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Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Ontario Trails News - Better Farmer and The Flesherton help correct damage caused by erroneous reporting on the Trails Act

Ontario Trails Council gets media coverage on issue in The Flesherton

Ontario Trails

Trail groups, including the Ontario Trails Council, are concerned that some property rights associations are spreading mis-information about Bill 100, The Ontario Trails Act, which is now before the legislature.
The main source of confusion concerns property easements, which some groups are representing as mandatory. This is not true. “To be clear, Bill 100 only affects landowners who want to negotiate an easement for trail access. It in no way makes trails on private or public land nor does it take negotiation rights away from landowners, Patrick Connor, Executive Director of the Ontario Trails Council (OTC) says.
As a charitable organization working to promote the management, use, development and preservation of recreational trails, the OTC is concerned that the facts regarding Bill 100, trails and landowners, are being misunderstood by some groups, Connor says. He says the bill actually “makes the process [of negotiating easements with landowners] clearer.”
And, Michael Coteau, Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport, the ministry that drafted the Bill, has also issued a statement to clarify any mis-interpretations. “To be clear, an easement pursuant to Bill 100, if passed, would be a voluntary agreement between a landowner and an eligible body or bodies. No property owner would be compelled to provide an easement unless they agreed to do so.”
The Ontario Trails Act was introduced in May, 2015, by Coteau. If passed by the legislature, the Act will result in changes to other Acts of Legislation to reduce liability exposure for land owners, increase fines for trespass, as well as introduce other changes that will make it easier for groups to hold events, while providing better guidance on issues of risk exposure and liability.

Ontario Trails Council gets media coverage in Better Farmer

Provincial Trails Act sparks concern in the countryside

© AgMedia Inc.

February 15, 2016

‘We think the trails and the Trails Act have become a lightning rod for a lot of other concerns’ says Trails Council head


Farm owners hosting recreational trails on their properties shouldn’t fear that the province is trying to steal their land by using a law that is currently being considered in Queen’s Park, says the executive director of the Ontario Trails Council.
Desboro (Deseronto) -based  Patrick Connor says some landowners have recently broken agreements with local trails groups and closed recreational trails through their properties in the Gananoque area because of negative publicity about the Ontario Trails Act, also known as Bill 100. “We are upset because the landowners are upset,” says Connor. On Saturday he sent a release to news media asking them to stop. “We respectfully request that your organization not publish any media that further causes damage to trails or landowner relations. We appreciate the land that landowners provide to trails, and this appreciation is being lost.”
Connor says erroneous charges have been made in the media. “The articles that went out claimed that the Act is going to do certain things that the Act is simply not going to do,” Connor said in an interview. Earlier in the week the federation of all-terrain vehicle clubs lost seven sections of their trails. Some trails arranged for by snowmobile clubs have also been shut down.
“There is a real agitation going on here and rightly so,” Connor says. “If the trail is another way that the government is going to take my land, through this Act, I’m taking my land back before they do so. But the Act doesn’t say that.”
“We think the trails and the Trails Act have become a lightning rod for a lot of other concerns.” Connor mentioned “tensions in rural areas . . . Including wind farms” which are highly unpopular in some parts of rural Ontario.
Connor says trails have been established in Ontario over 40 or 50 years and this legislation was developed from the grass roots up and with consultation from organizations such as the Ontario Federation of Agriculture and the Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs, as many as 250 community groups and a number of provincial ministries. Connor says the bill actually strengthens the position of land owners where trails are concerned because it allows for much higher fines for trespass and for property damage. There’s little that’s new in the Act, other than “soft” topics such as a provincial trails week every year and a trail classification system. Mostly the law just puts a lot of pieces about trails “into one file.”
Following a single interview news item quoting a “concerned citizen” decrying the Trails Act, aired on Wingham-based Blackburn Radio early last week, Connor says he spoke at length with the station’s news director and believes that turned down the rhetoric in western Ontario. Completion of the G2G (Guelph to Goderich) trail on a disused rail right of way remains particularly controversial.
Paul Shaughnessy, executive director of the Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs, says a letter to the editor published in the weekly newspaper Ontario Farmer and other Postmedia newspapers across the province criticizing the Trails Act is simply incorrect. Elizabeth Marshall, director of research for the Ontario Landowners Association wrote that landowners who let snowmobile trails on their property may be handing their land over to the local conservation authority.
“Landowners do not need to fear snowmobile clubs” because they don’t operate under easements, Shaughnessy says. Snowmobile trails operate under partnerships between local clubs and landowners, a “time-tested” arrangement.
Tom Black, president of the Ontario Landowners Association, which has chapters across rural Ontario and in Toronto, stands by the researcher’s work and words and says the snowmobile federation “is being used.” But he stopped short of asserting that landowners shouldn’t let recreationalists on their property. ”We are not telling people to close their trails. We tell them the information; they can do what they want with it.” But he hopes that weather keeps the snowmobile trails in his area closed “until this gets straightened out.” The 22-page Trails Act passed first reading in the Legislature last May and is now before committee.
Black interchanges the terms “easement” and “right of way” and asserts “it says right there in the Act” under Section 12, once a trail is registered it can belong to any of a dozen groups, including conservation authorities, aboriginal groups, school boards,  and charitable organizations such as the Ontario SPCA.
Black counts about 180 groups associated with the Ontario Trails Council, but says no one there represents land owners, where the trails are, and there’s no one on the council representing farm groups.
“I don’t see a problem here,” says Peter Jeffery, senior researcher, Ontario Federation of Agriculture, which made a submission to the province regarding Bill 100. “When you read that whole section on easements ...  subsection 3 says property owners may enter into easements. ... You  have two choices, yes or no. No is a valid answer. You can’t be forced into this.”
Michael Couteau, minister of tourism, culture and sport also weighed in on the issue in a statement issued Feb. 10. “An easement pursuant to Bill 100, if passed, would be a voluntary agreement between a landowner and an eligible body or bodies. No property owner would be compelled to provide an easement unless they agreed to do so.”
The farm federation had asked the province to stiffen the trespass to property laws but didn’t really get what it wanted. Bill 100 allows for higher maximum penalties, up to $10,000 for trespassing on private property, but Jeffery says it doesn’t help much as most fines levied for trespass are minimal. A $50 or $100 fine for trespassing is meaningless to someone driving an $8,000 ATV in a farm field, Jeffery points out. There needs to be a minimum fine applied. BF
Read the comments - Patrick Connor added - 


On behalf of the Executive and Board of the Ontario Trails Council I would like to express our thanks to Better Farming for publishing our comments. Just a couple of things, the OTC President and Secretary are ranchers, and our VP is a farmer. And I'm from Deseronto (although Desboro is nice too) Regards, Patrick Connor

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