LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY OF ONTARIO
ASSEMBLÉE LÉGISLATIVE DE L’ONTARIO
Wednesday 8 March 2023 Mercredi 8 mars 2023
Report continued from volume A.
Building More Mines Act, 2023 / Loi de 2023 visant l’aménagement de davantage de mines
Continuation of debate on the motion for second reading of the following bill:
Bill 71, An Act to amend the Mining Act / Projet de loi 71, Loi modifiant la Loi sur les mines.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): Further debate?
MPP Lise Vaugeois: “‘If Premier Ford wants to get on a bulldozer, if the CEO of Ring of Fire Metals wants to get on a bulldozer, they’re going to have to run me over,’ said Chief Wayne Moonias upon hearing the announcement from the province Monday that the terms of reference for the Northern Road Link, an all-season road to connect the proposed mine site to the provincial highway network, were approved.”
Moonias goes on to say, “That is how important this river system, and the sturgeon, are to our community. Even if it is to risk our own lives, we intend to protect our homelands.”
Clearly, this does not represent free, informed and prior consent or any kind of negotiation. This has been a statement and an assertion, really, that the Ring of Fire will happen, First Nations be damned. He goes on to say—let me see if I can get this right—“Neskantaga”—
Hon. Greg Rickford: It’s in your riding; you should know how to pronounce it.
MPP Lise Vaugeois: It’s actually not in my riding—“has been very clear about what they expect. They expect their laws and protocols to apply on their lands. We are asking the province to respect that and to commit to the standard of free, prior and informed consent ... which applies according to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.”
What we need to recognize is that that includes the right to say no. It does. We don’t talk about that here, but it includes the right to say no, which means that negotiations must take place, and it is quite possible that some communities are going to prefer to keep their land as it is. That must be part of the conversation, and it has not been.
Now, my riding has a lot of successful mining, and they also have—guess what—rehabilitation plans in place. Those are vital. That’s what gives those mines social licence to be in our communities. It’s what provides a level of security knowing that down the line, if something happens, the money has already been put aside so that remediation can take place.
I’m very, very concerned about the way this whole debate and the changes to this legislation are going, because what I see is that First Nations communities are being pitted against each other, and I also see that non-Indigenous people are being pitted against Indigenous people.
I want to tell you a little bit about Thunder Bay, which is where I live. Thunder Bay is an amazing place. It’s in a beautiful part of the world. But if you’re Indigenous, it’s actually a dangerous place. It is a dangerous place for many reasons, but people die there, and there is conflict between settler folk, I will say, who believe in their entitlement, and the Indigenous people who come to Thunder Bay either to live or to receive health care or education. There are unfortunately many, many tragic stories about people dying—young people dying—while attending school in Thunder Bay.
Now, every time something like this—the talk about, “We are building the Ring of Fire. We’re ready to go. We’re putting the road in. We don’t care if we have agreement from all the Indigenous communities.” That creates tension in our community. That creates animosity towards Indigenous people, and that’s going to cost people’s lives. So we’re not just talking an abstract thing: “We’re doing all this great, fantastic stuff.” We’re talking people’s lives here, and we are actually reproducing very much a colonial process.
It was interesting to hear the member—I apologize for not having his riding in front of me—talk about the building of the railroads, because when those railroads were built, Indigenous people were forced off the land. They lost their communities. They lost their land. It was a violent process of removal. Now, hopefully, we are not reproducing exactly the same process with the way this government is going about pushing through its desires on communities that at this moment are not prepared to accept them.
I can also tell you that First Nations communities have not forgotten. They have not forgotten how many times they have been dispossessed, pushed aside and, let’s say, bulldozed over. One of the members spoke earlier about all the benefits coming to the two First Nations communities who have agreed, but the implication is, “Well, the other communities just don’t know what’s good for them, otherwise they’d already be onside.” Well, there’s nothing more colonial than that, I’m afraid.
I’d like to read a little bit—well, I still got a few minutes. There are other communities apart from Neskantaga who are objecting. The northern Ontario First Nations of Attawapiskat, Ginoogaming, Constance Lake and Aroland “signed a moratorium on new developments in the Ring of Fire mineral deposit, though other First Nations have expressed support....” So we’ve got five who are opposed at this moment, two who are in support. “‘Doug Ford is basically setting himself and his government up for a bunch of injunctions and blockades. He’s paved the road for court action and possibly direct action as well’...
“The Ring of Fire area is especially sensitive ... since it’s within the Hudson Bay Lowlands—the largest peatland in North America. Peat, a soil-like substance made up of partly-decomposed plants, is a major carbon sink.” That’s worth considering when we’re talking about rebuilding our environment or saving our environment. It’s a major carbon sink: “It’s estimated the Hudson Bay Lowlands store up to 35 billion tons of carbon.
“‘If we’re reducing the scrutiny and assessment and investigation of what the impacts might be, we’re setting ourselves up for catastrophe with no warning.’”
And then we have MiningWatch Canada: Jamie Kneen “called the loosening of requirements for clean-up bonds—money set aside to rehabilitate mine sites—a ‘recipe for disaster,’ potentially leaving the public to pay for mine clean-up.”
Are there reasons that First Nations communities do not trust governments? Well, I’m talking a different industry here, but we all know about Grassy Narrows and the mercury poisoning. It’s still there. The mercury poisoning has not gone away. It’s been at least 40 years. So first they’re hit by the residential schools, then by mercury poisoning, then by unauthorized logging on their lands—and on and on it goes.
My point is that regulations matter. Rules matter. And while this government likes to use the term “red tape” as a kind of dog whistle catch-all, they have no problem using red tape to tie, let’s say for example, the arms of people with disabilities. So they’re tied behind their backs, their ankles are all tied with red tape as they try to deal with the 700-plus regulations that determine what they’re allowed to do and not allowed to do. Now that is red tape.
We have said, and I will reiterate, that we will support this bill to second reading because we are hopeful that there will be amendments made to the bill that really serve to protect people from any future liabilities that could be caused by mines that basically haven’t been adequately financed, because that financing is the guarantee that the public won’t be liable and people won’t be dealing with mercury poisoning or arsenic poisoning or collapsing tailings ponds for the duration of their lives.
To finish, I wanted to just reiterate again: It’s incredibly important that we be looking at a much larger picture here. We have many mining opportunities—that’s great. We’ll build electric cars—that’s great. Does it have to come at the expense of the integrity of First Nations communities? I certainly hope not.
I’ve got 48 seconds. I hate to waste it. I don’t really have more that I want to say. I will look at my notes, because I’ve always said, “Don’t waste any time.”
You know what? I’ve got 32 seconds. We did a ceremony here for people who were affected by McIntyre Powder, okay? That was not acknowledged for year after year after year. Let’s make sure that the same things don’t happen to people in our communities because of inadequate preparation of skipping over requirements that are actually there to protect the public.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): Questions?
Mr. Anthony Leardi: I’d like to thank the member from Thunder Bay–Superior North for her presentation. I heard a lot of what I can only characterize as negatively described scenarios. In fact, sometimes, from my point of view, it’s hard to imagine that the NDP caucus would vote in favour of this bill in light of all the negative things that they’ve said.
I think I would like to ask the member, what positive benefits accrue to her riding in terms of employment and economic advancement as a result of this bill, and what would her riding lose if we continued to allow mines to linger for 15 years without opening?
MPP Lise Vaugeois: To be honest, I think that the 15-year thing is a little bit of a red herring, because it takes quite a lot of time to actually build a mine. But where we can help facilitate a mine moving forward more quickly—we’re in favour of that. But we’re not in favour of—and I don’t believe the people in my community are in favour of—trampling over Indigenous rights or making compromises on the future environmental integrity of spaces in the process. We would like to see guarantees that those things are protected, so that we can all embrace the new mining, the new technologies with enthusiasm.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): Question?
Mrs. Jennifer (Jennie) Stevens: I want to thank my colleague from Thunder Bay–Superior North for her speaking. I learned a lot from what she said here this afternoon.
My question to her is, one thing, as a municipal leader—when there was a water main break on a resident’s yard and it destroyed the yard, the municipality was held accountable to restore the yard back to its condition before the water main break, if not even in a better condition. So, to the member, in your opinion, in this bill do you really see any safeguards against how the public will be guarded against assuming the liability for the site remediation? Did you see anything, in your opinion?
MPP Lise Vaugeois: That is one of my major concerns, that that is not in this bill. When you see the director of rehabilitation cut and you see that there’s not necessarily the money put aside ahead of time, what that’s saying to me is that there’s no insurance. So you’ve started a business, but you’re not putting insurance on that business; you’re just leaving it to chance. And what happens when things don’t go well is that the people living there are stuck with the bill and stuck with the pollution. We don’t want to see that happen. We want to make sure that those forms of insurance and those guarantees are part of any project that goes forward.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): Question?
Ms. Laura Smith: I appreciate the opposite member in their statement, and I appreciate the value of putting something forward, making a plan, getting something organized before it happens, putting funds into the process—but that’s actually what the previous plan put forth. When they invest in these properties, it took 10 to 15 years, because there was so much planning involved.
