An important article for several Simcoe County issues.
November 12, 2019
Retired Provincial Planner Victor Doyle Wins Victory at Crucial Time
Dr. John Bacher
At a crucial time when the land use planning policies he forged under three different parties over 25 years are under attack by the newly elected government of Premier Doug Ford, veteran land use planner Victor Doyle won a major victory. It is of great significance which may help in reversing a planned assault on Sothern fragile ecosystems. They are imperilled from a proposed loosening of land use planning regulations. This threat was announced with great fanfare at a November 8, 2018 meeting at Toronto’s MacDonald block, which was supposedly on the Ontario Growth Plan.
On October 27th, 2018, the Public Service Grievance Board of Ontario, ruled in Doyle’s favour in response to a grievance he had filed with it in response to his dramatic demotion. Doyle went from effectively directing land use planning in Ontario to studying the cars of the distant future. The Grievance Board ruled that that this action by the provincial government was a breach of “duty of procedural fairness.”
Doyle spoke out to the Globe and Mail in May 2017, when the Cabinet, responding to what Doyle found were inaccurate claims by developers, was debating land use policy changes. Developers’ apologists claimed that the province’s policies were creating a residential land shortage and driving up housing prices. Such rhetoric, although at odds with reality, was building up pressure to gut land use planning controls. Doyle responded using a barrage of well documented facts to show there was a massive oversupply of such lands. He warned the province to appease developers was risking “unsustainable sprawl, congestion and skyrocketing infrastructure costs.”
Although in the end the Cabinet did not back down, Doyle was punished for speaking out. He was sealed away in a manner to reduce his influence on the public service. Doyle was put alone on a floor in the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing (MMAH) Bay Street building. He was denied access to normal digital information sources available to public servants. No other Ministry employees were given offices on his floor. Several months before his scheduled retirement he was told to confine his duties to research driverless cars.
Part of Doyle’s effectiveness is that he would work closely with respected native elders, notably the Mohawk of the Turtle Clan, Danny Beaton, with whom he met in a Toronto gym. Beaton gave him sacred teachings on natural law, such as the need to respect water from the abuses of the earth. One such meeting followed Beaton’s shocking encounter with a cruel slashing of an old growth forest at French’s Hill/Waverley Uplands.
Mohawk Elder Danny Beaton: the scale of the original maples at Waverley Uplands, Apr 2015.
The French’s Hill Forest of great Sugar Maples is on top of an aquifer which contains the world’s purest water. Following Beaton’s traumatic encounter with destruction, Doyle lectured Simcoe County officials over their dangerous contempt for the sacredness of the natural world.
Working with Beaton, Doyle emerged as the guardian of what the Mohawk elder called the Peacemaker’s World. Doyle stood up to powerful corporations such as the Geranium, with its plans to dangerously ring the Minesing Wetlands with 10,000 new homes in Midhurst. This threatens to unleash a flood of polluted storm water onto a wetland which is a refuge for rare wild species. These include Hine’s Emerald Dragonfly, the Sturgeon, the Trumpeter Swan, Sandhill Crane, Bald Eagle, and several turtle species, now all designated as species at risk.
Doyle’s warnings of an assault on threatened wildlife from sprawl are especially relevant in the context of the supposed consultation now underway on the Growth Plan. At the MacDonald Block Forum a disturbing proposal was made by developers’ agents. This was that a large area of Class One and Two farmland between the Green Belt and the urban zoning boundary of Greater Toronto have a change in designation. All references to agricultural value would be swept away and the area designated under the Growth Plan as an “Urban Reserve.”
Doyle’s warnings to the press sounded an alarm against the proposed rapid urbanization of what planners call the White Belt. Doyle warned that water quality in streams in this area was at risk of contamination which would kill wildlife such as fish, turtles and frogs.
What makes Doyle’s courage in standing up so heartening today is the way the October 8th Macdonald Block Forum was packaged. The facilitator appeared to be the auctioneer at a fire sale of land use planning policies, rather than part of the public service. She indicated that all of the facilitators were members of the Ontario Public Service, OPS. There were at least 23 such OPS facilitators in the Room, since my own designated Table was Number 23.
Considering the ecocidal reputation of Sir John A. MacDonald it was appropriate that the Growth Plan consultation should be held in government building named for him. The worst of the formal government proposals actually had nothing to do with the Growth Plan. They have to do with the proposed abolition of the requirement in the Provincial Policy Statement (PPS) under the Planning Act that urban boundary expansions only be permitted every five years under a comprehensive municipal review.
The whole premise of the MacDonald Block circus was residential land shortages which Doyle’s writings carefully denied. The ten- second pleas to the Minister of MMAH had little to do with the Growth Plan. One plea was to abolish the Niagara Escarpment Commission, a backbone of the Greenbelt. Another was to abolish the Local Planning Appeals Tribunal. Thrown into the toxic mess was a call to have wetland offsetting, opening up for destruction some of the most important habitats for vanishing wildlife species in southern Ontario.
The backward thinking of the MacDonald Block Growth Plan Forum coming from a building named after a Prime Minister who arrested and hanged Cree chiefs and elders should be a warning signal to those in the OPS who care about ecosystems and wildlife threatened by sprawl. Let us hope that more follow Doyle’s path and work with native spiritual leaders and speak out in defense of Mother Earth.