Puslinch offers support, in principle, to Schreiner’s private member bill to protect Paris Galt Moraine

ABERFOYLE – Puslinch Township is lending its support in principle to Ontario Green Party leader Mike Schreiner’s proposed Paris Galt Moraine Conservation Act.

Councillors held off on full endorsement of the private member’s bill until they have more assurance there would be no unintended consequences as a result of the proposed legislation.

The Guelph MPP approached council on Sept. 4 seeking support of the private member’s bill.

“Although this is not my riding, it is always nice to spend time with my neighbours,” he said. 

Schreiner was at council to discuss Bill 71, his private member’s bill currently before the Legislature.

As of the council meeting, Schreiner’s bill had passed second reading and was at committee level.

“As you know there is a lot of concern about water in this region – both quantity and quality,” Schreiner said adding that citizens of Guelph, Wellington County, Halton and Brant approached him about bringing something forward to protect the Paris Galt Moraine – a significant water recharge area for this region.

“As someone who has worked a lot on water issues over the years and leading the Green Party of Ontario it made sense that water would be one of my first private member’s bills.”

He said the bill includes two key areas.

First, he believes the legislation can achieve all-party support and second, it would protect water without targeting any one company, or any one industry.

“I felt we needed broad protections based on science and based on the principle that water should be prioritized for people and communities,” he said.

Schreiner modelled his proposal after the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Act.

He said one of the key objectives is to ensure the Paris Galt Moraine area is maintained as a continuous natural landform to benefit  present and future generations.

Schreiner also wanted to consider the cumulative impact of water use and population growth to ensure there is enough water to meet future needs.

He also advocated the restriction of extracting mineral aggregates from below the water table.

Schreiner stressed the bill is not about eliminating extraction, but having restrictions to maintain the integrity of the water supply.

He noted a number of local municipalities have passed resolutions in support of his bill.

“I’m really here to answer questions or concerns about the bill,” he said.

Mayor James Seeley appreciated Schreiner coming in person to speak to councillors.

Councillor Matthew Bulmer appreciated the opportunity.

Bulmer had seen Schreiner’s earlier presentation to the City of Guelph regarding the Clair-Maltby secondary plan.

Bulmer noted that area is one of the most sensitive parts of the moraine threatened by urban development.

He said years ago he was in a position to support the development of the Greenbelt Plan – promoting the idea that the plan followed natural rather than municipal boundaries.

“We took a lot of comfort that we’d be able to round out the hamlet of Morriston,” he said, adding that the intent was to protect farmland and natural environment.

“But then when the Greenbelt was enacted we found out it was more about preserving access to natural resources,” he said. “It seemed one could not dig a foundation for a bungalow, but one could cut down a forest and dig up 100 acres for a gravel pit.”

And when Morriston  development froze, Bulmer said the municipality began to see things differently.

“When the push came to expand the Greenbelt, we became concerned with potentially unintended consequences,” he said.

“A campground where people could enjoy nature would not be allowed, but one could truck in thousands of tonnes of untested fill and bury nature … it just didn’t make sense.”

Bulmer said he fully supported Schreiner’s intent, but again spoke of “the law of unintended consequences.”

He noted the concept of prioritizing water use for people is different than previous wording, which was about prioritizing water for municipal use.

“That phrase sent alarm bells to we who live in rural areas with wells,” Bulmer said.

Schreiner said the priority is people.

He agreed in the rural areas of the Paris Galt Moraine, most residents are on well water.

“We want to protect the water for both municipal and personal wells,” he said. 

“I’d argue that protection should extend to farm and agricultural use.”

At the same time, Schreiner agreed there needs to be some provision for industrial use.

“We don’t want to restrict economic development,” he said, adding that what he liked about the Oak Ridges Act was “it did not say ‘no’ to development.”

Schreiner agreed Guelph’s Clair-Maltby proposal is a major development that will affect the moraine.

“This is to ensure development happens in a way which maintains the integrity of the moraine and allows it to remain a critical recharge area,” Schreiner said.

He was less concerned about someone digging a basement foundation as compared to filling in the hundreds of pockets of land in the moraine.

He agreed implementation of the plan is with the government and often the devil is in the details.

“But the plan would still need to comply with the objectives in the bill,” he said.

He added “we want 

Greenbelt protections, but sometimes they are not the protections we want.”

Bulmer said one of his concerns with municipal water taking such as the City of Guelph “is that it is a full loss system.”

He explained the water is taken from bedrock and ends up being deposited in the river.

“We are on the front lines of aggregate extraction, so we understand the impacts,” Bulmer said.

“But the scale is nothing compared to that of municipal water taking.”

Bulmer added there needs to be recognition that there are limits to the amount a groundwater-based system can provide – as opposed to something which includes a closed-loop system where water is taken from the river and later returned to the river.

“There is no guarantee a municipal system has less impact,” Bulmer said.

Schreiner said in terms of directing growth, the city is concerned with the amount of growth being mandated towards the city.

He added Guelph is one of the largest municipalities in Ontario that relies solely on groundwater.

Councillor Jessica Goyda commended Schreiner on his efforts to create a more sustainable future.

“Not only is this legislation the right thing to do for our children and future generations, it is also fiscally responsible,” she said.

Schreiner said he also does not want to see this legislation result in unintended consequences in terms of fiscal impacts. 

He said the voice of municipalities affected by the legislature would alleviate provincial concerns regarding local opposition.

Schreiner remained optimistic this bill could return for discussion by the province this fall.

“I think this would be an opportunity for the government to show good faith and how we can work across party lines,” he said.

Council later agreed to offer its support, in principle.

Council did not offer unqualified support  unti it had more assurance that there would be no unintended consequences to the municipality.