The opposition seems to be focused on what will happen if we make these changes. My question to them is, what is the cost to our province and the people of our province if we don’t seize this opportunity?
MPP Lise Vaugeois: Again, it’s a little bit like blackmail: “We’re not going to try to do it right; we’re going to do it our way, and if you don’t do it our way, everybody loses out.” That removes the possibility for actual debate or conversation about it.
I want to add one thing: I’m attending a mining agreement signing next week between an Indigenous community and a mine. They’ve been working on it for a very long time. And you know what? It’s part one, because part two is the remediation part, and nothing goes ahead until the second part of that agreement is in place.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): Question?
Mme France Gélinas: Thank you to the member. You’ve heard the story of Wahnapitae First Nation, which has to grow. Their territory is supposed to be six square miles; they’re only two square miles. They are owed 20 acres. In order to do this, they have asked multiple times that when a mining claim is no longer in effect, we put a big X on that part of crown land so that they can expand their territory the way that the treaty said that they had.
Wahnapitae is not the only one. Mattagami First Nation is in the same position, where they are landlocked right now but their traditional territory signed in those treaties gives them bigger—do you think the bill, as it is, will help First Nations in those situations?
MPP Lise Vaugeois: Unfortunately, no, I don’t think that is part of the legislation, and I wish it were. We are all treaty partners, all of us, and most of us don’t really know the details of the treaties. We need to know them. We need to actually make those things right first. Get the water to communities first, and then you know what? Communities are going to be more trusting and more able to actually see that it’s possible to work together on shared projects. I think that’s the goal. I think that there are weaknesses in this bill that I hope will be overcome so that all of our communities together, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, actually work together to bring things right.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): Question?
Mr. Anthony Leardi: Again to the member from Thunder Bay–Superior North: Members of the caucus of the NDP have used what I would describe as some inflammatory language. I’ve heard words like “pillage the earth,” “rampant greed,” “blockades,” “sniper deaths,” “McIntyre Powder” and “direct action.” We’ve been hearing this for a long time from the NDP.
By contrast, we’ve been talking about jobs. We’ve indicated that I’m excited for my people in Essex, Windsor–Tecumseh is excited and Brampton is excited. All the members have talked about all the positive things that accrue from good mining in the province of Ontario. Is there nothing positive the member can say to her constituents that derives from building mines faster than 15 years, let’s say maybe even 10 years? Is there nothing positive she can say about that?
MPP Lise Vaugeois: I think I’ve probably addressed this more than once, and I can’t imagine why referring to McIntyre Powder is inflammatory, since the lives of those people count.
But again, I would like to say that haste makes waste. Faster is not always better. Having good community relations is what is required—it’s not asking a lot—and making sure that remediation is there for people so that they are not left vulnerable and left holding the bag. We want to see mining go forward, but we want it done responsibly and in full consultation and agreement with all the affected First Nations.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): The member from London West.
Ms. Peggy Sattler: I appreciate the comments from my colleague. I wanted to ask her, given the government’s track record of weakening environmental protections and ignoring the rights of First Nations people, is she concerned that this legislation may in fact further delay the mining projects and put the well-being of the people of Ontario at risk?
MPP Lise Vaugeois: Thank you for the question, and I think it’s a very good one, because when you haven’t established the relationships, you are going to have more delays. That’s the bottom line. Without the time taken to establish those relationships, you are forcing things down people’s throats. You will have objections. They will push back, and nothing will get done.
We have a legal obligation to respect the rights of Indigenous communities. That’s the law. It’s international law as well. That’s our obligation, and until those criteria are met, there will be delays, and that’s not what we want.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): Further debate? The Minister of Indigenous Affairs.
Hon. Greg Rickford: Thank you, Madam Speaker, and thank you for this opportunity here. I want to congratulate the Minister of Mines. He’s brought to our caucus a degree of expertise, having worked in mining, and his work here, as it’s contained in this act, reflects a couple of important exercises in advance of it. The Critical Minerals Strategy, of course, is an important precursor document. The Building More Mines Act is a culmination, if you will, of a road map more than four years ago that we took through various red tape reduction bills to take a look at realistic red tape reduction in the mining sector. I’m proud to say at that time in the last session, we were able to introduce regulatory changes that enhanced the mining sector’s ability to respond to the new opportunity, particularly with respect to critical minerals. We made some regulatory changes that were realistic for major mining companies especially—I’m thinking of Vale in Sudbury in particular. And now, the industrial Mining Working Group that the minister has struck is taking a more focused look at specific activities around critical minerals.
In my capacity as the Minister of Indigenous Affairs and the Minister of Northern Development—and I alluded to this earlier today—I’m seized with a number of opportunities to understand how mining can have a positive impact on our northern communities. Hundreds and hundreds of thousands of square kilometres we’re talking about here, larger than most European countries, including some of the biggest. We have some of the largest municipalities in the province with some of the smallest populations. We have Indigenous communities ranging in populations of 90 or so to a couple of thousand. We have municipalities with no more than a thousand people in them, and some with 100,000. So there’s a spectrum here of opportunity that mining creates for those communities in their diversity, and I want to spend a couple of minutes just highlighting what those opportunities would be.
As the chairman of the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund, Madam Speaker, we take a very close look at sector surges and the impact on communities, and where those opportunities are. They range from critical infrastructure to quality of life. We see small towns like Dubreuilville and Red Lake and Geraldton—now referred to more often as Greenstone proper—under a certain amount of pressure. I like to think of it as positive pressure. But no doubt, when you have 700 people working on a mine site’s construction, you have 150 jobs unfilled and a requirement for 250 homes in the community—we’re talking about municipalities that are going to expand to double or triple their size in a couple of years.
Now, these are base metal operations, but the Building More Mines Act is focused on an opportunity that is now being recognized. I think the NDP should recognize this, that it’s not just about mining. This is likely to be—in fact, many experts are referring to it as the largest sub-sovereign environmental policy that could potentially ever be advanced. The thought that the vast region of northern Ontario would be fully integrated into a supply chain for electric vehicles and battery storage is really what underpins, if you will, the necessity to move a piece of legislation like this through this place in an effort for critical minerals and this critical window that we’re in in northern Ontario to be most optimally leveraged.
Indeed, there are a number of important fronts that we must give deference to. In the matters of Indigenous Affairs, we’ve been spending a great deal of time over the past couple of years engaging and supporting Indigenous communities on issues and opportunities related to resource development. My colleague from Kitchener–South Hespeler articulated the value of resource revenue-sharing agreements and talked about self-determination, the ability of these resources to generate revenues that Indigenous communities should rightfully have. But there’s actually a little bit more to it. What we’re finding in the more than 35 communities across northern Ontario that form half a dozen resource revenue-sharing agreements is that they also play an important role in the responsible development of those resources. It’s the place where they, one would argue, more meaningfully can play an important role in how forestry and mining are actually developed. It takes into careful consideration some of the Indigenous businesses that are invested in the development of mines.
At PDAC—I spent the last couple of days there—I was sharing with colleagues today at the Northern Ontario Mining Showcase footprint there an extraordinary opportunity to take stock of the fact that the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund has supported more than 80% of the vendors there. They come from communities like Temiskaming Shores, all across Nickel Belt, out in Kenora–Rainy River. Heck, I live in Keewatin and there was an Indigenous-owned and -operated engineering business that plays a very important role in the development of these kinds of activities.
This kind of substantive and meaningful opportunity gives us the chance as a province, Madam Speaker, to ensure that everybody’s voice is heard. There’s no question that some are louder than others and that those issues that they’re motivated by should be given their consideration. But we also have to remember—and I’m thinking of the Kenogamisis communities that are rallying around Greenstone. Those four Indigenous communities see themselves as being in the best position to provide solutions, at an environmental level, at a housing pressure and an infrastructure level, for the betterment of that development. I’m thinking of the Côté Gold Project in Mattagami and Flying Post Indigenous leaders who stepped into that space and, like Greenstone Gold, took up leadership roles in every aspect of the development of those projects.
Madam Speaker, we have to be sure that on every front we’re giving a voice to everybody who feels the opportunity that northern Ontario has right now. The Building More Mines Act speaks to that: the engagement leading up to the legislation itself, the duty to consult and the responsibility embedded in the legislation to any and all stakeholders, but most importantly partners as Indigenous communities, is spelled out there, to ensure that this is done right.
But at the end of the day, beyond mining, beyond the fact that when President Biden says “our critical minerals,” we know where those critical minerals are—they’re in Canada and predominantly in northern Ontario. But we also know that legacy infrastructure required to support this—roads and energy—is transforming northern Ontario. Watay Power, bringing electrification to a number of isolated communities that I spent time in—in fact, in this Legislature, notwithstanding the member from Kiiwetinoong, who was born and raised in Kingfisher Lake, perhaps more than any other member except for him. I’ve had a chance to spend eight years of my life living and working in these communities as a nurse. I went on to invest my professional time in health advocacy and building capacity for greater programs and services.
