Bev Hill Presents to Huron County Council by John Schwartzentruber
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.