Mike Schreiner’s Comments to the Aggregate Resources Act Public Hearings

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June 27, 2012
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My name is Mike Schreiner, I’m the leader of the Green Party of Ontario and I’m also a home owner in Dunedin, located in the heart of the Niagara Escarpment about 15 KM south of the Duntroon Quarry and the proposed MAQ Quarry and about 15 km north of the proposed mega quarry in Melantcthon Township.  

Like many of my neighbours, I’m concerned about the effects of pits and quarries, especially the mega quarry, on our local economy, our natural and cultural heritage, our prime farmland and especially the safety and availability of our drinking water.

As leader of the Green Party, I’m often asked by people in communities across the province to assist in their battle to stop a quarry.  And in the course of my work I’ve had the opportunity to be on panels and meet with members of the aggregate industry.

The ARA review is a personal and political concern for me.

I sincerely appreciate the important work this committee is doing to review the Aggregate Resources Act, your commitment to conducting hearings across the province and for the opportunity to share my thoughts with you today.

There is no doubt that aggregates are essential to our community, economy and quality of life.  We need them to construct homes, roads, buildings and other infrastructure.  Ontario clearly needs a profitable and sustainable aggregate industry.

It is also clear that pits and quarries are increasingly competing with other land uses.   

It is common for aggregate proposals to be met with strong local opposition.  

This kind of conflict is bad for communities, governments and businesses; it costs time and money for everyone.  

It is essential that we find innovative, long-term solutions to this conflict.  We need solutions that protect our communities, our environment, our water, our food sources and our social and cultural heritage while supply aggregates for our building and infrastructure needs.

This is not an easy task.

I’m going to challenge this committee to do something that our political system makes incredibly difficult.  

We need to work across party lines to find long-term solutions that go beyond the next quarterly report or election cycle.

And we need broad thinking that connects the dots across ministries and between various pieces of legislation, even if it extends beyond the narrow terms of reference for this committee.  

With this in mind my specific recommendations are grouped into three broad directions.

1.  Change the current focus on prioritizing consumption and supply of aggregates to encouraging efficiency, conservation and recycling.  

Aggregates are a valuable finite resource.  

It is essential that we use them more efficiently.

We are depleting this resource by a ratio of 2.5 to 1 in terms of depletion and replacement.

This is not sustainable.  It is essential that reduce our per capita consumption.

To do this:

We need better designed communities, roads, and other infrastructure that simply use less aggregates.  

Given our financial and economic challenges, Ontario cannot afford to fund inefficient, expensive, sprawling growth plans.  We need better policies and standards that lower the quantity of aggregates used in roads and buildings.

We need to support research, commercialization and use of alternative materials.  As an example, I was recently at the Paris High School, where the eco club is using materials from recycled tires, instead of aggregate patio stones, to rebuild the schools court yard.  We need government to lead with examples like this.

We also must do a better job of recycling aggregates.

The provincial policy statement and the provincial standards must be revised to require aggregate recycling and to mandate minimum standards for increased use of recycled materials in public and private development.

Recycling requirements should be included in the license to operate.

As you’ve heard, municipalities must remove specifications that do not allow recycled aggregates to be used in construction projects.  The province has a role to play in making this happen.

Ontario’s aggregate recycling rate of only 7% is unacceptably low.  We should set a goal of matching the UK’s recycling rate of 24%.

The UK has a policy framework and pricing structure in place that creates market incentives to make recycling economically viable.

Like the UK, Ontario should introduce a landfill tax to encourage the reuse and rcycling of construction materials.  On site recycling will also be a step in the right direction to  address concerns about construction fill in places like Durham.

We also need to increase the aggregate levy, as others have suggested, to not only provide more financial capacity to manage, regulate and rehabilitate pits and quarries, but to also provide a financial incentive to encourage recycling.

It is not a coincidence that the UK has such a high recycling rate compared to Ontario when you compare our 11.5 cent per tonne levy to the UK’s levy, which exceeds £2.00 per tonne — equivalent to around $3.20 Can.

You’ve had much discussion about what the levy should be.  I would argue that it needs to be somewhere between the 50 cents per tonne Quebec charges and the $3.20 the UK charges.

2.    This brings me to my second point: Ontario must increase regulatory and monitoring capacity and improve the process for approvals.

In today’s fiscal climate, an increase in the levy is essential to providing the capacity needed for planning, managing, monitoring and regulating aggregates.

I agree with the industy’s request that the levy not go into general revenue.

