Taking action to help save Ontario’s Greenbelt and Agricultural Lands
Image credit: UNESCO.org
In November 2022, the Ontario government put through Bill 23, the More Homes Built Faster Act, which removed 7,400 acres of protected land from the Greenbelt. In April 2023, the Ontario government proposed Bill 97, Helping Homebuyers, Protecting Tenants Act which in part threatens prime agricultural lands by allowing unprecedented severances. Since then, Copernicus has been advocating for Bill 23 to be repealed and to stop Bill 97 from being passed. Read on to learn more about these Bills, what is at stake, and to access tools to help take a stand.
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About our Greenbelt
In the making since 1973 and helping us mitigate and adapt to climate change
A brief history of protecting biodiversity and drinking water
In 1973, the protection of the Niagara Escarpment from irresponsible development began. In 1990, the Niagara Escarpment was designated as a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Biosphere Reserve. It includes coastlines, cliffs, wetlands, woodlands, alvars, and oak savannahs that are home to hundreds of bird species and other wildlife. Learn more here about the Niagara Escarpment.
Image credit: Brucetrail.org
In 2001, thanks to dedicated citizen groups, the Oak Ridges Moraine landform received protection. It is also known as the “rain barrel” of Ontario because it filters and recharges groundwater, and feeds the headwaters of 64 rivers and streams that provide drinking water to 6 million people. Watch this video to learn more about how the “rain barrel” of Ontario works.
The protection of these two areas set the stage for the creation of the Greenbelt that we know today. By safeguarding wetlands and watersheds, we are able to benefit from their natural flood mitigation capabilities and access to freshwater resources. And by protecting productive farmland, we know we will have dedicated land for food production in the future.
What is the Greenbelt Act?
In 2005, the Greenbelt Act was passed by the Ontario government, creating the world’s largest Greenbelt. The Act permanently protected two million acres of productive farmland and environmentally sensitive areas, like wetlands and watersheds. Today, the Greenbelt continues to be crucial in preparing Ontario for the impacts of climate change. Download this and other maps here.
Image credit: Greenbelt.ca
Unprotecting the protected: Bill 23 the More Homes Built Faster Act
Image credit: Environmental Defence
In November 2022, the Ontario government passed Bill 23, the More Homes Built Faster Act. Overall, Bill 23 and its associated policies remove and weaken environmental protections and diminish the role of Ontarians in land use planning and decision-making. It also exempts developers from paying the municipality’s development charges and strips Conservation Authorities of their comments on the environmental impacts of a development application.
In August 2023, the Auditor General’s Special Report on Changes to the Greenbelt was released proving Ford’s flawed procurement, undemocratic decision making, and narrow-mindedness regarding the appropriate development of much needed housing. It also showed how a few, well-connected developers were to benefit most from the removed Greenbelt lands. Read the overview or the full report to learn more.
The housing crisis is not a land issue
Much of the government’s messaging regarding the need for Bill 23 is focused on addressing the housing crisis. While we acknowledge there is a housing crisis, compromising the Greenbelt is not necessary; there is plenty of housing in the pipeline. The Alliance for a Liveable Ontario released a new report that shows enough land was already in the planning pipeline to build more than two million homes, twice as many as required by provincial housing targets. A few takeaways from the report:
- New housing needs access to transit and there is no indication this can be similarly achieved through the construction of low-density homes in greenfield, car-dependent areas;
- The aging population is a significant market for intensification if age-appropriate/supportive housing is made available;
- The use of historical data to determine housing needs typically results in higher-than-realistic forecasts for single-detached units and lower-than-realistic forecasts for apartments;
- It’s unrealistic to assume the affordable housing crisis can be solved by the private sector, they will primarily play a supporting role to Federal, Provincial, and Municipal governments, non-profits, co-operatives, charities, and other organizations.
Bill 97: Another Bill designed to encourage sprawl and reduce farmland
Image credit: Ontario Farmland Trust
In April 2023, the Ontario government announced the proposal of Bill 97, Helping Homebuyers, Protecting Tenants Act. Among the proposed changes is an overhaul to residential development in rural areas by eliminating the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe (GGH) and the rewriting of the Provincial Policy Statement (PPS) under the Planning Act—two of Ontario’s key planning tools. Along with Bill 23 (above), these proposed changes will enable sprawl, increase costs to municipalities and make it difficult for farmers to operate.
Did you know Ontario loses 319 acres of farmland every day to non-agricultural land uses like urban development? This proposed Bill will undoubtedly increase that number by allowing sprawl, including development on Class 1 soil—the most productive and precious soil we depend on to produce food. Learn more about soil classes here.
The Alliance for a Liveable Ontario published a new report about Bill 97 here. A few key takeaways from the report:
- The Province would stop using planning tools that affect almost 10.8 million Ontarians living in the Greater Golden Horseshoe by abandoning the “intensification first” or “transit first” priorities for growth planning
- The Bill would enable low-density urban sprawl by allowing new settlements to be developed on farmland through severances and eliminate farmland protection that undermines the agricultural sector
- It would remove the requirement for watershed plans to be completed ahead of urban boundary expansions
- It would abandon the policy prohibiting Great Lakes water pipelines in inland communities
UPDATE: Due to overwhelming pressure from the public, including many agricultural associations, the Ontario government has agreed to remove the multiple agricultural lot severances and extended the public commenting period.
Conservation Areas and what is at risk
Image credit: Grand River Conservation Authority
Bill 23 has stripped Conservation Authorities (CA) of much of their planning functions and is requiring that CAs review their lands and identify all lands where subdivisions could be built. They are to report back to the province by the end of 2024. There are many Conservation Areas that are part of these Conservation Authority lands, including Kortright Centre for Conservation, Nashville Conservation Reserve, Dundas Valley Conservation Area, Guelph Lake Conservation Area, Glen Haffy Conservation Area, Laurel Creek Conservation Area, and many others. Read this article to learn more.
Did you know?
A trip on the 401 highway passes by part of the Niagara Escarpment that includes Mount Nemo Conservation Area. If you take a closer look, you may see a small, ancient cedar clinging to the cliff’s edge that germinated in the year 1134 AD—it’s over 880 years old! In fact, the entire Niagara Escarpment is home to an ancient cliff-face forest. The Last Stand is a complete account of these trees and reminds us of how unique and worth protecting the area is.
Tools for making a stand and keeping the pressure on
Have your say: Use #HandsOffTheGreenbelt, send letters, or call these Ontario government officials:
Learn more about Bill 97 and actions to take now:
There is still time to provide comment to the Ontario government (until June 5, 2023)
Learn more about Bill 23 and how to make a stand:
Watch an interview with these two mayors who explain how their municipalities are already addressing the housing crisis
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