Net Gain as an Overarching Principle

The Central Ontario Zone Smart Growth Panel is encouraged to adopt "net gain" as the overarching principle against which future urban form and growth management will be assessed. The basic concept is that growth cannot be "smart" unless it results in a net environmental benefit.

The Great Lakes basin ecosystem is overstressed -- our "ecological footprint" in terms of total waste generation of all kinds already exceeds the carrying capacity of the basin, with resulting ecological feedback mechanisms delivering poor air, water, and soil quality.11 12 It is only with the net gain principle that we can stop depleting natural capital, such as forests, wildlife, agricultural land, and water, upon which life on this planet depends, and go beyond to undo some of the existing damage.

Furthermore, the Panel should strive to ensure significant net gain, not merely "no net loss." No net loss is an approach that can be applied in limited circumstances, but it exposes subsequent generations (and their expanded populations) to constant deterioration of the natural environment.

The Central Ontario Zone Smart Growth Panel should set an aggressive target of, for example, a 25% net gain (relative to established baselines) in specific environmental indicators, which might be applied at the provincial level for certain indicators and linked to regional/upper-tier municipal plans (and hence required to be implemented in lower-tier municipal plans). Flexibility would thus be allowed for specific developments, but the net gain principle would ensure that environmental quality indicators improve with urban and transportation developments in the Central Ontario Zone.

11. For example, see Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development. 2001. Annual Report of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development; Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River Basin; Chapter 1 - A Legacy Worth Protecting: Charting a Sustainable Course in the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River Basin.
12. Also, see Health Canada. Undated (based on data collected between 1986 and 1992). Great Lakes Health Effects Program: Mortality and Morbidity in the Metro Toronto and Region Area of Concern. Bioregional Health Effects Program Division, Health Canada (p.9).