On a rainy Earth Day weekend, local environmentalists made their voices heard outside MPP offices in Holland Landing and across the province.
About 25 representatives from environmental groups rallied in front of York-Simcoe MPP Caroline Mulroney’s office April 23. Their issues with the provincial government were many, from the impact of the Bradford Bypass and the opening up of the protected Greenbelt for development to land use planning changes.
Newmarket resident Gloria Reszler said she believes in the power of rallies like this one.
“I never think the little person can never win,” she said. “(Premier Doug) Ford’s going to have to pay attention to this, I really think that.”
The effort was part of a series of Earth Day rallies spearheaded by the advocacy group Environmental Defence. Other attendees for the local rally included Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition, Stop the Bradford Bypass, Stop Sprawl York Region and Forbid Roads Over Green Spaces (FROGS).
The provincial government of the day has made many decisions with which environmentalists take issue, including the forthcoming construction of the Bradford Bypass — a controversial connection between highways 404 and 400 — and deciding to allow housing development on parts of the Greenbelt, including west of Newmarket.
Attendees had many different reasons for attending, Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition executive director Claire Malcolmson said. The rally had no specific objective but was a way to bring like-minded individuals together and show the support that exists for environmental causes.
“That’s how change happens. It is groups of people that work together and volunteer,” she said. “That is how we got the Lake Simcoe Protection Act, that is how we got the Greenbelt … That was all generated by the people. By the public. “
The province has justified its decision to open up parts of the Greenbelt by calling it necessary to address housing shortages and get more homes built affordably. It aims to build 1.5 million homes across Ontario over the next 10 years. But there has been some pushback, with planners saying much of the goal can potentially be met with homes already in the works in existing urban boundaries.
Asked to respond to the protest and maintained opposition to the Bradford Bypass, Minister of Transportation spokesperson Dakota Brasier said it is needed infrastructure with the provincial population growing rapidly.
“The Bradford Bypass will support more than 2,600 jobs annually on average during construction, generate up to $274 million in annual GDP and save drivers up to 35 minutes on their commute,” he said. "Despite attempts from our opponents to maintain the status quo, our government is building critical transportation infrastructure, including the Bradford Bypass.”
Bill Foster of FROGS said it is a highway he has tried to fight for 30 years.
“I know it seems to be useless because what we’re trying to do is to get this government to listen to the people,” he said, adding the highway “is going to kill this entire community, but also Lake Simcoe.”
Other issues raised included freeing tolled Highway 407 and stopping Highway 413, proposed for the western GTA.
Simcoe County Health Coalition official Laurie Neville said rallies like this are a way to spread the word.
“The most important thing here today is to make sure everybody knows what’s going on,” she said. “It creates dialogue. People start talking about it. If we can’t stop what’s happening right now, the next election, maybe we can get different leadership. I hope we can stop it, but if that’s too ambitious, slow and steady.”