. But before fully committing to any one approach I need to be absolutely clear that my understanding is accurate. I am open to getting involved, hearing respective positions, liaising with relevant governmental bodies and helping everyone to navigate the issue as best as possible.
MCKENNA: I support the opportunity of any group the ability to request a MZO but I do not have sufficient information to either support or oppose the establishment of a MZO in this specific case.
MCMAHON: MNRF received an application for review of Meridian Brick’s licence and site plan under Part IV of the Environmental Bill of Rights (EBR) from the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario on November 22, 2017. I was very supportive of this application, submitted by residents and encouraged their efforts. I am now working with relevant Ministry staff to ensure that the results of the EBR submission are completed in a timely manner.
It is quite surprising that the NDP candidate, who is running for a party that is known somewhat for environmentalist credentials, did not provide answers for this important issue in Burlington. Mainstreet Research came out showing that the NDP, despite earlier analysis that Halton Region usually boils down to a Liberal vs. Conservative contest, has climbed to second place in this riding.
As for the candidates that answered, the Greens and Libertarians have little to gain as they are not expected to win Burlington so it was not out of the ordinary for them to provide more lengthy statements about what specifically they would do.
It was interesting to see a Libertarian perspective on how they would handle environmental issues, as they are normally within the purview of government to handle. The Liberal and Conservative candidates gave rather generic and politically correct answers.
No matter who forms the government after the election, this is one of those local issues that the incoming administration will have to deal with.