Bev Hill Presents to Huron County Council by John Schwartzentruber

Published February 1, 2017

The gallery was crowded with concerned landowners at the latest Huron County Committee of the Whole meeting at Goderich. They were there in support of area farmer Bev Hill who gave what Councilor Jim Donnelly glowingly referred to as one of the best presentations he had ever heard.

Indeed, Mr. Hill spoke eloquently against the proposed Huron Natural Heritage Plan, a county concoction that launches a shocking and unjustifiable attack on property rights of Huron County property owners. Here is a synopsis from the gallery.

Mr. Hill presented clear questions about the HNHP. They included: What is the need for it, Who asked for it, Who will pay for it, Who are the beneficiaries, and, Will it affect private property rights? Mr. Hill also brought to our attention that if the objective includes increasing our forest cover, we have already done that, demonstrating landowners’ responsible management practices. Huron County forest cover has increased from 12.9% to 16.8% over the last 40 years, closing in on the ideal presented by the County. Mr. Hill used this fact to show that incentives produce better results than rules and regulations.

Planning Director Scott Tousaw’s replies included that the HNHP is driven by the Provincial Policy Statement, is a ”refinement of existing policy”, beneficiaries are the public and all of us, it is based on better science and has basis in “robust mapping” and “robust definition”. And we all know who pays for it – are the 6 year development costs in the hundreds of thousands, or in the millions? And yes, Tousaw acknowledged, it will reduce property rights.

Tousaw’s argument from “science” seemingly ran into trouble with the discussion around the proposed 120 meter buffer strip surrounding natural features, such as woodlots, streams and meadows. The buffer strip caused the most concern for council members as they could see its drastic negative implications for development, and they voted to reduce it to the existing 50 meters for agricultural settings.

SO THIS IS WHERE it gets interesting; if the buffer strip was based on a “robust scientific approach”, where is the evidence and why can it be so easily changed on the whim of council, driven by economic concerns? In fact, this recorded event irrefutably exposes the fickle and whimsical nature of the Huron Natural Heritage Plan and even county council.

But perhaps most telling of all was how neophyte Warden Jim Ginn continued the tradition of sacrificing facts for personal preference when he accepted the expressly labeled “legal opinion” of a municipal lawyer, Peter Pickfield, as a solid legal basis for county action, while dismissing a well-researched paper from highly regarded law expert Elizabeth Marshall, All Rights Research, as “…well, just an opinion”. Some quiet hilarity ensued.

The sworn duty of Warden Ginn – which includes protecting the interests of his constituents – became a little fuzzy when he claimed that the county or municipality “…absolutely has the right…” to impose any bylaws or actions it wishes on private property. (In this he is arguably absolutely wrong.) Warden Ginn himself wanted to see the 120M buffer zone reduced – but again provided nothing other than his personal opinion as a basis, rather than hard evidence.

This raises the question – if a councilor’s personal bias has that much impact on public policy, why does a landowner’s properly presented interest get kicked to the curb like some dirty refuse? Essentially, Mr. Hill’s excellent presentation was summarily dismissed since council did not understand that they have no lawful or democratic mandate to proceed with the HNHP. Does this not show the flaw of the entire procedure, making a mockery of the democratic process?

It would be negligent to overlook the notable comments of Councilor Versteeg whose rather condescending tone was not lost on some in the gallery. He tried to refute Mr. Hill’s concern around a lack of public notice with the fact that the gallery was full of property owners. Apparently the councilor was unaware of the fact that most of the public was there as a result of the efforts of the Huron Perth Landowner’s Association, not the county.

In a healthy democracy the attitude of leadership is of immense importance: deep listening is the Golden Rule, paternalism is insufferable, arrogance is infuriating, but sneering is unforgivable.

Also worthy of mention are the reassuring thoughts expressed by Councilors Jim Donnelly and Neil Vincent. Councilor Donnelly again showed his well-earned reputation as a defender of the little guy against oppressive forces while Councilor Vincent decried the loss of local control to provincial heavy-handedness. He also affirmed Mr. Hill’s statement that the HNHP is trying to address a problem that does not exist.

Most of the councilors expressed their belief that more consultation is required. Therefore, if, after all the negative response from the people, the county passes the HNHP, they will prove the words of George Washington who said: “Government is not reason, it is not eloquent, it is force.” And just as with the law of physics, that force will eventually and inevitably cause an opposite and equal reaction.

We would not tolerate the theft of our tractor or truck – why would we accept the theft of our property rights? You may help restore a healthy system of government by calling or writing to council to register your objection to the Huron Natural Heritage Plan. Remind them that Iron Curtain policies have failed and reinventing them isn’t in our best interests.

3 Responses to “Bev Hill Presents to Huron County Council by John Schwartzentruber”

  1. Patti Kellar February 1, 2017

    It is time that the lower tier governments at the municipal and county levels stand up to the push from the Province to decide what is best for us. They don’t live here, they are unaware and unconcerned about impacts their decisions have upon us. This is an opportunity to send a clear message that we want our rights returned vs. having them continue to take and take and take.

  2. Irma February 1, 2017

    Great article John! Our elected officials at all levels need to learn the definition of the word “its”. meaning – “Belonging to” or “Ownership of.” Government officials only have jurisdiction over public land or land the municipality owns. That’s what is included in ‘its’ jurisdiction. The word include by definition excludes everything else. My property is therefore excluded from their jurisdiction.

  3. TonyK February 1, 2017

    I would like to add that it is apparent that policy is not law. The town is trying to follow policy, but it does not have to. This is apparent when the set back goes from 150 meters to 50 meters on a whim of council.

    Case Law Junker vs Grand River Conservation states the following.

    Land use restrictions are a subtle form of expropriation. That they are
    useful and, often, essential is not questioned. However, since they take away property
    rights, they must be exercised with caution and, most certainly, within proper statutory
    authority. However desirable it may be that people be prohibited, for their own safety,
    from building a home, there has to be legislative authority to do so.

    I must now turn to all documents of land ownership,that being deeds and land transfers, All of these documents are held in FEE SIMPLE. After bantering the MNR office for months of what definition they use for FEE SIMPLE one of our members in Niagara received the following response.

    our Crown Land Management Glossary (2008) refers to ‘fee simple’ as:

    Fee simple The largest estate or ownership interest in real property. An estate of absolute inheritance “without limitation or condition”.

    A more fulsome definition explains that although fee simple is the greatest estate in real property that can be acquired in a commonwealth country, it is indeed limited by certain government powers (outlined below).

    1. Fee simple interest
    Fee simple ownership represents an ownership interest in real property, though it is limited by government powers of taxation, compulsory purchase, police power, and escheat, and it could also be limited further by certain encumbrances or conditions in the deed, such as, for example, a condition that required the land to be used as a public park, with a reversion interest in the grantor if the condition fails; this is a fee simple conditional.

    With the above now stated it is apparent that if the town or municipality prohibit land use it is an expropriation. I would suggest to all that attended this meeting to educate council and if they intend to go down this path of claiming right and giving refusal to use of private property, then compensation should be discussed not as a lump sum payment but as an ongoing yearly payment to the owner of the land. Always remember in these cases it is the entity that is doing the taking that has to pay the court costs for both sides, so pick a good and expensive lawyer.

    Grimsby Ontario

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