The infrastructure that we’re trying to build in the context of northern development that’s attached to this act in building more mines is really about leveraging, as a province, better access to health, social and economic opportunities for Indigenous communities across this province, to make sure that our municipalities have the right tools they need to have the kind of prosperity that sometimes folks in the southern part of the province might take for granted. It will enhance critical infrastructure. It will create economic opportunities and, more pointedly, jobs for groups of people who have never had this kind of access before.
So, Madam Speaker, I congratulate the Minister of Mines, and I ask all colleagues to think seriously about rallying around and supporting this act so we can seize the moment and ensure that northern Ontario takes its rightful place—
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): Thank you. Question?
Mme France Gélinas: I think you were there when I read a quote from your letter that the honourable member sent to me about the rehabilitation of the Long Lake Gold Mine in which, “Remediation work will begin in late summer 2019 with project completion by autumn 2022.” This is a gold mine that has been leeching arsenic into Long Lake. It has not started yet.
Do you think that removing the position of director of mine rehabilitations will help this project go faster?
Hon. Greg Rickford: I think the member was there when she approached me on one occasion to thank me for the important work that was being done in all aspects of mining, and I just wondered why she had consistently voted against them, Madam Speaker. But I think what’s really important for the purposes of her intervention are the exciting technologies that are coming about in bio-mining and bioremediation. That’s why I was thrilled yesterday to join Dr. Nadia Mykytczuk with the MIRARCO Mining Innovation. This woman is a leader in this area, and we see an extraordinary opportunity to leverage new technologies, new capacity and innovation to deal more rapidly with the remediation of old mining sites and tailing ponds. We’re very encouraged by the signals that these technologies and innovations are going to bring, not just to bring and extract minerals, especially critical minerals, on the second pass, but obviously to rehabilitate these sites and leave them, as has been said in this place by members from different political parties, in a better place than they were before it started.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): Question?
Mr. Mike Harris: Thank you to the minister. I think he highlighted a lot of great points. Just toward the end, you were talking about what these types of programs, these types of incentives can actually mean to—dare we say—true northern communities. You’ve obviously spent a lot of time in northwestern Ontario, and you highlighted that as well. I think it’s really important maybe that you get another couple of minutes to highlight what this truly can mean from an economic standpoint to some of these northern communities.
Hon. Greg Rickford: I want to thank the member for his question. I appreciate the contributions he and his dad have made as original northerners in every sense of the word, him coming from a city in northern Ontario that is part of a couple of—Timmins, obviously, and Sudbury—at a global standard, the mining service and supply sector. I’ll focus my answer on those.
These are often small businesses. Yesterday, Madam Speaker, through you to my friend there, to see these businesses—I’m thinking of Daryl and the Fat Truck, which has the opportunity to extend winter road access by a month on either side of the winter roads. I’m thinking of a couple of Indigenous-owned and -operated engineering companies that are taking on Indigenous people as interns, and we’re supporting that.
To make sure we build these things right—it changes their lives. I’d love to have those young Indigenous men and women come in and talk about this. You’re not likely to give me enough time to do that, because you’re rising out of your chair now—
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): Thank you. The member from Nickel Belt.
Mme France Gélinas: The honourable minister was there when I was talking about Wahnapitae. Everybody agrees we owe them 20,000 acres of land. They have put forward some pretty innovative ways of doing this. They are surrounded by mining claims. When the mining claim comes to an end, somebody else in Toronto clicks and then the mining claim is good for another 30 years, and they can never move and regain the territories that are theirs. They are putting forward, “First, this should work, but if it doesn’t work, how about we gain those 20,000 acres in other crown lands that are available right now?” Would you support such an idea to make good for the people of Wahnapitae First Nation?
Hon. Greg Rickford: We’re working with a number of First Nations who are interested in progress in their communities. We know that that progress is tied, importantly, to economic opportunities. As somebody who has spent a decade and a half living and working in Indigenous communities, in particular—in stark contrast—the most isolated, the facts are these: If you don’t get a job in the education authority or the health authority, band administration, you’re not an elected leader or work at a Northern Store, your chances at a really good-paying job to provide for your family and support your community diminish incredibly.
We’re trying to build on those relationships with Indigenous communities to look at ways that they can be more integrally involved in the responsible planning of resource development, the implementation of various policies that will come back to benefit the community, not just in economic terms, but to have their position in environmental matters and any other opportunity that can be associated with responsible resource development flow back—
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): Thank you. Question?
Mr. Ross Romano: To the minister: First off, I think we should all commend the minister for his strong advocacy, continued advocacy for the mining sector, for Indigenous communities, for northern Ontario. I just want to thank the minister for that effort. It has been outstanding to see in the course of my time, in my role provincially. It has been a privilege, quite frankly, to be able to work with you, Minister.
I think that it’s important for us to recognize all of the aspects of how important mining is to our province, even for a community like my own of Sault Ste. Marie. We’ve spoken about this. We don’t have mines in Sault Ste. Marie, but we have a supply chain that is so strongly connected, from Tony at SIS and so many others. If the minister could perhaps elaborate on how communities that maybe aren’t directly tied to mining can indirectly benefit from strong mining claims here in northern Ontario and—
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): Response?
Hon. Greg Rickford: I want to thank my friend from Sault Ste. Marie. He’s a huge advocate for Sault Ste. Marie. Mining and Sault Ste. Marie are two terms that will be more than just synonymous. As our environmentally friendly steel manufacturing capital of northern Ontario, they’re likely going to be the main processing facility for many of the critical minerals in the central and northeastern part of northern Ontario. Their steel goes on to be part of fabrications for some of the largest construction projects in this province, like mining. There are a lot of good things to talk about. But some of the businesses that we visited yesterday at PDAC, as I said, are small to medium-sized businesses that employ a community, that have put—
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): Response?
Hon. Greg Rickford: —in a good position to be a major contribution.
Gosh, this time goes fast when you’re talking about something you love, Madam Speaker.
That’s what yesterday at PDAC was all about. That’s where the opportunity is: investing in businesses that can play a vital role in the supply chain for a modern electric vehicle.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): Thank you. The member for Nickel Belt.
Mme France Gélinas: As the minister knows, Wahnapitae First Nation is not the only one that is landlocked and owed more land. Mattagami First Nation—and the minister knows the previous Chief Naveau very well—are also landlocked, are also owed more land. They were up the lake on an island. They moved them. The reserve has been moved three times. The amount of land given to them is way smaller than their needs and what they are owed. Does the minister see anything in this bill that will help Mattagami gain more land?
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): The Minister of Northern Development, please be quick.
Hon. Greg Rickford: We’re talking about the Building More Mines Act and we’re talking about the opportunity that Indigenous communities have in every aspect of the development of mining and, as importantly, one might argue, two other important pieces: the supply chain—
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): Thank you. Further debate?
Ms. Catherine Fife: It’s been a really interesting afternoon to listen to the perspectives on Bill 71. I’m happy to join the debate.
I think the government already knows that we’ve said we’ll be supporting this piece of legislation at second reading. We, as the official opposition, have the right to look at that legislation to evaluate it, and yes, to consult more comprehensively, I may add, and try and make the legislation better. And that is something that we take very seriously as the official opposition. It is something what we will do at committee. You’ve already heard many informed voices here from the opposition benches as to what our concerns are.
I think that I’m going to go back to the confidence piece because the government knows full well that the consultation has not been comprehensive. The government knows full well that the consultation has been selective. When that happens, you put projects, mining projects, at risk. You risk compromising trust with Indigenous communities who want to be part of the potential of mining.
But those opportunities—the government is very fond of saying, “These are Indigenous opportunities.” For Indigenous communities to have those opportunities or have access to those opportunities, you actually need to have a conversation with them. The consultation needs to be sincere. Indigenous communities aren’t interested in listening to what the government thinks is in their best interest. They want to be at the table, they want to be in the room and they want to be respected. The track record is questionable.
So I just want to say that I think what’s missing from the legislation is that we don’t know what the specific changes around removing the director of the approval processes was—who advanced these ideas, Madam Speaker? The senior ministry officials could or would not confirm where these proposals that are in this legislation came from. The government has been asked this question many, many times. They are not forthcoming with the answer. If there is a simple answer, then please share it with us.
The other part is, as part of the deregulations in Bill 71, there are a number of amendments around the financial assurances required as part of the closure plans—essentially the guarantee that the applicant has the resources to cover the required costs of a mine closure. Since mining and aggregate policy often impacts public lands legislation, it is not clear how the public will be guarded against assuming the liability for any site remediation.
This also is a huge issue around aggregate pits. And the government members who were here last term will remember that when they changed the aggregate legislation—and regulations; more importantly, regulations—around aggregate extractions, municipalities asked to be indemnified. Municipalities, mayors from across the province, said to this government, “This is so risky that we don’t want to accept the liability for it.” This had never happened before. There was a back-and-forth, actually, in my riding around the Hallman pit, which is really dividing the community, especially when there are already so many aggregate licences out there right now, and yet the local council is moving ahead with the Hallman pit.
Finally, I just want to say, the third—we have some other concerns which will be delved into at committee. But once again, the planned changes for Bill 71 have not been subject to the required consultation with First Nations rights-holders, on whose lands most, if not all, of the exploration of new sites will take place, and where the former sites are. This was, in fact, confirmed by a senior ministry staff.
