The draft amended growth plan states, “ The Greater Golden Horseshoe (GGH) is one of the most dynamic and fast-growing regions in North America. It is the destination of choice for many people and businesses relocating from other parts of Canada and around the world. They settle here because of the high quality of life and the economic opportunities. This is a place of prosperity where, through their skills and talents, people are building a greater future for themselves.” The GGH also includes the Greenbelt, so they are inseparable.
May I point out that the physical area of the GGH itself is NOT growing. The area for this region measures about 31,562 km2, of which almost 5,660 km2, or 18% of the area, is covered by the Greenbelt, which has been the topic of many recent governmental proposals on the ERO website. At the same time, let’s remember the former Liberal government devised this second Greenbelt around 2004 (after Bill Davis introduced the first one in the early 1980s, which now forms the busy ‘spine’ of Highway 407 and the built-out towns of Markham, Vaughan, Markham, Mississauga, Milton and Burlington). While professing to save farmland, waterways and natural areas, the McGuinty government was careful to grandfather all existing development applications into the new Greenbelt ... unfortunately. Developments considered suitable in the 1950s might not really fit into the reality of the Greenbelt in 2019 and beyond. Let’s not repeat the Liberals’ mistake in any amended Greenbelt Plan.
Previous attention to the Greater Golden Horseshoe AND Greenbelt really speak to the fact that all political actions in Ontario have, so far, been heavily weighted in favour of developers. It is long past time to review old development plans and institute a 3 to 5 year ‘sunset clause’ into every development permit. If the permit is not used within the specified period, it must be withdrawn, requiring a new application, as is currently done in the U.K.
With a physical fixed area of 31,562 km2 , that means the chosen political definition for growth refers ONLY to millions more people arriving over the next few decades. In other words, Ontario will EITHER choose to concentrate the growing human masses within the already increasingly congested towns and cities of the GGH area, OR choose which remaining farmlands and forests must be bull-dozed to turn into more vast residential, commercial and industrial subdivisions connected by expanding road systems. More pollutants from combustion engines, more particulate matter released from wear on tires and break pads, more greenhouse emissions, more toxins from industry.
No matter how the GGH ‘cake’ is cut, there will be smaller pieces consigned to fragments of farmland or forests if developers continue to guide politicians – in NO way, does this translate into a sustainable agricultural policy, NOR environmental sustainability of any form. Unfortunately, this is the ‘blind spot’ associated with any form of unchecked human population growth. Look around the world. The results of ever-growing human populations often breed various forms of increasingly intense competition that eventually manifests as a sense of persecution, inter-group or even intra-group rivalry, shortage of territory, and rising conflict.
London and Paris are narrowly viewed as ‘great cities of the world’, but they took centuries to reach their current status, and they are NOT without their problems in modern times. Examples of sustainable development and agriculture are probably most obvious in Switzerland, where the local (canton) level of government is truly responsible for development plans, while the more distant federal government provides some oversight. Though Switzerland does not indulge in growth for the sake of growth, it does retain its place as one of the wealthiest nations in the world despite its relatively stable population. In Switzerland, urban renewal, updating, and historical pride take precedence over knocking down buildings, or bull-dozing farmland and forests, for the sake of ever more development.
After assuming power in 2015, the federal Liberal government changed Canada’s immigration numbers again, raising the annual figure to 450,000 as of 2020. At the same time, Canada must find space for the nearly one-million 10-year temporary resident visas issued (sold) every year since 2014 when the program became established; prior to 2014, it was a pilot program for a couple of years.
Still, all those 10-year temporary residents and their families can buy homes and businesses in Canada, so a proportion will certainly move to Ontario where they need to be accommodated in terms of education, healthcare, etc. The federal government must be more transparent about the numbers of 10-year temporary resident visas who do NOT show up anywhere in annual immigration numbers.
Ontario planned a 10-year review of the Greenbelt back in May 2015, but this new 2019 review is being done at the behest of the Conservative government, which relieved the Liberals from the burden of power in June 2018. Let’s hope the Conservatives exhibit prudent responsibility for the Greenbelt as we review this new ‘old’ problem.
While reviewing the information boards during a 2015 Open House on the Greenbelt, I was struck by the fact that most efforts were directed SOLELY at human population growth to encourage more urban development. This growth was ‘celebrated’ in various forms of intensification, showing how ‘communities’ would look at 50 ‘people and jobs’ per hectare, right up to several hundred ‘people and jobs’ per hectare. There was NO mention of the water, food and aggregate materials, etc required to support all this new growth. There was no explanation of the breakdown between people and jobs. Politicians seem to believe jobs are a ‘given’, even though globalized trade, outsourcing and growing advances in technology continue to reduce jobs in Ontario and elsewhere. Through the wonders of technology, jobs and plants are more ‘portable’ now. Jobs are not guaranteed in the private sector.