However, the levy should cover a broad range of costs associated with managing and planning for aggregates.

Municipalities need revenue not only for the extra infrastructure costs, but also for costs that include planning, review and hearings for aggregates.  

MNR needs more capacity to properly regulate and monitor the industry.   
And to provide long-term planning and stewardship of the resource.

We should have a fund for intervener status to support citizen’s groups participation in the process.

Finally, we must ensure that adequate resources are in place to responsibly fund rehabilitation.

I agree with industry’s call for a more efficient approval process that provides clarity, certainty and solutions for all parties.  I believe the first step is a proactive planning process that engages multiple stakeholders.  

We can look in our back yard to Caledon as a possible example.  In the late 1990’s, Caledon created a planning group with multiple stakeholders that mapped available aggregate resources in the area and then agreed on places where aggregates would be approved now, maybe in the future and not at all.

This is a way to make the process more efficient for proponents while also protecting community and environmental interests and enabling long-term community planning.

We need more citizen and community participation early in the application process, and I believe the following changes would help:

Require early public notification of an intent to submit a license application.

Increase the public notification period from 45 to 120 days.

Extend the notification area beyond 120 metres.

Require municipal approval of significant amendments to the licence and site plans after zoning approval.

Adopt best practices for community engagement and participation from other jurisdictions and industries.

3.    My third point is that we need to revise policy priorities, and provide better long-range planning and coordination with other legislation.

Some of the policy changes include:

Apply sunset clause to licenses. When you visit Kitchener, I’m sure you will receive an earful about a quarry in Paris that is moving forward with a license granted 38 years ago at a very different time, under different circumstances.

If we are going to consider pits and quarries to be interim use of the land, then we must apply time limits on extraction.

Before we are asked to sacrifice a rare element of our natural or culture heritage or approve developments that compromise water quality or farmland, it is reasonable for us to consider the need for new aggregate, but the legislation prohibits this.

When considering new licenses, it makes sense to consider the cumulative impacts of pits and quarries in the area.

(Material in italics deleted due to time constraints)

At a minimum the ARA should require a full Environmental Assessment for aggregate applications that meet the Ministry of Natural Resource’s definition of a mega quarry (currently 150,000,000 tonnes).  I encourage to travel up the road a few kms to the proposed mega quarry site to see first hand how important this is.

We must also reconsider the close-to-market policy.  Good stewardship requires us to balance shipping costs with extracting aggregate where it is most appropriate and least harmful. Preserving our farmland and protecting clean water must be a higher priority than close to market quarries.

We know that we are going to run out of aggregate close to the GTA anyway, so now is the time to plan and invest in the rail and shipping infrastructure to efficiently move aggregate from further away.

We also need to understand how the Places to Grow Act, which places 80% of Ontario’s growth in the GTA, is driving demand for aggregates in sensitive natural areas and with competing land uses for farming and water.  It would be much better for Ontario to have balanced development in communities across the province.

The Aggregate industry is not increasing demand for aggregates, Ontario’s growth plans are driving demand for new aggregates in sensitive close to market locations.

You’ve heard from others on the need for the ARA to conform with other legislation such  as Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Act, the the Niagara Escarpment Planning and Development Act, among others.

Our Provincial Policy Statement (PPS) must place a greater emphasis on preserving precious farmland.  While we have a close to market policy that prioritizes aggregate extraction in the Greater Golden Horseshoe, we don’t have a food security policy that prioritizes the preservation of farmland and farmers.  

This  must change.  Ontario needs to change the PPS protect class 1, 2, 3 and 4, farmland from development.  That’s a critically important 2.5% of our land mass that must be preserved.

Finally, I want to compliment the aggregate industry and NGOs that are developing sustainable aggregate standards.  And I believe government can best support these efforts with purchasing policies that require green gravel certification.

Conclusion

Your work is profoundly important.  The conflict over aggregates is essentially competition over the necessities of life: water, food, land and shelter.

Ontario has a provincial interest in aggregates, there is no doubt about it.  But we also have a provincial interest in providing the people of Ontario with local food and water.  

The location of aggregate resources is fixed.  But the location of farmland and clean water is also fixed.  

If this review accomplishes nothing else, it is essential that we rebalance the conflicting needs over land for water, food and shelter — in that order.

I believe this effort transcends partisan politics.  And I look forward to working with members of all political parties to ensure that present and future generations have access to clean water, local food and aggregate resources.

It is time to ensure that access to clean water and the preservation of farmland are given a higher priority than aggregates in provincial policy.

Thank you.