So we know that the consultation has not been robust. And we know from past actions of this government that when you drop the ball on consultation—meaningful consultation, not just the surface stuff—inevitably that trust is broken and the government ends up in court.
And the language that is being used and put out there right now is definitely alarming. You have to listen to it. You can’t ignore it, because the government will in fact end up in court.
I do want to say that self-determination also begins with honest and fair and transparent consultation, and this is a major blockade right now, Madam Speaker. It really is. The court cases that the government has already—I mean, you’ve lost in court so many times; why do you keep going down this path? Just this week, Madam Speaker, this government lost in court on the election financing piece. In fact, I think that it was actually—the Supreme Court said the law did “undermine the right of citizens to meaningful participation in the political process and to be effectively represented.”
Does the government learn from a court finding like that? No, they do not. In fact, they’re appealing that. So how do you build trust when the government of the day loses in court, as they did on Bill 124, which was deemed unconstitutional, that was in violation of charter rights, and they’re still in court.
Now that you have accumulated some 15 court cases—just to review what some of those are: Obviously I mentioned Bill 124, which is having a devastating impact on—
Ms. Andrea Khanjin: Point of order.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): Point of order?
Ms. Andrea Khanjin: Through you, Speaker, I’m just curious, are we still debating Bill 71? I just heard a few other topics being introduced—something happening at courts—but I know we’re debating Bill 71. I just want some clarity there.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): We’ll stick to the bill at hand, please. Thank you.
Ms. Catherine Fife: The bill, as it’s crafted, will end up in court. That’s the connection, Madam Speaker.
And then also you fought the midwives around pay equity. You lost in court on the wind farm cancellations. You even lost on heritage buildings—
Hon. Greg Rickford: Point of order.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): Point of order?
Hon. Greg Rickford: Sorry, Madam Speaker. I beg an analysis of the basic test that the speculation that this leads to court is attached to the sum 15. It would be like us talking about the number of times we had won in court, Madam Speaker. So let’s focus the debate. There’s an incredible opportunity here, and I ask you to consider—
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): Order, please.
It’s a point of order. You’ve made your point. The member—we can move on to the bill at hand.
Ms. Catherine Fife: I’m going to tell the minister, who should know this, that the reason that Bill 71 will end up—and will delay mining projects. That’s the other key piece, Madam Speaker. The bill is pretending that you’re going to able to build mining faster, but not if it’s in court, not if the government ends up back in court again. When Chief Moonias says, “We intend to defend our rights, our homeland, our river system, even if it costs us our lives,” those are fighting words, Madam Speaker. And then he goes on to say that Indigenous opposition now includes talk of lawsuits, which, as I’ve already proven, the government is very well acquainted with, and even possible resistance. If the government continues to push development forward without consent, you will delay future mines.
You already have a track record of losing in court and doubling down on some of those cases, including, I might add, the cabinet mandate letters. The lack of transparency is obviously concerning for us. It’s also concerning for Indigenous communities when you have selective consultation.
Madam Speaker, we are going to do our due diligence as His Majesty’s official opposition. We are going to consult; our critic is already in the process of consulting. There are some 40,000 miners here in Toronto. It’s a perfect opportunity for us to talk with them and to engage in an honest conversation, and that is what we are going to do. And when this bill passes, as it will here in the House, and goes to committee, as it should, and if the government doesn’t stall it there at committee, we will fight to make this piece of legislation stronger, more fair, more just for Indigenous communities and for every northern community across this province.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): The member from Brantford–Brant.
Mr. Will Bouma: I was wondering if the member from Waterloo, after that impassioned speech, could remind us whether the opposition is supporting this bill on second reading. Yes or no?
Ms. Catherine Fife: I started my 10 minutes—I can see you had rapt attention. Our critic has said this; the members who have invested stakeholders, who are very well connected to Indigenous communities—we have said very clearly that we support mining in the province of Ontario. We want it to be safer. We want it to be more fair.
When this bill gets to committee, we will try to make it a stronger piece of legislation. It has our support at second reading.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): Stop the clock.
The member spoke for less than 10 minutes, so we have five minutes of questions.
The member from St. Catharines.
Mrs. Jennifer (Jennie) Stevens: Thank you, Speaker. Through you to my colleague from Waterloo: In this chamber, we have seen mining legislation come forward with slight changes to the sector from time to time. There is still a lot of work to do. This bill is missing any targeted support for mining workers and their families, like more doctors and access to health care in their communities.
Can you expand on why encouraging more health care professionals to the north is vital for the workers and their families in the north?
Ms. Catherine Fife: Thank you so much for the question from the member from St. Catharines.
Health care connects the entire province. The Ontario chamber was here on Monday, and I said very clearly to them, “Bill 124 is bad for business on a micro level, because you have employees who are stuck in an emergency room—for days, sometimes—and/or who can’t access an emergency room, because there were 144 closures. On a macro level, when you support health care across the province, it actually draws investment into the province.” So there’s an economic impact to supporting that social infrastructure that we should all be fighting for.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): Questions?
Mr. Brian Saunderson: I want to thank the member for her comments.
Again, I want to go back to the fact that Collingwood has been central to improving our mining sector. By electrifying it, it makes for a cooler environment, it makes for a quieter environment, and it makes for less exhaust, so it makes for a much safer environment.
My question to the member is—and I understand that they’re going to be supporting this as it goes on to second reading, but I would ask her to talk about the type of innovations that improving our mining sector can bring to the province of Ontario.
Ms. Catherine Fife: On this front, I think that there’s great alignment with the government, because our post-secondary educational institutions have been stuck for a while in commercializing their research. When you provide an opportunity for a company to see and innovate towards an end goal, that’s good for everybody. It’s a win on the educational perspective, it’s a win on job creation, and, hopefully, it benefits from a community benefit perspective when those are shared goals.
But I will say that it certainly doesn’t help when the Premier of the province says, “Do you know what? That Ring of Fire road—I’m going to get on a bulldozer and do it myself.” That undermines trust and relationships across the province.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): Question?
MPP Jamie West: The member from Waterloo, during her debate, talked about confidence and the importance of building trust with Indigenous communities.
I remember, when I was elected in 2018, for example, during the throne speech, there wasn’t a land recognition that was here—there wasn’t a lot of recognition. We’re all on that path and that journey. I’m proud that we have the carving of the Seven Grandfathers, but we are living in the wake of finding children’s bodies from the residential schools here.
The confidence the government has of saying, “Not to worry, we’re going to do what we’ve always done”—I’m just wondering if you think that would be effective in earning the trust of Indigenous communities.
Ms. Catherine Fife: Very quickly: When you have selective consultation, you actually compromise those relationships that are in the community. As I said, this bill will end up in court. Try to rework it in some way and go back to the drawing board and meet with Indigenous peoples and communities in good faith.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): Further debate?
Mr. Brian Saunderson: I do have my correct speaking notes in front of me now, and I trust that this afternoon was a productive debate. I move that the question now be put.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): So you move the question?
Mr. Brian Saunderson: I do.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): Okay. The question has been moved.
Mr. Saunderson has moved that the question be now put. There have been 24 speakers to the bill and over nine hours of debate. I’m satisfied that there has been sufficient debate to allow this question to be put to the House.
Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry?
I heard a no. All of those in favour of the motion that the question be now put, please say “aye.”
All those opposed to the motion that the question be now put, please say “nay.”
In my opinion, the ayes have it.
A recorded vote being required, it will be deferred to the next instance of the deferred votes.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): Orders of the day.
Less Red Tape, Stronger Ontario Act, 2023 / Loi de 2023 visant à réduire les formalités administratives pour un Ontario plus fort
Resuming the debate adjourned on March 6, 2023, on the motion for third reading of the following bill:
Bill 46, An Act to enact one Act and amend various other Acts / Projet de loi 46, Loi visant à édicter une loi et à modifier diverses autres lois.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): Further debate?
Mr. Graham McGregor: Speaker, it’s an honour to rise in this House today and speak to this bill, a great bill by our great red tape minister. I got my start in politics about 10 years ago, answering this minister’s emails for him and carrying his bags and other such intern activities. It’s great to be here 10 years later, and I’m carrying his bill through Parliament. So, great to be here with you all.
Speaker, this bill is just another example of our government’s commitment to ensure that Ontario is building for its future, which is something that the Liberal government ignored for 15 years. Under their leadership, we saw jobs lost, including 300,000 in the manufacturing sector. Automobile manufacturers were reducing their auto production. That government gave up on the people of Ontario. They quit on Ontario’s future, and right behind them was the NDP, backing a government that turned its back on the people.
But this government, led by our Premier, is putting Ontario first. We’re building the critical infrastructure Ontario needs. We’re working to make Ontario the best place in the world to build a business, raise a family and have a future. But, Speaker, we have our work cut out for us. But unlike the previous Liberal government, we will not fail the people of Ontario. We will do everything we can to build Ontario for future generations.
One of the biggest problems our government is tackling is the housing crisis. It’s a generational challenge faced by the entire province, and if we don’t act now, the problem is only going to get worse. That’s why we’re taking swift actions so that we meet our target of building 1.5 million homes over the next 10 years.
