Open Letter to Pickering Council asking for a strong Greenbelt motion

Image looking northeast through DRAP from Amos Ponds
Image looking northeast through DRAP from Amos Ponds by Frame To Frame Nature

Pickering Council has been sending mixed messages about their opposition to the Greenbelt cuts and the proposed urbanization of Duffins Rouge Ag Preserve. Let's get clarity and advance a strong motion declaring opposition to the provincial government's harmful actions to cut apart the Greenbelt, impact Rouge National Urban Park, and set sustainable land-use planning back a generation or more in this region.

Stop Sprawl Durham sent this OPEN LETTER below to the Mayor and Pickering Councillors on Tuesday, August 29. We encourage you to send one too.

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Open letter to Pickering Council - August 29, 2023

Re: Development plans for Duffins Rouge Agricultural Preserve

Dear Pickering Council,

We need to talk about Mayor Ashe’s response to the Auditor General’s investigation into the Greenbelt removals. Your December 5 resolution last year gave the impression that Pickering Council unanimously opposed the urbanization of the Duffins Rouge Agricultural Preserve. Mayor Ashe’s recent statement indicates that Council would support development if certain conditions are met. Which is it?

On November 16, 2022, without consultation with you, Mayor-elect Kevin Ashe sent a letter to Minister Steve Clark stating that the City is in favour of building upon the Greenbelt/DRAP lands and reaffirming previous letters from former Mayor Ryan to Minister Clark on November 14, 2022, and February 7, 2019.

However, on December 5, 2022, your first meeting as a new council, you unanimously opposed development in DRAP and the Greenbelt removals by stripping out supportive language from a staff report destined for Minister Clark’s desk. How can it be that Premier Ford and Minister Clark are relying on Mayor Ashe's letter, and Mayor Ryan’s letters from November, when the last word on this was the unanimous position of Council on December 5?

Community members have repeatedly asked for Ashe to retract the Mayors’ previous letters because it is the position of this new council (and this new Durham Regional Council) that development should not happen in the Greenbelt carveouts and DRAP area, and the lands must be returned to the Greenbelt.

In light of the Auditor General‘s report that reveals unscrupulous influence over this whole process, the Ontario Integrity Commissioner’s ongoing inquiry, a potential RCMP investigation, and the resignation of Minister Clark’s Chief of Staff, it is long overdue for you to clear up the confusion about Pickering’s position on DRAP.

On the official record, this Council is opposed to the urbanization of DRAP, yet still continues to participate in activities and negotiations that appear to further incursions into the area. Consider whether you want to be seen as giving the Ford government political cover for this egregious plan that your residents are adamantly opposed to.

This community is also deeply concerned about the likelihood of seeing Mayor Ashe use “Strong Mayor” powers to overrule the will of this Council on DRAP. It would need the collaboration of at least two councillors. Will those two councillors be prepared to bear the political fallout stemming from propping up a “strong mayor”?

Pickering Council may be interested to know that Hamilton City Council unanimously passed a motion on Friday, August 18, asking for the Province of Ontario to abandon its plan to develop the Greenbelt.

Pickering residents have been asking for, and are now expecting, a similar motion from Council. Your September 5th Executive Committee meeting is ideal timing to bring this new motion forward.

We know you understand that the DRAP lands are the most significant of all the Greenbelt carveouts in the province. You can also see that Pickering is already well ahead in achieving provincial housing targets, and these lands are not needed to advance supply and improve affordability. We also expect you’ve noticed that this chaotic affair is diverting scarce city resources from essential projects. What is the toll of this uproar on you and your ability to plan and deliver much-needed community benefits to those who have been patiently waiting? When will the full potential of Seaton be realized if the tight timelines of DRAP development sabotage the City’s (and Region’s) plans for a complete and sustainable community as promised?

The Auditor General’s report was damning, Pickering voters are outraged, and this debacle will not be forgotten during the next municipal election. Who among you will take a clear stand against provincial decisions and demonstrate leadership on this local threat? Who will defend DRAP and initiate the new Greenbelt motion on September 5th before it’s too late?