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Woman of the Week: Susan Swail

With rising housing costs and developers vying for land to build on, ensuring the safety of Ontario’s Greenbelt is no easy feat. Principal of Lloyd Swail Consulting, Susan Swail, is one of the women leading the fight to keep this preservation of farmland protected for years to come.

Swail launched her own consulting firm in 2008, which has enabled her to work on several environmental policy projects at once. “I’ve been doing policy analysis, facilitation and strategic communications in the planning field for the last 10 years. I created this consulting firm so I could work on project based contracts. I can work on a number of projects on the same time,” Swail says. She is currently on contract with Environmental Defence and the Greenbelt Foundation.

Swail works for Environmental Defence as the Smart Growth Program Consultant of the Greenbelt and is also working on a review that focuses on the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) review. During the OMB review, over 5000 letters were submitted to the province to obtain funding for citizens and citizen groups, and upholding provincial and municipal plans. Swail conducted a literature review and interviewed many stakeholders, including planners, ratepayers and lawyers to develop a policy position for Environmental Defence.

Swail and the non-profit await the new OMB legislation to see if the recent changes are a success. “[Environmental Defence] didn’t get everything we asked for. We’re still waiting to see what happens. We wanted opportunities to have legal support and advice for ratepayer groups who are launching appeals and we don’t know if the legal advice is intended to be free,” Swail says. “The province is also looking at a joint board hearing that would refer environmental planning matters to the Environmental Review Tribunal (ERT) rather than being heard by just a OMB chair. The provincial announcement suggests they are considering joint ERT, and OMB board hearings. It is important have an environmental lens when making land policy decisions that effect groundwater, and natural heritage features like forests and wetlands.” Originally, Environmental Defence asked the OMB to refer environmental matters directly to ERT, but instead the legislation suggests having a joint board with the OMB and the ERT.

Swail was also a city councillor for the King Township for three years from 2000 to 2003, which helped foster her passion for policy and giving citizens a voice. “It was an exciting time to be on council because Oak Ridges Conservation Plan was being created at that time,” Swail says. When asked about the most important lessons she took from being a councillor, she explained that giving citizens a voice is so vital and being able to negotiate solutions between stakeholders and citizens is what really counts.

“When I was councillor, there was a situation with a developer who wanted to build on 107 acres in the headwaters of the Humber River.  The citizens were adamantly against it. We negotiated between the ratepayers, the Region of York, the Conservation Authority, Oak Ridges Moraine Land Trust and the City of Toronto,” Swail says. “In the end, the developer agreed to make a gift of the land and recieved a donation receipt. Today the tableland is part of the York Region Forest.”

After Swail lost the next election, she moved to the Oak Ridges Land Trust,and eventually became the Program and Outreach Manager of the Greenbelt Foundation. Swail returned to York University in 2008 to do a master’s degree in land use planning and launched her own consulting company from there. At York, she was awarded the MITACS Research Award for the research project, Building Sustainable Communities in South Simcoe.

Swail believes the most prevelant environmental issue today is climate change for land use conservation projects. She has dedicated many years to sustainable planning, helping the environment and trying to mitigate the impacts of climate change through supporting and implementing conservation land use projects over the years. She has served as the executive of many charitable organizations for the last 20 years.

Her passion for the environment began in 1990 when she and her husband moved to Nobleton in 1990 from High Park because house prices in Toronto were too high. “I got involved in my new community right away in the Parks Committee and then co-founded a local ratepayer group,” Swail says. “They were going to put in a larger sewer system in around Nobleton, which would traveled over 17 km of farmland to serve 3000 people, not economically or environmentally sustainable.   Instead, we got a local sewer system put into our town and Nobleton is still a complete community today.”

Swail is also an advocate for women who are passionate about the environment. “I mentor women whenever I can. When I was working at Environmental Defence, I had a call at least once a month from women who wanted to get involved in the environment,” Swail says. “I took at least a dozen of people out for coffee and helped them out to understand what it takes to get involved in the environment, emphasizing the importance of volunteering and networking.” Swail also noted that being a considerate woman in the business world can go a long way to helping other women in the industry.

When Swail isn’t at the frontlines protecting the Greenbelt, she is an avid reader. Currently, she is reading Walking Home by Kent Greenberg and Dark Age Ahead By Jane Jacobs. She also enjoys visiting with her six-month-old granddaughter, hiking with her husband and three sons on the Oak Ridges Moraine, cooking and gardening.

 

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