Doug Varty says his decision to step away early from Ontario’s Species Conservation Action Agency is meant to send a message, regardless of whether the province receives it.
Varty, 64, an Oro-Medonte Township resident, resigned as chair of the provincial agency’s board in December, ahead of the expiration of his one-year term this month, to make a point about Ontario government decisions.
“It’s really a series of measures over the last few years that have weakened conservation, weakened watershed management, this whole monkey business with the super-mayor legislation that will allow a third of council to pass certain things,” he said. “To me, that’s just totally undemocratic. Really, the Greenbelt was just so flagrant that it was the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
The Progressive Conservative government has proposed removing land from 15 areas of the Greenbelt so 50,000 homes can be built, while adding acres elsewhere.
The Species Conservation Action Agency is a board-governed body that manages the Species at Risk Conservation Fund.
Varty, a retired chartered accountant, is also concerned about the Premier Doug Ford government’s approach to urban sprawl and affordable housing, along with watershed and land conservation.
“It’s really a series of moves by the government to support development and developers, leading to further urban sprawl,” he said. “You’ve got the 400-series highways that they’re working on that are questionable and, personally, I think the billions of dollars could be better spent on affordable housing than building highways that are just going to cause people to live in areas like Barrie and commute to the (Greater Toronto Area) like they already do.”
The Bradford Bypass would connect Highway 400 and Highway 404 in Simcoe County and York Region. Highway 413 would extend from Highway 400, between King Road and Kirby Road, to the 401/407 ETR interchange near Mississauga, Milton and Halton Hills.
Varty also said the lack of Indigenous consultation in these matters is a concern, which he called "anti-reconciliation."
Varty said there’s been no reaction from Ontario’s government to his leaving the agency early, nor did he expect any.
“I guess the silent treatment,” he said. “That may be the norm, I don’t know. I don’t have a lot of experience. This is the first public appointment I’ve ever had, probably the last because I think I can be doing more for conservation not in roles like this than in roles like this.”
Varty said he has communicated his decision to Ford’s office, to Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark, Environment, Conservation and Parks Minister David Piccini and area MPPs.
He also noted he’s a member of both the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party and the Conservative Party of Canada.
And he’s aware of protests concerning other recent provincial policy and laws.
Bill 109, the More Homes for Everyone Act, 2022, and Bill 23, the More Homes Built Faster Act, 2022, have led to concerns being raised across Ontario.
“I think they’re having an impact,” Varty said of the protests. “They may not change anything currently, but hopefully (the Ontario government is) getting the message and, before future proposals come along, they plan better and give it a lot more thought and do a lot more consultation.”
Varty said his resignation is on LinkedIn and the post has received just shy of 200,000 views, 1,500 reactions and more than 400 re-posts. He said the roles for the top five viewers are business president, project manager, owner, founder and software engineer.
“I have been totally blown away by this response,” he said. “It tells me that recent legislation/regulation on these matters is broadly opposed by a broad cross-section of Ontarians, including many business leaders, professionals and community leaders.”
Varty said he’s asking the province to listen to the people of Ontario and work toward a better solution for creating affordable housing and protecting agricultural land, natural space, lakes and watersheds, particularly in urban areas and areas at risk of development pressure.