ARA review tabled in legislature


ARA review tabled in legislature

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Changes suggested for the Aggregate Resources Act (ARA) would still permit a mega-quarry application if implemented, according to Carl Cosack, chair of the North Dufferin Agricultural Taskforce (NDACT).

On Wednesday (Oct. 30), the all-party committee reviewing the ARA tabled a list of 38 recommendations at Queen’s Park.

However, none of the suggestions protect farmland or water sources from becoming quarries or pits.

“There’s no doubt we’re disappointed. There’s no protection for the water underneath the land and no protection for the land itself,” Cosack said.

“Bottom line, it’s just unacceptable. We expect better representation from an all-party committee.”

Ontario’s Standing Committee on General Government began the process of examining the ARA more than one year ago. The review included numerous public hearings throughout the province, including Orangeville.

The committee heard from a variety of stakeholders in the land and the aggregate industry, from municipalities to farmers to engineers.

Cosack, who attended several of hearings throughout the province, said change was a reoccurring theme for aggregate legislation.

“There were all kinds that said this needs to be different. It all got ignored,” Cosack said. “It’s really quite remarkable.”

The committee recommends that farmland transformed into an aggregate extraction site is rehabilitated “where practical.” As well, improved monitoring of agricultural capability is suggested.  

On prime agricultural land, the committee recommends the Ministry of Agriculture and Food receive the application to evaluate rehabilitation plans and the potential reduction of local food production.

For water sources, the committee recommends the government, conservation authorities and aggregate producers assess the risk, and avoid damaging surface and ground water sources “where warranted.”

Cosack takes exception to the wording of the review.

“The language is so suggestive. They use clauses that are ‘if possible’ or  ‘where practical’,” he said. “That’s in essence, I hate to say it, useless language.”

The review’s wording is necessary, according to Dufferin-Caledon MPP Sylvia Jones, who sat on the committee during its public hearing in Orangeville.

“Some of that is because we’re not lawyers. We get an overview of what we see and what we heard,” Jones said.

“Does there have to be further study on some of the recommendations? Yes there does.”

Jones added she is proud of the 38 recommendations made in the review.

“It’s not often you get NDP, PCs and Liberals in a room together that can come up with concrete suggestions on how to improve a piece of legislation,” Jones said. “I wish we would do more of this pre-emptive stuff.”

As far as recommendations for agricultural protection, Jones said the suggested changes are sufficient.

“I think there are some concrete recommendations that cover it,” she said. “Did everybody who presented get what they asked for? No. That’s the nature of a consensus report.”

The promotion of aggregate recycling is one of the 38 recommendations, an idea first floated at Queen’s Park by Jones. In April, the MPP introduce a private members bill that would allow contractors to use recycled aggregate when bidding on construction projects paid for with public money.

“I’m happy to have it included,” Jones said. “The fact they have made reference to it, I’m pleased.”

Cosack said he is pleased to see the inclusion of promoting recycled aggregate. However, NDACT plans to continue include farmland protection in legislation.

“We’ll be fully engaged and we expect the minister (of Natural Resources) to make meaningful changes to this,” Cosack said. “Our attitude has always been that we want to work with people.”

By Bill Tremblay
Published in the Orangeville Banner, Nov. 6, 2013

Rachel McAdams, Toronto, promote Food and Water First

Contributed photo
Filmmkaer Jason Van Bruggen, camera operator Brian Smith and historian Stuart Henderson film a short video supporting the Food and Water First campaign. Actress Rachel McAdams is also featured in the video.



Canada’s largest city and one of the nation’s biggest stars have joined the campaign for Food and Water first.

Rachel McAdams, star of The Notebook, Mean Girls and Wedding Crashers, visited the Honeywood area in August to film a short video promoting the need to preserve Ontario’s farmland.

“Farmland and water are our most vital resources. Without them, we wouldn’t be able to survive,” McAdams explains in the video.  

Jason Van Bruggen, a filmmaker and volunteer with Food and Water First, said McAdams spent about two days in north Dufferin County filming and visiting local farmers.

“She is someone who is deeply concerned with that topic,” Van Bruggen said. “It’s a natural alignment.”

The London, Ont.-born actress joins North Dufferin Agricultural and Community Taskforce (NDACT) chair Carl Cosack, local farmer Dave Vander Zaag and Chef Michael Stadtländer of Eigensinn in the video.

“I was just hoping it draws attention to the topic and gets people to take the pledge and think about that issue more closely,” Van Bruggen said.

NDACT is leading the charge for the Food and Water First Campaign, an effort to change policies that allow rezoning that compromises food and water sources.

NDACT was created with the mandate to stop the Highland Companies' quarry plans in Melancthon as well as influence change to the province's Aggregate Resources Act (ARA).

With the quarry application withdrawn, the group is now focusing on ensuring legislation exists to protect Ontario’s edible assets.

Earlier this month, Toronto city council voted to relay its support for the campaign to the premier and ministries of agriculture, rural affairs and municipal affairs and housing.

