“Imagine a province-wide effort to plant 150 million trees to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Ontario,” said Wellington -Halton Hills MPP Ted Arnott as he addressed the provincial legislature on Oct. 21, 2015.
Now imagine that Doug Ford is premier.
Yes, that’s right, even the pared down version of Arnott’s vision, which ultimately moved forward with unanimous support from all parties, has been discarded. Ontario’s Green Leaf Challenge, designed to plant 50 million trees by 2025, was cancelled last week in what is being billed as a cost saving move (more on that later). To this point, the program was a little more than halfway to the goal, with an estimated 27 million trees planted through the initiative.
The 50 Million Tree Program grew from an Arnott initiative inspired by Wellington County’s internationally-recognized Green Legacy program. Green Legacy was initiated in 2004 with the aim of planting 150,000 trees. By 2010, the county had planted a million trees and has been recognized under the United Nations Billion Tree Campaign for its work to provide free trees to conservation authorities, municipalities, community organizations, environmental groups and landowners. By the time Arnott proposed the provincial tree planting program at a Wellington County council meeting in July of 2015, the county had distributed 1.75 million trees, a figure that has since grown to about 2.5 million.
In his role as Speaker of the Legislature, Arnott is expected to be impartial and unbiased, so he declines to opine on government decisions these days, but we’d be surprised if he wasn’t saddened by the premature end to one of his proudest initiatives.
Green Legacy is 100 per cent county funded so the decision to cancel the 50 million tree initiative will not impact the local effort. However, the Grand River Conservation Authority was a delivery agent for the provincial program and facilitated the connection to interested landowners.
GRCA officials advise they have not had a chance to fully assess the impact that the program’s termination will have on the number of trees planted in the watershed, but said they anticipate “it will result in a reduction going forward.”
Forest Ontario officials have stated the annual budget for the 50 Million Trees was about $4.7 million. The cost to the government was about $1.50 per tree while landowners were paying less than 50 cents per tree. For every $1.80 that Forests Ontario spends to support tree planting, the agency estimates approximately $19.85 is saved in economic and environmental costs.
Hopefully this Tory government is soon done finding cost “efficiencies,” before they bankrupt us completely.