The Ministry of Natural Resources assessed Ontario’s aggregate requirements between 2010 and 2030 to be an average of 186-million tonnes per year, and 98% of it was supposed to come from within Ontario, according to the State of the Aggregate Resource in Ontario Study (SAROS). By 2017, that figure was updated to 192-MILLION TONNES per year at https://files.ontario.ca/rds-supplyanddemandexecutive_summary.pdf
This type of information is NOT conveyed to the public. Instead, public display boards have mentioned how important it is for aggregates to be mined ‘close to markets’ (with 98% extracted from the Niagara Escarpment and Oak Ridges Moraine) so transportation costs and dust could be minimized. The SAROS erred in claiming aggregates were ‘produced’; aggregates are extracted and processed. When they are gone, they are GONE. Follow-up rehabilitation efforts (if done at all) are costly and never restore the original ecosystem. Land surfaces, groundwater, fisheries and natural terrestrial systems around worked-out quarries are irreversibly impacted and degraded.
Too frequently, aggregate extraction and agriculture compete for the same lands to serve the growing appetites of the population whose size is mandated to grow constantly according to federal government policies. A prime example of this competition was provided when a Boston-based company proposed the Melancthon Mega-Quarry after acquiring farmlands for a large potato growing and processing operation that turned out to be a façade to assemble lands for this quarry. The Boston company had established a numbered company in Nova Scotia in order to have a ‘Canadian presence’ to gain access to the amabel dolostone bedrock under Melancthon’s Class 1 highly productive and prized Honeywood soils. That gambit might have succeeded if local farmers and First Nations had NOT noticed the arrival of archeologists to review the site in advance of mining. Those people knew that archeologists are only required to review a site before the lands are massively altered by development or mining.
Amazingly, Ontario’s former Liberal government claimed there was NO requirement for a provincial review of this proposed quarry on Class 1 agricultural land, until growing public protests showed the error inherent in high-handed political complacency. Let’s remember that only 12 per cent of Ontario’s 89-million hectares of land is designated Class 1 to 3. Of the Class 1, most are concentrated in the south, where they overlap with the appropriate climatic conditions. Almost all of the Greater Toronto Area has been built on former Class 1 agricultural land. How can politicians say it is IMPORTANT for aggregates to be mined close to market, and NOT realize it is imperative for fresh and nutritious foods to be grown close to markets?
Recently while pleading for Ontario to recognize the importance of AGRI-BUSINESS beyond bull-dozing farmland for even more subdivisions, Keith Currie, President of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture wrote: “A mere 5% of Ontario’s land base is currently capable of supporting agricultural production. Between 2011 and 2016, Ontario lost 319,700 acres of agricultural land, or the equivalent of 175 acres/day over that five-year period. Going back to the 1996 census, Ontario has lost 1.5 million acres of agricultural land.Agricultural land not only provides us with safe, affordable food, but also provides a range of ecological and environmental services that benefit all Ontarians.”
Mr. Currie called the current pattern of sprawling development unsustainable and said, “OFA would welcome the adoption of fixed, permanent urban boundaries to contain urban sprawl.”
In a separate letter, Mr. Currie wrote: “As Ontarians, our land use planning policies and processes have developed over time. Lands and features we once viewed as having little to no value, such as agricultural land, wetlands or woodlands, we now recognize and protect for their intrinsic worth. “
If politicians believe that agricultural products can always be imported, then I would remind them to look at California’s ongoing problems with drought. There is a reason why foreign investors have been buying up farmland in Saskatchewan and Ontario – they know the world needs food. It’s the same reason a foreign consortium gained control of Canada’s former Wheat Board. There should be restrictions on foreign ownership of domestic lands. Ontario has been buying a lot of fruit and vegetables from California, but the situation has begun to change drastically, imposing rising costs.
‘Shorter supply lines’ are always a good idea, especially when they employ Canadian farmers. Instead of allowing foreign companies to buy up precious farmland, OR rezoning agricultural lands to residential use, why aren’t provinces like Ontario protecting and ‘grandfathering’ MORE farmland? Food has become an important exportable ‘commodity’, and none of us can live without it. Let’s grow our OWN food.
Ontario also has a growing (though not new) problem with dumping related to new developments. If it’s not refuse from building sites, it is the soil being extracted for all those basements. In 2015, The Ontario Soil Regulation Task Force once explained how the amount of refuse from building sites in Ontario equals a mound measuring one square kilometre to a height of 25 metres every year. What’s in it and where is it going? Apparently,the provincial government doesn’t really want to know. Aggregates come from ‘somewhere’, and refuse is going ‘somewhere’ to be dumped, probably in a somewhat ‘remote’ natural area. Where is the PROVINCIAL monitoring? Until this problem is solved, the government of Ontario should place its growth plan and policies on hold. For Canada and Ontario, growth for the sake of growth has become the equivalent of a gambling addiction where the consequences of the habit are never considered by the gambler.
Let’s not forget that, in June 2018, the province reported that it would need an additional SIXTEEN new or expanded landfills within the next 20 years to ‘sustain’ growth (no matter HOW unsustainable!) . See http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/waste-garbage-election-ontario-1.4… Municipalities have NO say over where those dumps may be situated, but farmland within 200 kms of Toronto is being surveyed for this purpose, so these 'targets' are within the Greater Golden Horseshoe and the Greenbelt. While municipalities have their own recycling programs, they have NO control over the industrial commercial and institutional waste that ends up in those dumps, forming the vast majority of waste materials to the tune of 75% of the landfill.
However the Ontario government views the Greater Golden Horseshoe and the Greenbelt, it MUST realize the area is NOT growing, though it is under ever increasing human pressure. What it needs are more pressure relief valves, not simply more and more pressure.
Submitted February 4, 2019 5:09 PM