After months of political maneuvering and secret deals on the part of the Ontario government to push through development on the vital wetlands in Pickering, it was announced on March 15 that all work on the project has been stopped. This announcement comes just a few days after the prospective buyer of the development, Amazon, pulled out of the deal when their involvement was leaked.
In January we reported on the proposed development on Duffins Creek in Pickering, Ontario. Triple Properties Inc. is hoping to build a large warehouse on the site. At the time of the first article, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark had issued a minister’s zoning order (MZO) which allows developers to override local zoning laws and skip the usual environmental approval processes. Duffins Creek was previously protected from development by conservation authorities in order to preserve the environmentally significant wetlands. However, in December 2020 the PC government passed legislation that took away the powers of conservation authorities to refuse to issue a permit for development when an MZO is in place.
In the two months since that article was written, the Doug Ford provincial government has been doing everything possible to ensure the warehouse project on Duffins Creek happens. On March 4 the PCs tabled legislation that would retroactively change Ontario’s Planning Act so that it no longer restricts the scope of MZOs. If passed, this change would mean that MZOs would no longer need to adhere to other provincial standards, essentially giving the province unlimited power to quickly develop any land they choose. This move was buried in a different piece of legislation in order to conceal the changes. The Ontario government has also started enforcing the MZO—ordering the Toronto Region Conservation Association to issue a permit despite the organization disagreeing with the project.
These actions are disgusting and show the true motives of the Conservatives. The sole purpose of the secretiveness and all these efforts by the Ford government is blatant profiteering. The development of Duffins Creek would massively increase the price of property in the area and reap huge profits for Triple Properties Inc. It would also bring in an estimated $50 million or more in tax and development revenue to the municipality and province, particularly with Amazon involved.
Until recently it was not publicly known what company the warehouse was designed for. However, on March 10 the CBC released an article revealing that the site was set to become the largest retail warehouse in the country for Amazon. Just two days later, Amazon publicly announced that they were no longer considering the site for their distribution centre. It is clear that Amazon’s involvement in the project was purposely kept secret in order to protect the company from public backlash associated with the site. When that secret was leaked, Amazon had to pull out for fear of public scrutiny and loss of profits. Since then, the mayor of Pickering has called for a pause on any development activity on Duffins Creek. But despite Amazon’s choice to withdraw involvement with the development on Duffins Creek, the site is still at risk. As long as the MZO stands, it is possible that another company will pursue the site. The environmental charity EcoJustice has filed for a stay of development. However, if the retroactive legislation goes through it is likely that this motion will fail.
Duffins Creek is not an isolated case of the government using their bureaucratic powers to destroy the environment. Within Ontario alone 30 MZOs have been issued since 2019—many for projects on protected land. Motivated by the profit motive of capitalism, Ontario and governments around the world continue to put money above the conservation of the environment. We cannot rely on the politicians or bureaucratic processes within these systems to save the environment. We must fight against the capitalist system and escalate the fightback to save the wetlands!