“I thought it would be important for Toronto to take a stand. … We don’t live in bubbles,” said Toronto Coun. Josh Matlow, who tabled the motion. “Even though one might live in the heart of Toronto, it doesn’t mean we’re disconnected from the region around us.”

While political boundaries separate Toronto from Dufferin County, Matlow stressed the importance of working together within the region.

“We rely on protecting our natural and agricultural lands for the future success of the many millions of people who live in our area,” Matlow said. “We’re interdependent.”

Throughout the fight against the mega-quarry, and the Food and Water First Campaign, signs of support have popped up in Toronto businesses and on residents’ lawns. Matlow said he isn’t surprised Torontonians have joined the cause.

“Many residents recognize the connection between the success of our urban land with protecting our agricultural land,” he said. “I thought it was incredibly impressive how successful a grassroots campaign became. It’s quite remarkable in fact.”

He added the province must hear Toronto’s viewpoint on protecting farmland.

“With the strength of the voice that we have, it’s important the provincial government hears our voice on this too,” Matlow said.

“That’s why I thought it was important that we became a Food and Water First City.”

To watch the Food and Water First video, visit

By Bill Tremblay
Published in the Orangeville Banner, Oct. 24, 2013

Nestlé backs out of Hillsburgh water battle

Nestlé Waters Canada is withdrawing an appeal surrounding how much water it is allowed to draw from its Hillsburgh well during times of drought.

Set to see conditions found in its recently renewed water-taking permit reviewed further by an Ontario Environmental Review Tribunal (ERT) panel, Nestlé’s request to have the proceedings cancelled has been granted.

The reasons for Nestlé’s decision not to move forward boils down to cost and timing, according to John Challinor, the company’s director of corporate affairs.

“The cost to us, and Ontario taxpayers, because the (province) was with us on this one,” Challinor said, adding Nestlé’s current water-taking permit expires in 2017. “We looked at the cost and the timing and we decided not to proceed any further.”

Meanwhile, the Wellington Water Watchers, Ecojustice and the Council of Canadians are heralding Nestlé’s withdrawal as a significant triumph.

While satisfied by recent events, Emma Lui, national water campaigner for the Council of Canadians, said it is unfortunate the three groups were forced to get involved the Ministry of the Environment’s (MOE) water-taking permit process.

“We, essentially, were doing what the ministry should have been doing,” Lui said. “Nestlé has backed down, but at the same time, it really highlights the role of the ministry in this case.”

The controversy surrounding Nestlé’s well in Hillsburgh began when its water-taking permit was renewed by the MOE in September, 2012.

The permit, which extended Nestlé’s water-taking privileges to August of 2017, allowed the company to draw a maximum of 773 litres per minute, or 1.113 million litres per day.

The permit forced Nestlé to reduce water taking during Level I and II drought declarations. Prior to that, reductions were considered voluntary.

In the past, Challinor stated Nestlé has voluntarily reduced its water takings during Level I and II drought declarations, “and that will continue,” he added.

Citing unfairness, Nestlé argued the mandatory reduction conditions weren’t applied to water takers uniformly across the Grand River watershed.

“We’re definitely the only one,” Challinor said.

After Nestlé appealed those mandatory conditions to the ERT, the company and the MOE drafted a proposed deal that would have relieved the company of those obligations.

Urging those stricter conditions stand, the advocacy groups challenged that proposed deal. In August, an ERT panel ruled the matter be subject to a full environmental hearing.

“It is hard to say why Nestlé dropped it,” Lui said, referring to its recent decision to withdraw from the proceedings. “When the public learned what Nestlé was doing ... it raised a lot of public concern.”

Nestlé’s opponents are now arguing the MOE failed to protect the Hillsburgh community’s water sources by negotiating a settlement with the water bottling company.

“Community groups shouldn’t have to put time and money into challenging the ministry to do its job,” Mike Nagy, chair of the Wellington Water Watchers, said in a news release. “Sadly, the (MOE) failed to protect our communities’ water sources by negotiating a questionable settlement.”

When contacted by The Banner, MOE spokesperson Kate Jordan said the proposed settlement did protect and safeguard the local water supply.

The deal required formal testing and monitoring ensure any change to water taking wouldn’t have an adverse impact, she said.

“This was a precautionary, science-based approach,” Jordan said in an email. “Experience and studies have shown that Nestlé Water Canada's water taking is being done in a way that is sustainable for the surrounding environment.”

Meanwhile, the three water watchdog groups have also sent a letter to the MOE urging reforms to Ontario’s water taking-related laws and policies are undertaken.

In that letter, the groups are recommending the MOE prioritize water uses and conduct cumulative impact assessments of water takings.

“It is the government’s duty to protect groundwater and to prioritize water taking in favour of reasonable community use,” Lui said. “We hope to see more mandatory restrictions on the water takings throughout the province.”

Although the letter raises concerns about the way the MOE approves water permits in Ontario, Jordan said current provincial policies are sound.

“Water taking in the province is well controlled,” she said. “The ministry approves Permits to Take Water only after thorough scientific and technical reviews demonstrate the water taking will not have adverse effects.”

