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Newmarket mothers rallying for Greenbelt, climate action

Protestors once again demonstrating outside Newmarket-Aurora's MPP office Sept. 17
Protestors line up along Yonge Street to protest government decision-making on the Greenbelt Another rally will be happening Sept. 17.

When Newmarket resident Pamela Vega had children, her desire to address climate change became even greater.

Although she said she has long been concerned about the environment, having children really spurred her to want to see action for their sake. But when she brought it up in mothers groups, Vega said she was disappointed to find others were more apathetic on the issue.

It spurred Vega to try and urge more parents and others to take up the fight against climate change.

“Now that we have kids, it really hits home how terrible climate change is and that these children will really face the worst of it,” she said. “I found many of the parents in this area we spoke with were concerned about climate change but felt frozen about what they could do about it.

“If we take action, they’ll see fellow parents doing something, and maybe motivate them to do something as well,” Vega added.

Vega would go on to co-found the local group Mothers Marching, which will be organizing another rally on the Greenbelt Sept. 17. The loose group of parents is encouraging other environmentalists to join them for a protest near Newmarket-Aurora MPP Dawn Gallagher Murphy’s office.

A rally was previously there Aug. 19 to push against the province not reversing a decision to open up Greenbelt lands for development after a scathing auditor general’s report. This time, protesters will be delivering a petition and letters to the MPP’s office and asking her to submit it to the provincial parliament.

“The province is taking a step backward in terms of climate action and making this place worse to live in,” she said. “We want to stand up for our kids and also help fellow parents find their voices.” 

The province has maintained that building on the Greenbelt is necessary to address a housing crisis, despite the auditor general and planning experts finding there is enough room in Ontario without Greenbelt lands to meet the provincial target of 1.5 million more homes by 2031.

Melanie Duckett-Wilson has contacted Gallagher Murphy’s office regarding a local petition, asking the government to reverse its recent decisions to open up parts of the Greenbelt for development. Residents can get petitions to the government through their MPPs, who then can either file them with the house clerk or read them in the house during routine proceedings. The government then has 24 sitting days to respond.

Duckett-Wilson said Gallagher Murphy has indicated a willingness to provide the petition to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing. But Duckett-Wilson specifically wants it to go to the legislative assembly, which would assure a government response.

“It is concerning to me that even when protocols are followed by constituents, the democratic process can be circumvented,” Duckett-Wilson said. She added that it is not usual for MPPs to avoid presenting petitions to the assembly, and doing so is not necessarily an endorsement of a petition.

Regardless, Duckett-Wilson said she continues to gather signatures and is prepared to have another MPP present it to the house if necessary.

In response, Gallagher Murphy's office replied that the government is committed to building more homes.

"While we will never waiver in our commitment to build more homes, we recognize that there are areas for improvement as we move forward and continue our work to respond to Ontario’s housing crisis in a fair and transparent way," the statement said. "The Office of the Provincial Land and Development Facilitator continues to work closely to ensure the government’s criteria regarding these lands are met, such as our requirement that landowners must provide substantial community benefits to the public –such as roads, parks, schools, hospitals - at no additional cost to the taxpayer. Moreover, our expectation is that at a very minimum 10% of these homes be affordable. If these expectations are not met, the lands will be returned to the Greenbelt."

The statement did not address Gallagher Murphy's willingness to submit a petition on the issue.

Vega said Mothers Marching is more of a loose group, but they hope that others will feel free to join them in participating in events, whether parents or not.

Vega said the Sept. 17 date syncs with global days of action happening this month. 

“By taking part in this global day of action, we can just bring awareness to three major issues. We need to protect our water, we need to protect our air, we need to protect our land.” 

The rally will take place from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.