Ontario is a place that is booming, and other provinces are trying to take our young people away. When I was driving into work the other week, I heard a radio ad saying “Move to Alberta. You can own a house. You can get a job. You can get downtown in 30 minutes.” We’ve got to be doing everything we can as legislators to say to those young people, “No, stay in Ontario. Get a great job, buy a house, raise an awesome family. We want you here. We need you here. You belong here in Ontario.”
Last year, the federal government announced that Canada broke its record with over 430,000 permanent residents welcomed to the country in 2022, and by 2025 they hope to see that number grow to 500,000. This couldn’t be more welcome. Diversity makes our country better. We have a historic labour shortage in front of us. We need talented people to come to do talented things and build our country better for everybody and build a great life here, but we need to make sure that our infrastructure is here, ready to support. That involves building houses, that involves building roads, highways—like Highway 413, which will save commuters a heck of a lot of time in my neck of the woods—but it’s also about building opportunity and building the economy.
Now, we know that red tape can actually strangle a good idea. Actually, when this government took office, Ontario was one of the most over-regulated jurisdictions in North America and in the world. But now, we’re the proud recipients of the Golden Scissors from the CFIB for the efforts we made to cut red tape. We realize that there are some members in this House who never saw a regulation that they didn’t want to duplicate. They’ve never seen a tax that they didn’t want to raise. They never saw a government program they didn’t want to triple. But we know in the PC Party that the way to unlock prosperity is for governments to get out of people’s way. It’s to do things that make sense. It’s to allow people to generate wealth, to create value, to put that money back into the economy, keep money moving and build prosperity for everybody.
Speaker, make no mistake, this bill will unlock jobs and opportunity in Ontario. There’s no time to waste when it comes to securing the critical investments that we need to build a strong economy for Ontario. Whether that’s in the manufacturing sector; whether that’s in the construction sector, where we know that we need to boom and we need to build 1.5 million homes in 10 years; whether that’s skilled labour or unskilled labour, we need all kinds of more labour to come to Ontario to help us build this province together.
We see that there are political forces out there that would prefer that the government stuck our head in the sand, that we failed to acknowledge the reality that Ontario is a growing place, failed to acknowledge that Ontario growing is a good thing and failed to acknowledge that political actors have a responsibility to ensure the prosperity and the freedom of the citizens of Ontario. But in the PC Party we realize that not only are these core issues for us to tackle; these are our duty as parliamentarians. It’s a duty that we take seriously every single day.
We’re focused on reducing burdens that will improve service and make life easier for people and businesses in the province. We’ve taken 400 individual actions since forming government to reduce red tape. We’ve reduced Ontario’s total regulatory burden by 6.5%.
I remember well the Premier when he was running for the leader of our party. People said, “How are you going to make government more efficient? How are you going to do that?” He said, “If you don’t believe that there’s 3% or 4% of waste on any dollar or any regulation that the government puts forward, you’ve probably been in the government too long.” Well, I’m very proud that I’m standing here, when we’ve cut 6.5%—never mind 3%, never mind 4%; 6.5% burden reduction done by this great government here for the people.
Our efforts are saving businesses and other organizations $576 million each year in compliance costs. That’s half a billion dollars that would have been spent filling out forms, typing in forms, printing forms, faxing forms, scanning forms—
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): Sorry to interrupt you. Stop the clock.
I’m just going to remind you to be mindful of the gentleman, the people in the booth. When you knock the desk, you’re really knocking into their ears. Just so we don’t do it twice; all right? Thank you.
Mr. Graham McGregor: Thank you, Speaker.
Also, just a big round of applause for all the hard-working folks interpreting the debates here today. I apologize, sir. I promise, when I bang the desk, I’ll just kind of mime it.
But I do want to say it’s half a billion dollars in compliance costs that’s back in the economy, and that is just a beautiful thing. Madam Speaker, dare I say, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
It’s important that a government listens. We have two ears and one mouth; we need to make sure we listen twice as much as we talk, and our government is listening. Our government is listening, and we continue to encourage people, businesses and organizations to share their best ideas for reducing red tape with us through our red tape portal at Ontario.ca/redtape, because it’s important that we know that we don’t have all the answers.
I always say in this House that I didn’t come to Parliament as an expert in anything other than being a Brampton resident. I couldn’t tell you how to pour the cement for a highway or build a highway, but I know what it feels like to sit in traffic. I couldn’t tell you how to design a regulatory framework, but I know what it feels like to be frustrated doing paperwork.
We know we’re a government for the people that listens to the people, and we encourage people to share their ideas with us because, as I said earlier, if you think that this is red tape reduction, you ain’t seen nothing yet from this government over the rest of our term.
I want to speak a little bit about some of the changes around the Animal Health Act. In the event of an animal health emergency, it’s crucial that we have the tools necessary to take immediate action to protect the health and safety of the public and animals. We’re proposing changes that would enhance animal disease emergency preparedness by allowing the minister to take immediate action on the advice of the Chief Veterinarian for Ontario, to require time-limited action to protect health and safety during an animal health event.
Here, we’re moving quicker, and we’re taking expert advice. It’s easy for politicians to say that they’re taking the expert advice, but here we are with a bill—we have a bill before us, before this House, the people’s House—where we can actually put that idea into action, where we can actually take expert advice in matters of animal disease emergency preparedness. Some of the things that may happen include temporarily stopping animal movement or adopting specific biosecurity measures to protect health and safety.
We are not just making changes to animal safety and changes to the veterinarian aspect of it; we’re also making sure that not only do we take care of animals, not only do we take care of people in Ontario, but we also take care of our planet. I’m proud to be a part of a government that is a climate leader, that is taking serious action to curb the flow of climate change and to protect Ontario’s natural environment for generations to come.
Through this bill, Ontario will be creating a framework to regulate and enable permanent storage of carbon as a new tool to help reduce Ontario’s emissions. Enabling carbon storage projects through future phases would allow businesses to take advantage of incentives and federal funding opportunities to provide them with greater investment certainty.
Now, I’d put this in stark contrast—there are some people who think we can tax our way out of climate change. They think that if it was only harder for you to get to work every morning and more expensive for you to get home to see your family, that would somehow benefit the environment. But we know in the Ontario PC Party that the way to fight climate change is through innovation and through the ingenuity of the Ontario people and the ingenuity of the Ontario spirit. That’s exactly the kind of thing that we’re doing with carbon capture technology for people in Ontario.
Carbon storage is actually going to play an important role in Ontario’s low-carbon hydrogen strategy, which of course set out our vision for a low-carbon hydrogen economy in our province where we can develop a self-sustaining sector—
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): I’d like to apologize to the member from Brampton North. You have a very riveting presentation. You can continue when the bill is next called.
Third reading debate deemed adjourned.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): It being 6 o’clock, it’s now time for private members’ public business.
Private Members’ Public Business
Farmland and Arable Land Strategy Act, 2023 / Loi de 2023 sur la stratégie en matière de terres agricoles et de terres arables
Ms. Brady moved second reading of the following bill:
Bill 62, An Act to provide for the development of a farmland and arable land strategy and an advisory committee on farmland and arable land / Projet de loi 62, Loi prévoyant l’élaboration d’une stratégie en matière de terres agricoles et de terres arables et la création d’un comité consultatif des terres agricoles et des terres arables.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): Pursuant to standing order 100, the member has 12 minutes for her presentation.
Ms. Bobbi Ann Brady: I am pleased to stand this afternoon to speak about Bill 62. I hail from the riding of Haldimand–Norfolk. We have a proud history of growing a number of crops that feed this province, country, North America and jurisdictions around the world.
Bill 62 is close to my heart because our farmland, our arable land, is finite. It’s non-renewable and, tragically, Ontario is losing 319 acres of farmland each and every day.
Many feel the future of the province’s rural landscape and everything it connects to—the food, the people and a way of life—is under the microscope. I would go as far as to say rural Ontario’s landscape is under attack.
We are all aware of the little-known tool government has at its disposal, ministerial zoning orders, orders that allow the province to rezone land without a municipality’s consent. Vital where it’s efficient, but MZOs are being used to fast-track development and circumvent normal planning processes. There may be times when an MZO makes sense or is necessary.
Ontario’s Auditor General has waded into this issue. In a December 2021 report, the Auditor General found the government issued 44 ministerial zoning orders between March 2019 and March 2021, when in the past about one was issued per year. In both 2017 and 2018, there were none.
To quote the Auditor General at the time—Bonnie Lysyk made it really simple:
“We still think that, given the frequency that these are happening now, that it’s time to sit back and kind of say, what should be put in place so that there’s real clarity for everybody that’s involved” around “when an MZO is used.
“If an MZO is used to build a long-term care home, I think people would go, ‘Okay, I kind of get it and understand the necessity’ as long as it’s clear why that decision for that particular developer was made. The other side is if, you know, somebody’s building something on a wetland, you’d kind of sit back and go, ‘I need more information.’”
