Adjusting the Balance

The concept of the Triple Bottom Line (TBL) is a convenient short form for considering the infinite number of combinations of social, environmental and economic choices we might make in seeking to achieve our greatest wellbeing. We are forced to choose a TBL balance because we can’t have all we want. We face scarcity, so unless we are continually innovating our way out of scarcity, there is no escaping the reality of hard tradeoffs.

When we vote for change in government, we are voting for changes to our publicly shared TBL outcomes. Here in Ontario, we voted to shift the balance to economic outcomes. With the financial bottom line high on the agenda, this government has been swift to deliver on its promises to attract business activity, stimulate job creation and increase housing supply.

Municipalities will have more flexibility on where housing and business development will expand, and development should speed up as the government’s new “A Place to Grow: Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe 2019” rolls out.

On the social front there are some concerns about proposals for healthcare and education change given that a healthy, well-educated population is the foundation of the creative innovations we need to compete globally.

On the environment front, government is promising that A Place to Grow will continue to ensure protection of our agricultural and natural areas and support climate change mitigation and adaptation as Ontario moves towards the goal of environmentally sustainable communities.

  • However, it is not clear how farmland will be protected with this growth plan, which is a key concern for CFFO. There seems to be no reference to OMAFRA’s Agricultural Impact Assessment (AIA) proposal of 2018. The AIA was meant to control development including settlement area boundary expansions, infrastructure projects and mineral aggregate extraction operations within prime agricultural areas.

Moreover, a number of proposals clearly reduce existing environmental protections as the government aims to modernize old legislation.

  • First, Proposals to modernize the Environmental Assessment Act are aimed at changing the Act’s current requirements for social, economic, cultural, health and environmental analysis and will shift to focusing only on projects that pose actual, real risks. However, how we can know which projects “pose actual, real risks” unless an assessment is actually done?
  • Second, two proposals to change how Conservation Authorities (CA) operate are intended to help them focus and deliver on protecting people and property, and to improve governance. Will CA involvement in environmental goals continue?

Adjusting the TBL balance is inevitable as priorities change. As people become more educated and as societies evolve, people gain a better understanding of both the short-run and long-run costs and benefits of our individual and voting choices. We know that short-run economic gains could come at an environmental cost in the long-run. The Duty of Care for the environment rests with governments. Therefore, our ultimate “Bottom Line” is that we have no choice but to trust that our current leaders will balance their economic growth mandate with their long-run responsibility for environmental stewardship.

Brenda Dyack is Director of Research & Policy for the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario. The CFFO Commentary represents the opinions of the writer and does not necessarily represent CFFO policy. The CFFO Commentary is heard weekly on CFCO Chatham, CKXFM Chatham, and CKNX Wingham.

Posted by Brenda Dyack on May 10, 2019

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  • Jasper says:

    Wondering why Conservation Authorities land is almost always exempt for being used for housing and development? Many of these lands are at or inside cities and would with some care provide very desirable housing sites.
    May be we should look at some of this park and conservation land before we just grab farm land for development??

  • John Schwartzentruber says:

    In view of the overreaching methodology demonstrated by CA administration or officers, some would welcome this as a long overdue measure being applied to the CAs. No one, especially not government or their related “NGO” partners, should operate in a threatening, intimidating or duplicitous manner.

    Indeed, could the CA’s re-visioning being actually be a first step in restoring the economic bottom line for farmers who, with frustratingly increasing frequency, have to deal with costly and unnecessary red tape when undertaking development and improvement on their property?

    Many, including the CFFO, have long contended that if property owners are providing a social or public benefit, any related costs should be borne by the beneficiaries, not the property owner. The CAs have been billing the farmers for the “services” that the same CAs impose. (The very legality of the CA’s billing practice is rightfully questionable.)

    As an example, a local farmer had to fork out tens of thousands of dollars for the Environmental Impact Study that he was (perhaps wrongly) told was necessary in order to be permitted to build a new barn. The site was on high, dry land, but within the buffer zone of a bush. So, one year later he was told to go ahead, no problem. Anyone who looked at the building site knew that the demand was ludicrous.

    This case was such a clear misapplication of the requirement that these new measures would likely have precluded the useless exercise. Oh wait – the engineering firm he hired wouldn’t call it useless I guess. My bad.

    This case also demonstrates that if the Natural Heritage Plans go into effect with their ever-expanding restrictions, they will undeniably have an even greater negative impact on the farmer’s ability to farm his land, giving the lie to the contrary claims of the Planners.

    As for the statement “The Duty of Care for the environment rests with governments.”, I beg to differ. If we were to walk through some nearby CA-owned land, we would see an appalling display of the worst management imaginable of the forests on this property. Application of good forestry management seems to meant only for private property owners, going by some CA properties.

    Many years ago, I asked a CA employee why some of the over-mature, hard maple timber on CA land was not being harvested, as was so obviously necessary – huge standing trees were dying and left to rot down. He replied, “We want people to be able to see what the old forests looked like.”

    And then they are looking for more revenue from the tax payer while this grievous waste goes unaddressed?

    And then more recently, the one small field on a CA property was planted into trees, removing it from cropping and robbing the adjoining tenant of some income. How is that considered making proper use of valuable land? Perhaps the market for knotty softwoods is projected to be much, much stronger in the distant future?

    Recently acquired information pegged the income from some other local government-owned hardwood forest holdings at a total of $16.00/acre over the past years.

