Steve Parish is the Mayor of Ajax and affectionately known in the environmental community as a “man on a mission” to protect Carruthers Creek, an at-risk urban watershed south of the Oak Ridges Moraine. As you’ll read below, he is an advocate of Greenbelt expansion to protect his region’s sensitive headwaters.
Q: How did you get involved in Greenbelt action?
A: In 2005, I advocated for all areas outside of Ajax’s fixed urban boundary to be included in the Greenbelt. The success of that led me to join the Municipal Leaders for the Greenbelt, a network of leaders committed to improving our land-use through Greenbelt protection.
In 2015, many of us were involved in the provincial review of Ontario’s Greenbelt and Growth Plans led by former Toronto mayor, David Crombie. The report heavily emphasized the importance of growing the Greenbelt to protect vulnerable water sources and urban river valleys. It also outlined the need for better mapping and protection of ‘whitebelt’ areas within our urban boundaries (acres of land between the Greenbelt and developed parts of the Greater Toronto Area).
These two recommendations are particularly important in Ajax as it has two watersheds that flow into Lake Ontario and significant ‘whitebelt’ areas.
Q: Why has the ‘whitebelt’ been problematic?
A: The ‘whitebelt’ refers to lands in between designated urban growth areas and the Greenbelt that are neither converted to urban land use, nor protected by the Greenbelt.
It is crucial to revisit what to do with these ‘lands between’ during this consultation period if we are committed to sustainable development in Durham Region. For quite some time, our region has been subject to the ‘Greenbelt vs. urbanization’ debate, and we cannot allow all our ‘whitebelt’ areas to be urbanized.
Q: Why does water need protection in your region?
A: Water protection in Ajax, particularly in the Carruthers Creek headwaters, is urgent because of the threat of urbanization and the impacts of climate change.
Carruthers Creek originates south of the Oak Ridges Moraine in Pickering, and flows south into Ajax where it empties into Lake Ontario. Its unique position means it does not have the protection of the Oak Ridges Moraine legislation. While the Greenbelt currently protects urban sections of the Carruthers, its headwaters remain unprotected.
Next year, when Durham Region conducts a comprehensive review of its Official Plan, developers will recommend that the headwaters of the Carruthers are paved over to accommodate more urban growth.
But, building hard surfaces on the headwaters will have devastating and costly downstream impacts including accelerated erosion, flooding, and loss of prime farmland and at-risk species.
Q: What is your vision for this region?
A: Ajax has long had a publically-owned and accessible waterfront along Lake Ontario that is used for recreation and other activities. Water plays an intimate role in each of our lives. Maintaining the health of the watersheds that discharge into our Lake will ensure the long-term health and vitality of our community.
Protecting the fragile headwaters of Carruthers Creek is the first step to achieve this long-term vision, so that all our residents, their children and grandchildren, can fully appreciate the unique natural landscapes we have close to home.