Here’s a breakdown of the 44 MZOs that were put in motion: Five were used for pandemic response, such as permitting restaurant patios and the construction of a facility manufacturing PPE; 18 were issued on lands that were previously zoned for agricultural use or natural heritage protection, affecting an estimated 2,000 acres of farmland; there were 23 MZOs issued in order to increase the supply of long-term-care beds.
As the report suggested, in some cases MZOs have been used to increase density, to build long-term-care facilities or other services that benefit the greater community. But farmers and taxpayers can clearly see that MZOs can also be used to turn farmland into subdivisions.
I proudly worked as executive assistant to former Haldimand–Norfolk MPP Toby Barrett for 23 years. I don’t recall one meeting in those years with a developer. The past year, developers are lining up at the door. They are showing up without meetings. Some are very polite, and they want to know what the needs are of the community. Some are also very aggressive and have even indicated to county councillors that they will get what they want because they have friends in high places.
There is no argument from me that Ontario needs two types of housing: housing that is affordable and affordable housing. I fail to see, however, how the controversial use of these MZOs is fixing either of those two.
A story ran on Global News last spring where a young farmer was interviewed. Those young ones are few and far between these days. At the time, this 19-year-old Hamilton farmer, Benjamin Doek, expressed his concern with respect to his family’s 70-acre farm near Steel City’s borders. He said he worries the farming in Hamilton will become very difficult, or worse, that his land will get paved over forever.
I want to reiterate that our farmland, our arable land is finite. It’s non-renewable. Think about that for a moment. Once it’s gone, there’s no replacing it. There’s no digging it back up.
In the same story, Vanessa Warren, a Burlington farmer of 76 acres, said she has been approached multiple times by land speculators who simply just drive up the driveway and knock on the door.
For many generational farmers, pride is what guides them. They know and love the people who worked the land before them. They now enjoy working the land themselves. Most importantly, they take pride in feeding all of us.
The government boasts about our grown-in-Ontario foods, yet it seems they are making it more difficult for our farmers to produce that very same food. Farmers are no strangers to adversity and they always meet the challenges. They are some of the most forward-thinking, creative, intelligent problem-solvers this province has, but if we take away their land, it’s simply a challenge they cannot meet.
So that we feed ourselves, we must cease this constant subtraction of arable land. Anyone who has chatted with me in the past six months has often heard me passionately raise concerns about this. No matter where I go across the riding or across Ontario, the subject of land being gobbled up by development is front and centre. And before members opposite or beside me accuse me of being anti-development, I will make it clear that I am not. That being said, development must be responsible and it must be moderate. What we are witnessing across Ontario today does not seem responsible or moderate. So many others agree with that sentiment.
I recently held two agricultural round tables, and farmers expressed frustration that speculators can drive up the driveway, knock on the door and offer the farmer millions for the farm, pit one farmer against another and build their subdivisions. But if that exact farmer wants to lot-swap or build a retirement home on his property, it’s a lost battle.
A committee to look at these issues would end the patchwork of approaches or interpretations on these matters. In some situations, allowing the farmer to build that retirement home would mean that farm would not be sold for development and it would continue to be farmed. That’s positive.
A letter of support from Biodiversity and Climate Action Niagara reads, “We are not against growth. Our growing population needs to be accommodated within existing urban areas and within lands already designated for growth without building on the greenbelt or on other agricultural lands.”
I scratch my head as I watch this government, which has traditionally been pro-farmer, pro-rural Ontario, turn a blind eye to some of the reckless development that is happening.
That same letter continues, “It is beyond our understanding that the food security of Ontarians is not a greater concern to elected officials. We have already seen the impacts of the global disruptions to the food supply as a result of war, weather and pandemics.” They go on, “We will need to grow more food closer to our population centres in the future. We cannot do this if we continue to pave over Ontario’s agricultural lands at the rate of 319 acres per day.”
We can’t make more land appear out of the blue, so we must protect and manage our productive land. My private member’s bill will do exactly that. Speaker, it’s time for the rubber to hit the dirt road. My private member’s bill calls for the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs to develop a strategic plan to protect Ontario’s farmland and arable land from development, aggregate mining and the effects of fluctuating commodity prices and the availability of vacant land. It also mandates the establishment of the farmland and arable land advisory committee to advise the minister. Member of the public will comprise the committee, rather than politicians.
We must prevent further land degradation and protect farmland and arable land for future Ontarians. Protection is essential to ensure short-term and long-term food security for this province.
Prince Edward County Field Naturalists wrote a supportive letter as well and commented on the idea of an advisory committee made up of citizens, citing it as a great help to the government in its decision-making.
The OFA referenced the loss of 319 acres of Ontario farmland per day, but they also equate that to losing the equivalent of nine family farms each week, and they point out that those 319 acres can produce more than 23.5 million apples, 1.2 million bottles of Ontario VQA wine or 37.1 million strawberries. They put it in terms of everyday items we can easily relate to.
Ontario agriculture and food annually contributes $47 billion to the province’s economy and employs almost one million Ontarians. If we don’t protect our food-producing land, we will send shock waves across our economy, with the loss of STEM, labour and technological jobs, and we may even damage rural main streets.
Who can forget the supply chain issues Ontarians experienced during COVID-19? I shudder to think we would do anything further to harm our domestic supply chain and local food production. We can’t afford to do this to ourselves or our future generations.
We know Canada is vast, but only 5% of our land is arable and only 0.5% is class 1 or 2 soils. Class 1 or 2 soils are the kinds that can grow virtually any crop suitable to the climate. Most important to note is that half of Canada’s arable land is right here in Ontario. My riding of Haldimand–Norfolk boasts soils of types 1 and 2 and the sandy loam found in Norfolk county can grow just about anything.
These are areas that need protection. Again, I’m not anti-development, but most of us can exercise common sense and understand that the better approach to housing is to use existing urban land and to encourage high-density, transit-oriented development; that was articulated by mayors across Ontario as we travelled the province for pre-budget consultations.
There are regions across the province that have already lost the urban sprawl battle and they are sounding the alarm bells, and farmers who have had to move out to other areas to escape the urban shadow, where they battle traffic, subdivisions and neighbours who simply don’t understand manure is a necessity to grow crops. I’ve heard them; I’ve been to those regions. That’s why it’s so important for all of us to rally together to save the farmland we have left in Ontario.
We’re all aware of the building of highways in this province. It was an election promise to the people of Ontario to fix our roads, but now we feel that the new highways are part of the recipe for more low-density subdivisions, which will have the farmland-killing sprawl effect. I understand Ontario feels it is in a housing crisis. Who is monitoring what housing is being built is still a mystery to me, but I digress. Anyway, if we bring people to Ontario, building them a house without being able to feed them—well, it all becomes a moot point.
Importing food means paying more. We don’t have to look much further than the crisis with fertilizer. During the pandemic, we saw what empty grocery store shelves looked like for the first time in our lives and it was frightening. It seems most of us have come to realize how critically important farmers, farm families and our land is to us. During the pandemic, our farmers were switched into crisis mode, and yet they innovated and met the demand under very tough guidelines. Again, I repeat that our farmers cannot do their job and we will not have sufficient healthy food without their farmland.
Paving over farmland is occurring in the United States, as well. Ontario relies on food imports from the US, so it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what will happen if food production continues to shrink in the US. This is why Bill 62 must be adopted. It’s a conversation, it’s consultation on what the best path forward is and it puts the power in the hands of the people who know better than we do. It’s clear government doesn’t always have the answers; and that’s okay, we don’t have to. But we have to be wise enough to go out and solicit advice and recommendations from those who do.
Bill 62 is an opportunity for this government to show its commitment to Ontario’s farmers.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): Further debate?
Mr. Trevor Jones: I appreciate the opportunity to speak this evening to Bill 62 and, respectfully, I’m requesting for me to share my time with my colleague from Elgin–Middlesex–London.
I feel fortunate to explain how our government is already achieving what the opposition member’s bill is proposing. This bill, if passed, would require this House to first establish a committee of members of the Legislative Assembly and then select a committee of stakeholders, but respectfully, we need to recognize that this is both redundant and unnecessary—an additional layer of red tape. The independent member’s bill fails to recognize the sincere commitment to grassroots consultations and engagement that this government and our Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs are already facilitating. Our ministry has established a real strategy to ensure long-term sustainability and health of Ontario’s soil based on direct input and recommendations from Ontario’s ag leaders, our stakeholders and industry.
The soil health and conservation strategy, launched back in 2018, is a long-term framework to guide collaborative soil health research and investments and activities, with an outlook to 2030. The soil strategy incorporates feedback directly from our farmers, conservation and academic communities, technical experts, Indigenous communities and all our partner organizations. For at least five years, our government has also been focused on tangible deliverables to grow the agri-food industry in a sustainable manner.
The strategy’s goals are divided into four key themes to address the aspects of soil health.
Theme 1, soil management: This focuses on implementing soil management practices to sustain and enhance soil health and productivity.
Theme 2, soil data and mapping: to create reliable soil data and tools available to allow for informed decision-making.
Theme 3, soil evaluation and monitoring: to track, over time, the health and status of Ontario’s agricultural soils.
Finally, theme 4, soil knowledge and innovation: focusing on optimizing soil knowledge and skill to meet societal and economic needs to drive real innovation.
