Environment Report Says Urban Sprawl Strangling Southern Ontario

Environment report says urban sprawl strangling southern Ontario

The Canadian Press
Last Updated: Tuesday, December 4, 2007

The governing Liberals must have a new vision for Ontario's north and crack down on urban sprawl in the south by cutting down on highway expansions, Ontario's environmental commissioner said Tuesday.

In his annual report being released Tuesday, Gord Miller said southern Ontario is too car-centric with one vehicle for every two residents.

The government encourages that by spending more than $6 billion a year on highways while spending slightly more than $4 billion on public transit, he added.

Sprawl is eating up greenspace and farmland that Miller said “carries a significant environmental penalty.”

“The continued availability of local sources of produce, meat and dairy products is key to strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, while natural areas are limited and disappearing fast,” he wrote.

“Changes to our 'car-centric' system of mobility are required not only for the protection of natural heritage and farm lands from development, but to address the mounting problem of traffic congestion with its attendant costs in time and money.”

Northern Ontario is also in desperate need of a “new vision,” Miller said.

Without better protection for the boreal forest and the northern environment, “irreparable harm” will be done to Ontario's north, he said.

“This region is marked by a unique and fragile environment,” Miller wrote. “If action is not taken soon to embrace a new vision for the north, the consequences may be grave? Moreover, harm to the natural environment may have significant negative impacts on the social and economic sustainability of northern communities.”

Calling Ontario's north an “ecological treasure,” Miller said the province must ensure that development doesn't neglect environmental responsibility.

Mining activity in particular can't be allowed to continue without sufficient regard for the environment, he added.

But it's the woodland caribou that Miller singles out as the canary in a mine shaft.

'Sensitive indicator'

The iconic animals have lost half their range in the last century, Miller said.

More recently, climate change has been pushing the animals further north, he added.

The province has to do more than aim for a “best-case scenario” where the woodland caribou remain a “threatened species,” he said.

“Woodland caribou are a sensitive indicator of the ecological effects of development in northern Ontario,” wrote Miller.

“If the threats to woodland caribou are not addressed systematically and in a concerted manner, this species could soon disappear from Ontario's boreal forests forever.”