The year 2017 will be the country’s 150th birthday. It will also be the 150th anniversary of Ontario being a province within confederation.
Instead of planting 150 candles into a massive cake – although that might happen too – Wellington-Halton Hills MPP, Ted Arnott is suggesting the province celebrate with something a little longer lasting.
On Oct. 22 at Queen’s Park, the Conservative MPP put forward a private member’s resolution proposing the province make it a goal to plant 150 million trees to mark the occasion. The proposal passed unanimously by legislature.
The tree planting campaign would be called the Green Legacy Program, named after the program that began in Wellington County in 2004. The original Green Legacy Program set a goal of planting 150,000 trees to celebrate the county’s 150th anniversary.
“A lot of people thought that goal was audacious and bold and it would be difficult to achieve, but they pulled it off and they’ve done it year after year since,” Arnott said in an interview on Saturday.
Since the inception of the county’s program, more than 1.9 million trees have been planted. This year, more than 162,000 trees were planted in the county.
There’s a pretty big difference between planting 162,000 trees in the county and planting 150 million across the province Arnott admitted, but he said the provincial goal is attainable. To be successful, the campaign will have to involve everyone, including community groups, clubs, school boards, churches, municipalities, conservation authorities and organizations in public and private sectors.
It’s not like the province is starting from zero, he said. Each year the reforestation programs of the forestry industry plant between 50 and 80 million trees. Each and every tree planted in the province should count towards the larger goal, he said.
Trees Ontario is another group with a lofty target of planting millions of trees over the next decade. They’ve partnered with Ministry of Natural Resources’ 50 Million Tree Program, and committed to plant 50 million trees by 2025. These trees are separate from the reforestation trees and should also be added towards the goal, he said.
The province should make it a priority to keep accurate records of how many trees were planted from which organizations, he said.
“If you don’t measure what you’re doing, you don’t know the full extent of what you’re achieving.”
When he presented his motion at Queen’s Park, he had a lot of positive comments.
New Democrat MPP for Windsor-Tecumseh, Percy Hatfield, said he loved the idea. “I wish I would have thought of it myself,” he said.
Liberal MPP for St. Catharines, James Bradley, also stood up to endorse the proposal. The former Minister of the Environment said the proposal is something that would benefit everyone in the province in one way or another, regardless of an individual’s political leanings.
“One thing we do come together on are issues such as this for the importance of this province,” he said.
While the proposal has support from all parties, Arnott said he still has to get approval from the Minister of Natural Resources.
“He would have to take a proposal to cabinet and cabinet would have to agree to it,” Arnott said, adding he was hopeful and optimistic the program will be adopted.
In terms of how much a campaign like this might cost, Arnott said he didn’t know. He said there will likely be a budget set aside to celebrate the 150th anniversary.
If it turns out that 150 million trees can’t be planted in just one year, Arnott said the goal can be achieved in 2018. The program won’t be considered a failure.
“It represents an understanding of the challenge of climate change and encouraging people to actually get involved, roll up their sleeves and do something about it,” he said.
“This is a call to action to people who care about climate change, in my opinion.”