This collaborative strategy is already established and well under way, going beyond what the independent member’s bill proposes to do. To implement these goals, our government formed the soil action group back in 2020. The soil action group consists of leading agricultural stakeholders, including the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association, among other leaders, to advance and implement its goals.
Speaker, under the soil strategy, our government has committed $33 million to soil-health-related projects to date, and there is so much more to come because we have listened and we take the appropriate action from the experts who guide us.
In addition, the minister and members of the soil action group have several actions under way to support the implementation of this very strategy. These initiatives include the Ontario Agricultural Soil Information System, or OASIS, an accountable public-facing portal that provides access to soil data as well as tools to support farmer-level business, production and land management decisions to improve their productivity and reduce losses.
Expanding the soil resource inventory, SRI: We’ve expanded the current SRI based on the province’s historic and dated soils information and mapping systems.
On-Farm Applied Research and Monitoring Project, ONFARM: Over $5 million in investment over the last four years is aimed at improving the soil health and reducing nutrient run-off from our farms.
Modernizing the Ontario agricultural planning tools suite, the ag tool suite that our farmers know well: Our government invested $4 million to modernize AgriSuite, a collection of support tools related to crop management, nutrient management and minimum distance separation.
Speaker, our government has not only committed to long-term soil health through this strategy, but we’ve invested $24 million to assist farmers in completing 2,500 cost-shared projects across the province with the Lake Erie watershed, such as the Lake Erie Agriculture Demonstrating Sustainability, or LEADS, initiative down my way, to address environmental risks identified through the environmental farm plan.
These projects have shown real results already, and they continue to. These projects have reduced soil loss to more than 210,000 acres of farmland, and now more than 30,000 acres that were at risk from soil health challenges have benefited from cover crops—new ways and new implementation guided by the experts, guided by listening to stakeholders.
Our government’s actions have demonstrated a sincere commitment to ensuring that our agriculture lands continue to increase yield and productivity year after year. By establishing a modern, accountable and, most importantly, intelligence-led program, our government is ensuring that Ontario remains the world leader when it comes to healthy, sustainable agriculture, productive land and an agri-food sector overall.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): The member from Elgin–Middlesex–London.
Mr. Rob Flack: I first want to begin by thanking the member opposite. I know her passion for agriculture and our farmers and our agri-food sector is unquestioned. We may disagree on the approach, which we will, I think, here in a few minutes, but I understand that passion which I share as well, along with the leader of the Green Party as well.
I’ve read the bill a few times, Speaker. I must say I enjoy it because it’s very brief; it’s to the point, and I congratulate you on that. Many times, they’re very onerous to read, but this is succinct. While I cannot support the bill, as my honourable member opposite has said, we have enough tools, I believe, in our arsenal of initiatives at OMAFRA to accomplish what the member from Haldimand–Norfolk wishes to accomplish.
This government has accomplished a great deal to protect Ontario’s ag industry while enabling growth to take place, and I hope to complement my colleague’s remarks here today along that vein.
Speaker, let me begin by saying I’m proud to say that our government, just last week, signed the Sustainable Canadian Agricultural Partnership. This partnership is a five-year agreement of up to $1.8 billion in federal-provincial initiatives that will replace the Canadian Agricultural Partnership program. The sustainable agricultural partnership will support the priorities and focus areas set out by federal, provincial and territorial ag ministers in the Guelph Statement. This partnership will position Ontario’s agri-food sector for success and growth as a world leader in environmentally, economically and socially sustainable agriculture.
Not only does this agricultural partnership build on the previous work accomplished with the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, but our government has successfully negotiated a 25% increase in funding for farmers and our growers. And I want to say, Speaker, it also means that we’ll be investing $57 million in the new Resilient Agricultural Landscape Program, RALP; again, Speaker, $57 million to the rural agricultural landscape program, which I think is very significant.
The joint provincial-federal program will provide support to farmers across the province in improving on-farm land management practices, which is key to accomplishing the goal the member opposite wishes to do. It will enable farmers to better address sustainability outcomes related to biodiversity, water quality and soil health, as my member opposite spoke eloquently about, it also ensures crop yields and quality will grow and be sustained, and I think that’s the key component. When the program is launched, the RALP will be the premier program for promoting sustainable agriculture throughout this province.
I also want to point out that it’s important to know—you talked about a strategic plan. Well, the Grow Ontario plan is indeed our map, our strategic plan. This strategy released last November gives our government the shared plan to strengthen the agri-food sector and ensure that efficient, reliable and responsible food supply is in place. Again, we are planting the garden, setting the environment for our farmers and agribusiness people to succeed.
This is a bold vision of pride and trust in the quality and quantity of food grown right here in Ontario and processed right here in Ontario. It is also our government’s response to a stable and secure supply chain, which we need to do. We have a lot of people coming to this province in the next 10 years, Speaker, which I’ll talk about in my conclusion.
SCAP will help enable these goals outlined in the province’s Grow Ontario Strategy, which will include increasing food production by 30%—30%. It’s a noble goal—it’s an attainable in the next 10 years—as well as an 8% target to hit agri-food exports. We export food today. We will continue to do that and even better, backed and maintained by world-class research infrastructure.
In conclusion, Speaker, these government initiatives that I just outlined make this bill introduced by the member, I believe, unnecessary, respectfully submitted. As we said, we’re not supporting it. We obviously would love to sit down with her and set up a meeting in the minister’s office for a briefing on some of the details of our Grow Ontario Strategy that I think would again complement her ideas.
Again, I want to say that this is about balance. We want to protect as much as we can. We also have two million to three million people coming to this province. One out of 10 jobs in this province depends on a sustainable agri-food system. We have two million to three million people coming. We’ve got to feed them, we’ve got to house them and we’ve got to get them jobs. We’re going to do all that. This government is going to provide the environment for that success to take place.
In conclusion, I really want to emphasize that it’s about balance. We want to protect as much farmland as we can. What we’re doing is building houses, building infrastructure along corridors in key urban areas. That’s what we’re doing, and it’s going to succeed. Three million people—they’ve got to be housed, they will be fed and we will grow our exports in the process.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): Further debate?
Mr. John Vanthof: It’s always an honour to be able to stand in this House and to talk about one of my favourite subjects: agriculture and farmland. I would like to give the full support of the official opposition to the member from Haldimand–Norfolk for bringing forward a bill that needs to be discussed and, I think, needs to be passed for several reasons.
I listened to the members from the government side. They brought up a lot of good points. There are some good initiatives from the government. The one thing they are not talking about, though, is that for soil health, you need soil. That’s pretty simple.
We are losing in this province, as we speak, 319 acres a day of productive soil—every day. That’s 116,000 acres this year, and then another 116,000 next year on top of that. And another thing that they didn’t bring up is, when this government was elected, it was 175 acres a day. It has almost doubled. This is soil that we are going to need not only to feed ourselves but to feed the world. We are one of the best places in the world to grow food, and we have unique climatic conditions. We actually are somewhat insulated from the global warming crisis that’s going to hit. It’s going to impact us, but it’s going to impact other parts of the world much more, so that makes our farmland even more valuable and precious to the world.
Now, it’s not that we—it surprises me that this government doesn’t even want to talk about loss of farmland. It’s like, “Thou shalt not mention the word ‘farmland.’” There is some farmland that is going to have to be constructed on. It makes sense. If you’re going to build a vegetable processing facility in the Holland Marsh, if you’re going to build an abattoir complex in Bruce county, I think that makes sense. If you’re going to build McMansions on the greenbelt, that doesn’t make sense, not at all—and nobody’s going to tell me that you’re building affordable housing on the greenbelt; we all know you’re not. That doesn’t make sense.
So this bill is asking for the government to come up with a strategy, or at least talk about what’s going to happen when we keep losing that much farmland every day. Regardless of how well you want to manage the soil—and there are some problems with the soil, because organic matter in Ontario in the last 50 years has dropped by half. There are some big problems with the soil out there that have to be looked at. But the fact that we’re losing 319 acres a day, the fact that the biggest farm organization in Ontario, the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, keeps telling you that, and the fact that they’ve got, I believe, over 60,000 people who have supported that petition should be telling you that too.
This is a constructive step, a step we support, a small step. You don’t even want to take the small step. It’s shocking, actually. And regarding the creation of a committee to discuss issues pertinent to agriculture: The government calls that red tape? I don’t know.
There are some big issues to discuss in agriculture that haven’t really been discussed ever in this venue. I’m from northern Ontario. I’ve farmed my whole life in northern Ontario—a great place to farm. It’s not the same place as Oxford county. There are some things you can grow in Oxford county that you’ll never grow in Timiskaming–Cochrane. There are things that you can grow in Leamington you’re never going to grow in Timiskaming–Cochrane. Actually, I’d like to correct my record. The pioneer of tile drainage in our part of northern Ontario—he is long departed—his name was Rod Inglis. He brought the first tile machine to the Timiskaming area, and my dad tiled his first field in 1971. There was a public meeting about tile drainage, and someone asked Mr. Inglis, “What can you grow in northern Ontario?” I was a kid back then, but he said, “You can grow anything in northern Ontario”—
Mr. John Vanthof: Hold it, hold it.