By Chris Halliday
Published in the Orangeville Banner, Oct. 9, 2013

Food and Water First Campaign reaches Toronto

Ontario’s largest municipality will discuss backing the Dufferin County grown Food and Water First Campaign.

At Toronto’s council meeting this week, Coun. Josh Matlow is expected to introduce a motion asking the city to relay its support for the campaign to the premier and ministries of agriculture, rural affairs and municipal affairs and housing.

“City council must signal its support for the agricultural sector and call on the Ontario government to adopt a Food and Water First policy to protect Ontario’s Class A farmland,” the motion states.

The North Dufferin Agricultural and Community Taskforce (NDACT) is leading the charge for the Food and Water First Campaign, an effort to change policies that allow rezoning that compromises food and water sources.

NDACT was created with the mandate to stop The Highland Companies' quarry plans in Melancthon as well as influence change to the province's Aggregate Resources Act (ARA).

With the quarry application withdrawn, the group is now focusing on ensuring legislation exists to protect Ontario’s edible assets.

“The discussion continues to be taken up by people who know how to write policy and move the bigger sticks,” said NDACT chair Carl Cosack. “Maybe the city of Toronto will raise this profile where people say ‘This makes total sense’.”

Cosack said he hopes the motion will lead to Toronto’s executive committee opening the idea of a Food and Water First pledge to public comment and eventually a recommendation to the province.

“The City of Toronto will hopefully take a stand and say ‘We have all this great farmland around us, and its important to keep that available’,” he said.

“It is great to have Toronto city council discuss this and hopeful bring a request forward to our minister of agriculture.”

Aside from the Toronto Food Policy, the city has yet to address preservation of nearby farmland, according to Cosack.

“Growth and development is great, but in the end you have to figure out how to feed yourself,” he said.

“We can develop, we can build houses, but let’s not do it on class one farmland.”

So far, Mulmur, Melancthon, Grand Valley and Amaranth have supported the pledge. NDACT also plans to present the idea to Orangeville, Shelburne and Dufferin County councils.

“Most every rural municipality you talk to ... they’re all interested, but they don’t know what to do with it or how to implement it,” Cosack said. “But there’s great conversations there.”

The Food and Water First notion isn’t new to Toronto.

In 2012, the city hosted Soupstock, where 40,000 people gathered in opposition to The Highland Companies’ quarry plans.

“The more we’re involved with this, the more it seems to be everybody’s bread and butter,” Cosack said.

However, Cosack said landing the support of Toronto politicians wouldn’t be considered a victory by NDACT.

“If you talk about victories, that means there are losers. That’s not what this thing is about,” he said. “We’re tremendously grateful the discussion has gone this far.”

By Bill Tremblay

Published in the Orangeville Banner, October 8, 2013

NDACT ‘thank-you’ event drew 1,500 to Honeywood arena

As many as an estimated 1,500 Food & Water First supporters kept things alive at North Dufferin Recreation Centre (Honeywood arena) Sunday as North Dufferin Agriculture and Community Taskforce (NDACT) provided space for 52 indoor vendors as a sort of “thank you” event.

The numbers might have been difficult to confirm. Nanci Mallouk, a Melancthon councillor and Museum representatives, estimated there were about 500 attending in the arena at any given point. But people were constantly coming and going, vehicles were parked along the roadway almost as heavily as at any annual barbecue, and Carl Cosack estimated up to 1,500, based on the number of riders on his hayrides.

Mr. Cosack is the spokesman for NDACT and was chairman of Sunday’s event. NDACT is currently following through on its quarry victory by promoting a concept of Food and Water First for all rural planning.

“You can’t grow food in a Petri dish. Maybe you’ll be able to in 100 years but, if so, let the people a century from now plan that way. Right now, food depends on farmland. If a country can’t grow enough food for its people, and has to import its food, it is no longer sovereign.

“Why would you make a one-time use (a pit or quarry) out of agricultural land that could grow 20 tons an acre,” he asked rhetorically.

“This is not a political issue.” Conservation of farmland “is just better planning.” Mr. Cosack said he and NDACT are grateful to the media, and in particular to Dale Goldhawk, who dedicated broadcasts to the mega-quarry issue and is continuing to support NDACT’s efforts.

Mr. Goldhawk was also at the NDACT thank-you event as a speaker Sunday. Members of his audience said he was supportive of efforts to protect farmland and water sources. Joan Lever said he “seems to be following what’s happening up here” and getting the message out to lots of people.

Bill Lishman and his “wild goose guide” ultra light aircraft were welcome visitors to the event. Mr. Cosack said the Lishman craft “buzzed” one of his hayrides when it was at the Jeremy Little property at the top of the Niagara Escarpment overlooking the farmland that would have become a megaquarry.

Those trips to the top of Ontario proved to be a delight for visitors from outside the region, many of whom said they had previously had no idea of what the area offers.

It might have been their first opportunity to have a first-hand glimpse of the rare water and land resources Dufferin County offers.

Those resources appear safe for now. But NDACT is maintaining its vigilance and awaiting with interest the report on the Aggregate Resources Act review – which is presumably due soon.

By Wes Keller

Published in the Orangeville Citizen, Aug. 22, 2013