With a final decision on municipal amalgamation still lingering, there has been plenty of talk about what that might look like for Niagara-on-the-Lake, and other municipalities in the Niagara Region, as they brace for what may become a merged city under the Ford government’s current proposal.
Amidst wondering what will happen next, there doesn’t seem to have been much conversation surrounding the environmental impacts that amalgamation could present.
At the end of the day, how land is designated and used comes from the top down, from our government. When a local municipality’s government is predominantly locals, or contains expertise that can apply specifically to that locale, there is an opportunity for sound decision-making. It all comes down to the government’s awareness of its surroundings, and having a sound education about the area.
If NOTL and our neighbour Niagara Falls were to merge, the seats in charge of decision-making might become occupied with people who don’t fully comprehend the importance of our local green spaces. Or, perhaps, the political and economic agenda will shift in such a way that the primary focus for Niagara’s new “mega city” is strictly growth-related.
Also, with the potential for relatively less seats governing a much larger area, I fear it’s possible environmental aid might take a back seat.
My involvement with trying to protect the Thundering Waters property in Niagara Falls taught me that government and votes ultimately get the last say on what happens to our natural areas.
Now imagine other rare or valuable ecosystems still remaining in Niagara, and the pressures to which they might succumb if the Province allows for its plans of amalgamation. The Ford government has described and promoted the idea as regional “efficiency,” but does that translate to rapid urban growth with little thought for conservation?
In a best-case scenario, NOTL and the Niagara Region as a whole can start “locking up” the remaining fragile habitats before the inevitable wave of development comes in. Even if habitats are not directly destroyed or removed, the spillover effects of neighbouring urban areas are still bound to cause stressors on our forests and wetlands.
In the worst-case scenario, the Province could turn a blind eye to certain areas of proposed economic growth. Perhaps the Province would pull some strings to make scientific, environmental, and climate professionals tighten up, as the Harper government did at the federal level in 2013.
Let’s not forget we live in an area of Canada that boasts the highest species richness going. One-third of Canada’s rare and endangered species live in the very southern area of Ontario. So does a quarter of Canada’s population.
As that population booms, will our newly constructed governments manage our natural heritage appropriately?
I can’t further propose exactly how amalgamation might look, as we’ve heard varying options, such as NOTL joining Niagara Falls, with perhaps Fort Erie added to the mix — three municipalities with three completely different environmental profiles.
NOTL is comprised of soft, sandy loam soil with a rough lakeshore and the Niagara Escarpment. Niagara Falls has the Gorge, a huge city in terms of surface area, and sits on a clay plain which once hosted unending acres of forested swamps. Fort Erie likewise sits on clay, but also ancient sand dunes that stretch along the coast of Lake Erie with many nationally rare species.
Nature enthusiasts and scientists know that each of these municipalities has its own environmental identity, so why should these large areas be governed under one umbrella?
Case in point — how could a higher-tier government efficiently manage both people and the environment effectively? That is my question, to myself, and all of you. I guess we will wait and see.