    In contrast, records show that one privately owned hardwood forest has produced almost $175/acre over that same time frame, as a result of the intentional management techniques utilized by the private property owner. And the complete range of tree sizes, species and healthy density indicate that the farmer will be rewarded with a healthy income all his life and pass forward a beautiful, vibrant forest to his successors.

    The publicly owned land? A tangle of rotting trees and wasted resources. Rhetoric and window-dressing do not produce much in the way of actual results, it seems.

    So, in light of the evidence, could one be forgiven for believing the TBL benefits immensely from less government involvement?

    The evidence, it appears, is indisputable, if we will learn from it.

    Wouldn’t it be remarkable if we might actually have a government that is opening the doors to better outcomes, for all?

    • John Schwartzentruber says:

      Correction – Para. 3 reads: “if property owners are providing a social or public benefit…”

      It should read: ” if property owners are legally compelled to provide a social or public benefit…” – See CanLii “Lynch v. St. Johns, (City) 2016.”

      This was expressed in the summary of the presiding Judge.

  • Irma DeVries says:

    Brenda, Duty of Care for the environment rests with governments. Really? Then why are we trying to recycle, reuse, repent of our consumerism and worship the false god of the environment? According to biblical law, as Christians, it is our duty to care for the earth as stewards. I would suggest that most, if not all, members of CFFO are amongst the most conscious of caretaking for the earth as our holy God commands. So why give this to the government? They are poor managers as it is and the more control they take, the less efficient they are in providing anything. It is not the role of government. It is the role of the biblical church living according to God’s law.

    However, government agents are abusing their so-called authority and demanding from property owners permits and licenses and fees, and environmental studies. This administrative law (civil) is making us all criminals. And that seems to be the intention of the powers that be. Bureaucrats are making policies and taking positions that a property owner must comply with their orders. When an owner asks a bureaucrat to show them their authority and jurisdiction without consent, agreement, understanding or knowledge, they get all bully like and use intimidation techniques such as we want you to know “we have warrantless entry rights’.

    I just read John Bona’s book, “The Liberty Book: How Freedom can and will be won”. The perspective on Romans 13:1-7 is fascinating. We are NOT to blindly obey any and every person who claims authority over our property or persons. They may not legally have such authority. We must check. Second, we are to obey laws only as they agree with scripture. We are to oppose unjust laws – such as abortion and euthanasia. So we need to know our Bibles better.

    If a nation is not pro-life then we can expect every other issue – such as economics and property rights to be tainted with self-interest by the bureaucrat or legislature or well-funded lobbyist. In economics, a politician won’t respect your tax dollar if he won’t respect your unalienable right to life. And he won’t respect private property rights and will increasingly seek to impose restrictions on your property. Did you read Frances Anderson’s Ontario farmer article about the farmer in Burlington who was forced out of farming by rules and regulations imposed on his private property? He tried everything and lost. Please read it and hear his pain. He did everything he could to work within the system.

    The CA’s do not have as much authority as you seem to think they have. Area of jurisdiction does not include private land until a voluntary agreement (contract) is made under 21 g. CA’s advertise – call us first, you may need a permit. That sounds seemingly like fraud to me. If you call them, you’ve entered into a contract with them. Then, of course! You need a permit if you call. The building department is seemingly in cahoots with the CA’s too.

    Back to Duty of Care. The government and their agents have a Duty of Care to not violate the Charter rights of the people they govern. Various court cases have shown that officials are to treat people with a Duty of Care. If they don’t, it is actionable. When lawyers lie, when bureaucrats claim policy or position is law, and seemingly threaten charges and possibly court, then they are not showing a Duty of Care to the men and women they seek authority over. When permits are demanded it is seemingly ultra vires. Fees are to be voluntary – see CA s.21 m1 states permit fees. What does M1 refer to? Entry to their private parks. That doesn’t give any CA the right to charge any permit fee for anything other than entrance to their private parks.
    Property owners need to realize that government orders by CA’s or other agencies are an offer to contract. Section 2d of the Charter states we don’t have to associate with them if we do not wish to enter into a contract with them. Using the whole force of criminal law to resolve a simple civil and property rights issue is totally unbiblical. But many Christians seem to have traded their liberty for slavery and seemingly expect the government to take care of them. Christians don’t seem to know this higher jurisdiction of God’s law very well as the law is hardly read in the churches anymore. How can we expect any obedience to God’s law when we the people have clamored for a king to rule us. Now we are slaves, ever giving away our freedoms for a bowl of stew.

  • John Schwartzentruber says:

    A further comment with regard to the TBL concept – it is likely that most of those involved in agriculture have been in workshops where the Venn diagram for “sustainability” was displayed as a model.

    At the confluence of the three intersecting circles of economics, society and environment, we see the label “sustainability”. So far, so good – at least it looks good at first glance.

    However, to be complete, there should be one more circle in the picture – a large circle which circumscribes the entire diagram. This circle would be labeled “LAW”.

    Because, as is frequently demonstrated by CAs, civil servants and bureaucrats who are resolute in achieving their selective purpose, the law becomes expendable and secondary to their agenda.

    We then end up with situations such are described in the May 17 CFFO weekly commentary – the legal rights of one party are sacrificed to keep someone else happy, or to avoid escalating a tense situation.

    The described situation, which is a complete travesty of justice, is merely a demonstration of what happens when we don’t come to the defense of those who experienced government wrong-doing in less egregious and publicized ways.

    Thus, why the shock, why the outrage? Those who did not speak up when they could have are now the victims of their own complacency.

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