“You might not be able to harvest it, but you can grow it, right?” And that is still the same today.
But a lot of the land in northern Ontario right now that the government is talking about developing, it’s going to be taken out of forestry. But that is crown land; that belongs to the people of Ontario. We haven’t had a good discussion on who was going to control that land, because a big thing that’s happening in agriculture is that much of the land that’s being bought that farmers can’t afford to buy, that their kids can’t afford to buy, is being bought by investors, by pension funds, by hedge funds. We need to have the discussion here whether that crown land is just going to be transferred to hedge funds or transferred—do I have to say it?—to friends of the government. That is a serious discussion.
Or is that crown land going to be used by young farmers? How is it going to be used? It’s a really serious discussion, a discussion that a committee should have a discussion about, because anyone who knows anything about farming, there’s not much money to be made on the farm. Lots of work, lots of work, and at the end you build up something to either transfer to your children or sell. But when you can only rent the land because the land is being bought by investors—there has never been a future in tenant farming, and when the investors come to me and they tell me how the plan is, my question is always, “So where are you going to build the castle?” Because we’ve been through that before, where the castle’s in the middle and the serfs are around trying to survive growing crops. That’s a discussion. That’s a discussion we need to have and that this committee could tackle. Who is going to control the land?
Right now in the federal House, there is a discussion about three or four retailers controlling food. We should also now be having a discussion about who is going to control the land, because, at the end of the day, who controls the land controls the food. I believe the member from Haldimand–Norfolk has also recognized that, and that is something that a committee like this could look at. There are all kinds of issues that this committee could look at. The first one is how we can minimize the 319 acres a day that we’re losing now.
Mr. Wayne Gates: Every day.
Mr. John Vanthof: Every day.
How come this government can’t plan enough to stay out of the greenbelt? There’s a complete lack of planning on this. Or they are planning, and that’s even worse.
There are a lot of issues to deal with. This is the second time—I’m understanding the government is not going to support this—when the official opposition, on a private member’s bill under my name, proposed agriculture impact assessments that, whenever land was proposed to being taken out of agriculture, it would have to pass a test to see if there was a better use for it than growing food. The government voted that down, too. “That’s too much red tape.”
This government wants to pave over everything as fast as they can. Then they’re going to say, “Oh no, no, but we’re going to clear a bunch of land in northern Ontario. We’re going to have more acres. We don’t know who actually is going to control it. We don’t know actually where the forestry mills are going to get the wood from once we clear all that land, but trust us. Trust us. Trust us so much.”
They want us to trust them so badly that they don’t even want to talk about the issue. They’re not going to support this bill because they don’t even want to talk about the issue. Doing things about soil health? No problem. Doing things about the actual loss of the physical acres? Mum’s the word; quiet.
It shouldn’t be that way because all our children are going to depend on this land. This land is a gift, a gift that we need to protect and a gift that we haven’t done a very good job of protecting. Where we stand is good agricultural land. It will never be used again. All of our major cities started as villages. More people, more people, we sprawled, we sprawled, we sprawled; we know that. We didn’t have the knowledge that we have today. Now we have the knowledge. Now it’s even worse, because if you know you’re doing the wrong thing and you continue to do it, that’s just despicable, actually.
All this bill is asking at its base is for us to stand back and look at it, if there are ways that the government of the day could do things better. It’s getting a plain “no.” As a farmer of this province, as the ag critic for the official opposition, as the House leader for the official opposition, I’m incredibly disappointed. For my kids and my grandkids, it’s another sad day for this Conservative government.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): Further debate?
Mr. Mike Schreiner: I rise to speak in favour of Bill 62. I want to thank the member from Haldimand–Norfolk for bringing it forward. Here’s the bottom line, Speaker: We are losing 319 acres of farmland each and every day. I used to give the previous government a rough time when we were losing 175 acres a day. Now, it’s almost doubled, to 320 acres a day. The very least we can do is form a committee to talk about the food security of this province, because the bottom line is, a country that can’t feed itself is just as insecure as a country that can’t defend itself. Losing 320 acres of farmland each and every day, when only 5%—think about this—of Ontario’s land mass is suitable for growing food and less than 1%—0.5%—is prime farmland. Think about the size of the city of Toronto: That’s how much land we’re losing each and every year. That is our food security at risk.
It’s also our economy at risk, Speaker. The food and farming sector provides $50 billion to Ontario’s economy and employs over 880,000 people. So why would anybody who cares about the economic prosperity of this province pave over the asset base that generates all that prosperity and all those jobs? To say that we have enough tools—with all due respect, if we had enough tools, we wouldn’t be losing 319 acres a day.
I can tell you that crop yields have increased extraordinarily. On our family farm over the last 50 years, crop yields have increased at extraordinary levels. But at the end of the day, if you pave over that land, you’ve lost it forever. No matter how much yields are going to increase, you’ve lost it forever.
So the government calls a committee to talk about how we preserve our food security, protect our economy and protect jobs “red tape.” I actually call it democracy. Isn’t that what democracy’s about, for all of us to work together?
I know the two members on the government side who spoke on this bill care deeply about agriculture, and I respect the fact that they care deeply about the food and farming sector but, by gosh, Speaker, can we at least have a conversation as parliamentarians about how we protect that farmland for our children and future generations so they’ll have food security, so they’ll have a strong robust economy? That’s why I’m supporting Bill 62, Speaker.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): Further debate?
Ms. Mary-Margaret McMahon: Do you know what? I had a little speech to read to you, but I’m not going to read it after I just heard the disappointing news that this bill may not be supported. I want to talk about how shocked and appalled I am, and how shocked I am to hear—in this chamber, I hear endless conversations about farmers and farming and support for agriculture, how some member is a farmer or they have family who is in farming. The proof is in the pudding. Your actions speak louder than words, and I’m appalled at the actions. You think you can get this land back? You can’t. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.
You have the Haldimand–Norfolk riding, an amazing riding with amazing farmers—you’ve eaten their products. You’ve tasted their wares, for sure. Just check your label next time. You have a champion in the MPP from Haldimand–Norfolk.
There’s an amazing book called Feed. If you just read it and heard the stories about each farmer, how they’ve added to the economic value, how they’ve added to food security and sustainability—just get to know that neighbourhood. Take a trip down.
But we can’t be doing this. We can’t be ripping out farmland. Where are we going to get our food from? You have to really think this through, and I would encourage you to please reconsider and support this fantastic, fabulous bill, if for no other reason than the incredible bill kit that you all got on your desks that was phenomenal—I’ve probably never seen anything like it in this chamber—with the endless amount of support. Kudos to the MPP for Haldimand–Norfolk and this great bill that I will be supporting and the Liberals—
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): Thank you. The member has two minutes to reply.
Ms. Bobbi Ann Brady: I want to begin by thanking all of my colleagues who took the time to participate in the debate this evening. I truly appreciate all of your professionalism, your thoughts and your passion.
Speaker, we’ve seen the door swung wide open for unsustainable forms of development, and that is what’s putting Ontario’s farmland at risk.
My bill is being described as redundant. I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but I could spend the next 10 minutes reading the list of supporters I have for my bill. Let’s read some of them: Ontario Federation of Agriculture, Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario, Beef Farmers of Ontario, Ontario Farmland Trust, Waterloo Federation of Agriculture, Brant County Federation of Agriculture, Simcoe county—the list goes on. There’s four pages of people and organizations who do not believe this bill is redundant.
So I’m wondering if anyone read the package. I know that members on this side read the package that I delivered on their desks, but if you went through that package that I put so much time and effort into producing, you would know that many of your constituents on the government side—your constituents—are telling you in many of your ridings that this is not redundant and that they are fearful that their land is going to be gobbled up.
I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but if there is an arsenal of tools that this government has and they are not employing, I’m asking you why you’re not employing them, because the numbers of acres of land continue to rise each and every day. Yet we have tools? We’re not using them. I ask this government, if you’re not going to pass my bill, which I’m getting the idea that you’re not, then at least use those tools in your tool box and get the job done. I don’t care how Ontario’s farmland is saved, I want it saved, and it’s for the good of us all.
Speaker, I just want to end by saying that Bill 62 is an opportunity for this government to show its commitment to Ontario’s farmers and to our farm families and to Ontario consumers who cherish those made-in-Ontario products.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): The time provided for private members’ public business has expired.
Ms. Brady has moved second reading of Bill 62, An Act to provide for the development of a farmland and arable land strategy and an advisory committee on farmland and arable land. Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? In my opinion, the nays—
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): I heard a no.
Mr. Wayne Gates: So did I.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): You did as well, right?
All those in favour of the motion will say “aye.”
All those in favour of the motion will say “nay.”
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): All those opposed will say “nay.” I’m sorry, you’ll have to do it again. All those opposed will say “nay.”
In my opinion, the nays have it.
A recorded vote being required, it will be deferred until the next instance of deferred votes.
Second reading vote deferred.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): All matters related to private members’ public business having been completed, this House stands adjourned until 9 a.m. tomorrow, March 9.
The House adjourned at 1846.