Editorials - Jan. 26, 2024
Let’s not pave paradise
The Township of Wilmot is throwing up roadblocks that are putting a land donation for a nature reserve at risk. The 94-year-old matriarch of Kitchener’s Schneider family has been trying to donate a 235-acre parcel of ecologically-significant land to a charitable organization.
For 40 years, the family has allowed the public to access the property for bird-watching, hiking and skiing. By severing off the land from several residential properties, the property could continue to be used in exactly the same manner, but time is of the essence. The owner of the property is in good health, but her family would like to see the transfer happen before she dies so that the estate doesn’t face additional taxes.
The township has stipulated that the severance will spur a zoning change, requiring the Schneider family to build a parking lot on their dime before the donation can take place, which they say is unnecessary and detrimental to the land they’re trying to preserve. Additionally, the local conservation authority would likely deny permission to build, as it would impact the wetlands that are located close to the roads.
While planners are tasked with enforcing zoning, including necessary parking, both sides need to sit down and find a reasonable solution. If parking hasn’t been a problem for the past 40 years and the primary usage of the land will not change, couldn’t a variance be put in place for the property until such time as parking does become an issue? The Schneider family shouldn’t be penalized for not giving more. – DS
The tip of the iceberg
Ahead of this week’s Rural Ontario Municipal Association (ROMA) conference, Allison Jones of The Canadian Press published a story under the headline: “Ontario municipalities push for frank talk with province on who pays for what.” The story forecasts unsustainable tax rate increases for municipalities and the need for provincial help.
“Steep property tax increases being proposed across the province are partly the result of Ontario offloading various costs to local governments in the 1990s, municipalities say, and it’s time for a frank talk about who pays for what,” reads Jones’ story. Meanwhile, as rural Ontarians know all too well, double-digit tax rate increases are nothing new. Aging infrastructure and small tax bases are brewing into a perfect storm. Then, as the conference began, the province heralded “historic” (though not new) expansion of the $1.2 billion Building Faster Fund to help municipalities build house-enabling infrastructure.
This will help, sure, but Huron’s municipalities and the county itself are bending under the pressure of monstrous infrastructure needs and downright scary tax increase forecasts in the next decade or two. This reality has been all too real around here for a while, and, frankly, $1.2 billion across every municipality with a crumbling bridge or water capacity in need of expansion would be spread razor thin before long.
Rising costs, never-ending staffing concerns and mile-high to-do lists mean the future is costly for rural Ontario, whose needs, Premier Doug Ford and his government say, will never be ignored. We have to hope that he means what he says. Our future depends on it. – SL
A shot at redemption
Those governing the Township of Norwich in Southwestern Ontario are doing something that many people didn’t think was possible for a municipal council - they are learning from past mistakes and reversing a controversial and divisive decision that they made last year.
In April, Norwich Council attracted national attention when they voted to restrict usage of official flagpoles on civic property to fly only the national, provincial and municipal flags. The move was widely regarded as an affront to the Pride flag, sparking a rise in tensions between neighbours, businesses and other community institutions.
Following the decision, there was a notable uptick in local thefts and vandalism of Pride flags from private properties. These anti-social behaviours are not acceptable and legitimate expressions of dissenting opinions, but criminal acts that deserve condemnation from everyone in the community who wishes to co-exist peacefully with their neighbours.
Members of Norwich Council acknowledged that their decision increased divisions instead of promoting unity. To heal those fractures, they crafted a flagpole policy and pre-approved a list of flags that includes the Pride flag as well as flags that represent Black History Month, Every Child Matters, Remembrance Day, local service clubs and minor sports organizations, among others.
None of the pre-approved flags represent hateful ideologies or violent groups, effectively dismissing the flawed logic espoused by some claiming that if certain flags are approved then all others must also be approved. Apparently, reasonable people can produce reasonable policies to celebrate and strengthen diversity without promoting hatred.
Rural communities in Ontario shouldn’t discourage peaceful and productive people from living their lives honestly and constructively contributing to the area. Haters, however, have to go. – SBS