If you’ve been out hiking the Thames Valley Trail recently, you may have come across signage about closure of trail section(s) like the picture (right). Some landowners have placed signage as a result of concerns about easements in Bill 100, Supporting Ontario’s Trails Act, currently being debated by the Legislative Assembly of Ontario.
The TVTA continues to build relationships with local landowners, and is supporting the work of Hike Ontario to resolve their concerns. We are also sharing information to help correct some of the misinformation about easements in Bill 100 that has been published in news media articles. Tom Friesen, President of Hike Ontario, submitted a letter to the Ontario Farmer to help address some of the confusion about easements in Bill 100. With his permission, we are providing his letter below for your information. As this issue develops, the TVTA will continue to keep members informed.
MISINFORMATION ABOUT EASEMENTS – by Tom Friesen
Erroneous information about two Bills that are before the Ontario Legislature has been recently circulated to various media (including the Ontario Farmer weekly newspaper) by the Ontario Landowners Association (OLA), a group committed to the cause of property rights in rural areas. This misinformation, if not corrected, stands as a threat to all types of trails on private land throughout Ontario.
In spring 2015, Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport, Michael Coteau, put an Ontario Trails Act out for review. An internet search for “Bill 100 Ontario” will bring up the text of the proposed Act. Section 12 of the Act (Easements) would provide a new ability for landowners and incorporated trail groups to voluntarily enter into easements to secure the route of the trail. Section 12(3) entitled “Granting of Easements” states “An owner of land may grant an easement….”, clearly indicating a voluntary choice on the part of the owner. The OLA misrepresentation is that with the passage of the legislation, the Government would force easements onto all owners with existing footpaths and snowmobile trails. This misrepresentation has already resulted in the closure of 10 snowmobile trails in Muskoka and threats of closure to long standing portions of the Thames Valley Trail.
In response to concerns raised by the Ontario Trails Council (OTC), Minister Coteau issued a statement (attached) on Feb. 10 on easements that makes quite clear the voluntary nature of this provision in his Ministry’s proposed Bill 100.
The OTC issued a detailed press release which can be seen on their website, which also makes it plain that any easements under the legislation would be entirely a landowner’s decision.
Secondarily, an Opposition MPP had introduced a private members’ Bill 118 that clarifies an existing right of the public to walk below the high water mark on most shores of the Great Lakes and their “connecting channels” such as the Detroit River. On Jan. 1, the OLA’s website erred and misrepresented this term to mean that the Government would give the public the right to walk inland along the length of every single watercourse draining into the Great Lakes. (Incidentally, private members’ bills are rarely supported in the Legislature by the Government and instead die on the “order paper.”)
I have tremendous respect for the generosity of rural land owners who allow our trails to cross their property. I can understand their mistrust of the provincial government when the farm subsidy on diesel fuel is removed, wind farms are erected over local objections and policies seem to be directed to satisfy urban areas.
Trail associations whose existence are dependent on the generosity of farmers and other rural users, insure the trails to protect the owners, close the trails one day a year to maintain farmers’ property rights and inspect and maintain them for the best experience of the users. The truth about trails is that they actually enhance the property value of lands they exist on. They also enhance the quality of life for all Ontarians.
We need to clearly refute the misinformation, communicate clearly and often with landowners and stand beside them to advocate for their rights. Hike Ontario asked for a tax credit to recognize their ongoing gift of the free use of their property to the people of Ontario. I believe that goal should be re-emphasized to correct the damage recently done and reverse the loss of private land for trails.