The Progressive Conservatives have a surprising legacy of conservation in Ontario. Here’s how Doug Ford can continue his success

Here’s a question with an unexpected answer: Which political party in Ontario has protected more land from development and resource extraction than any other party in Ontario? all the countries?

The Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario.

Many readers will be surprised to hear this. After all, the party is not known for its strong environmental program. So how did they become leaders in land conservation?

PCs were in power when the Parks Act was introduced in 1913, Algonquin Park having already been set aside 20 years earlier under the Liberals. And in the 1970s, then-Premier Bill Davis protected the Niagara Escarpment, which winds through Ontario from Niagara Falls to Tobermory at the tip of the Bruce Peninsula.

In 2001, Mike Harris created the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan. He previously protected nearly six million acres of other land, much of it new areas under the Ontario Parks umbrella.

Add it all up and Ontario’s CPs have protected large areas of significant natural space – and a large portion of the provincial total of 9.4%.

Now Premier Doug Ford has the chance to follow his political predecessors into the history books. In addition, it can help Canada meet its international obligations under the Convention on Biological Diversity.

Canada will host delegates from around the world for a United Nations summit on this treaty in December. They will meet in Montreal to fight the accelerating decline of species globally and negotiate a new nature protection framework, with a key commitment to conserve at least 30% of land and oceans by 2030.

The federal government has already committed to the “30 by 30” commitment. Yet it has had mixed results in delivering on commitments already made. We have secured 13.5% of land in Canada, below the 17% target. In terms of marine life protection, the country has made more progress — 13.9% of marine and coastal areas are now conserved, exceeding the 10% target.

So here’s how Ford can follow the Tories’ previous land conservation success.

  • First, add significant land to the Greenbelt. Scientists have identified critical needs for the protection of groundwater supplies and agricultural lands in areas surrounding the GTA. Experts suggest adding some 300,000 acres to the popular Greenbelt.
  • Second, focus on creating indigenous protected and conserved areas. These are lands and waters where Indigenous governments have the primary role in protecting and conserving ecosystems through Indigenous laws, governance and knowledge systems. Many such opportunities exist in Northern Ontario.
  • Third, protect all of Ontario’s old-growth forests. They are huge and valuable carbon sinks that help moderate the climate and are the most biodiverse systems in the province. In 2022, no one should clear cut old trees.

Premier Ford has an opportunity to continue the Conservative legacy of land conservation and help Canada achieve important global goals. I hope he won’t waste it.

Burkhard Mausberg is chairman of the Small Change Fund, was CEO of the Greenbelt Foundation, founded Environmental Defense and taught environmental studies at the University of Toronto.

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