LETTER:Province inflicts fatal 7,400 acre wound on Greenbelt

On Friday, the Ontario government announced it intends to break its loudest, clearest election promise, by inflicting a fatal 7,400 acre wound on the vital and wildly popular Greenbelt.

It is clear that this attack would end the critical role the Greenbelt plays to stop sprawl and protect farmland, forests, and the source of our drinking water, as well address climate change. The government should be ashamed and the people of Ontario should be outraged.

Promises by the government to “swap” in 9,400 acres of land in other locations will do nothing to mitigate the damage to the Greenbelt system. That is in part because at least some areas being floated as replacements for bulldozed segments of the Greenbelt were already off limits for development – meaning those additions would not mitigate the net loss of protected lands. Even more importantly, the government’s plans would utterly destroy the certainty of permanent protection that is vital to the functioning of the Greenbelt as a whole.

Stripping these 7,400 acres of protection at the request of land speculators would unleash a firestorm of land speculation across the entire Greenbelt – denying farmers the certainty they need to continue stewarding the forests, wetlands and soils on their land, and pushing ownership forever out of reach. It will also start a never-ending queue of Greenbelt land speculators at the Minister’s door, each with their own convenient rationalization for paving their own patch of Greenbelt. The government’s attempt to rationalize this attack on the Greenbelt as a measure to deliver “more homes” is disingenuous.

There is such a vast supply of unused “greenfield” land already open for development within existing municipal settlement boundaries (350 square kilometers as of 2019), that opening up Greenbelt lands will not deliver a single net new home. The latest round of boundary expansions would – if approved – add 17,000 hectares more of non-Greenbelt land to that vast stockpile. Far from boosting the number of new homes, because of a constrained supply of skilled labour, materials and equipment, it is likely this plan would result in fewer homes being delivered within the next decade.

Removing land from the Greenbelt, taken together with the Ontario government’s Bill 23 attack on Conservation Authorities, the Growth Plan, the Planning Act, the Endangered Species Act and other important legislation, dismantles decades of slow progress toward protecting Ontario’s environment and creating more sustainable communities.

These actions together repudiate the important and historic work of many previous governments, including those of Bill Davis and Mike Harris.

Phil Pothen

Ontario Environment Program Manager,

Environmental Defence