A Greenbelt sign near Pickering, Ontario in front of a cornfield.
Agricultural land of the Greenbelt near Pickering. Credit: Ken Nash / Flickr Credit: Ken Nash / Flickr

On June 29 Dufferin-Caledon Keep The Greenbelt Promise (DCKTGP) members hand delivered a letter to Progressive Conservative MPP Sylvia Jones requesting a meeting regarding the Ford government’s plans to open up the Greenbelt for development.

After seven weeks they were offered a meeting on September 1 the same day the RCMP announced they were taking over the investigation of the Greenbelt development. Jones’ office abruptly cancelled the meeting with DCKTGP.

“As our elected representative and a member of the government, Ms. Jones has an obligation of duty to meet with her constituents to discuss their concerns regardless of how controversial the issue,” Sharon Sommerville, a DCKTGP member, told rabble.ca via email.

“We are very disappointed that we are unable to meet with our elected representative to discuss an issue as critical as the well-being of Dufferin-Caledon communities,” she added.

The Greenbelt was created through provincial legislation in 2005 to prevent urban sprawl and development from destroying environmentally sensitive lands.

According to DCKTGP member LeeAnne McKenna,” The Greenbelt was created as a safeguard which requires us to address problems like the housing crisis, without destroying nature. This is the Greenbelt Promise.”

Ford and former Housing Minister Steve Clark publicly stated 18 times that they would not open the Greenbelt to development. Both reneged on this promise in the midst of a climate crisis when government should be creating policy to protect the planet and future generations.

The area of Dufferin-Caledon is a very environmentally sensitive area where the headwaters of three vital rivers emerge that eventually empty into Lake Erie, Georgian Bay and Lake Ontario.

These ecosystems along with the Niagara Escarpment, a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve, are exquisite examples of land worthy of protection. They include great swaths of farmland, marsh and forest as well as rugged outcroppings.

The Greenbelt was designed to erect barriers to unfettered urban sprawl, avoiding the atomization of these delicate ecosystems that impact wetlands, agricultural reserves and the biodiversity of fauna and flora.

The 810,000 hectares (2 million acres) that make up the Greenbelt has the added benefit of protecting urban areas to the south from flooding.

Sommerville maintains the impact on democratic rights is equally important.

“The efforts of so many of us in Dufferin-Caledon to protect these jewels are thwarted so cavalierly by the government at Queen’s Park. The now debilitated authority of Ontario’s 36 Conservation Authorities are amongst the early casualties of a government determined to open up the Greenbelt,” Sommerville said.

The Ford government is removing large tracts of land from the Greenbelt based on the unsupported idea that those lands are needed to build housing. Reality is, two million readily serviced plots already exist. 

This is quite simply a case of enriching the wealthy for their own personal gain. This is class war at its finest.

The Auditor General and the Integrity Commission have both issued reports that laid bare the truth. Despite these damning reports, the Ford government has shown no regret, apology, or intention to reverse the Greenbelt land grab. Ford’s loyalty remains with his cronies rather than with the people of Ontario.

McKenna wonders, “what else is up for sale, theft or destruction when our provincial government is run like a fiefdom manipulated by those with power and access?”

So, why do Ford and Jones hate Dufferin-Caledon so much?

Dufferin-Caledon is home to working farms as well as the people and families who make their living on the land. However, when land value exceeds the value of what the land produces, then we are at grave risk of paving over some of the finest Class 1 farmland in Canada according to Jon Bathmaker, another DCKTGP member.

“You can’t grow produce or husband anything on pavement. The communities and culture that produce much of what we eat will be gone. What will replace them,” Bathmaker asked.

Prime farmland is precious and finite. It supports families, communities and businesses. The value cannot be measured in simple dollars and cents.

Bathmaker maintains, “we have an obligation to future generations to provide a safe food supply, clean water, clean air and green space. You can’t do that by paving over paradise.”

According to a study co-authored by McMaster University economics professor, Atif Kubursi, Ontario has not reached its full farming potential nor is it producing enough food to be self-sustaining but it could.

Dollars and Sense: Opportunities to Strengthen Ontario’s Food System,” proves Ontario could ramp up farm profitability as well as improve health outcomes for consumers, while also reducing the carbon footprint of local produce.

According to the study, a 10 per cent reduction in imports of eight fruit and vegetable crops would result in an estimated 59 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions (12,249 tonnes) from transportation of these commodities

Agriculture in Ontario currently generates $11.5 billion annually. Farmers, along with their suppliers, spend $29.3 billion per year netting $4.4 billion in tax revenues for municipal, provincial and federal governments combined.

Improving Ontario’s food self-sufficiency would only grow these impressive numbers and create an additional 3,400 jobs across the province. This would help Ontario move towards sustainable food security and food sovereignty. But that won’t happen if developers pave over farmland.

Soil and carbon farming sequesters carbon. Digging up soil releases that carbon into the atmosphere. Building subdivisions requires archaeological excavation, grading of sites, digging of basements, moving the soil by trucks, paving over additional lands for roads and infrastructure. All of which releases large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere compounding the current climate emergency.

DCKTGP member Franca DeAnglis said, “The Greenbelt feeds our community and provides some protection from floods, heat and other destructive consequences of climate change.”

Re-zoning these lands for residential building also brings with it a lot of pavement, concrete, roads and hardscaping. That means less rain water and snow melt infiltrating the ground and increasing the risk of flooding especially with the increased extreme weather events Ontario has been experiencing.

The lack of water soaking into the ground means that water is not recharging the groundwater which impacts the watershed, aquifer and water quality and quantity. Progressive municipalities recognize that natural areas are as valuable, if not more so, than trying to engineer solutions to mitigate impacts on the natural environment.

“Ontario has some of the best Class A prime soil in Canada and the best farmland which is situate in the Greenbelt,” DCKTGP member Marci Lipman maintains. “With the stroke of a bush the Ford government plans to pave over this soil and this land to create housing. Housing that he says is affordable but there are many other places to build affordable housing in Ontario.”

Once precious Class A soil is gone it never comes back. That would make Ontarians dependent on imported foods that are subject to boarder closures, climate disasters and price gouging.

Gillian Northgrave believes, “the destruction of the Greenbelt would crush the soul of those Dufferin-Caledon residents who care about the environment. As a protected and protective area, it has both a powerful symbolic value and a practical one. It is both a vital habitat for wildlife fleeing the city and refuge for mankind living in the city. It is a promise that should not be broken.”

Dufferin-Caledon Keep Your Greenbelt Promise is holding a rally September 8, at 12:30 p.m. outside Sylvia Jones’ office at 180 Broadway Avenue, Orangeville, Ontario.

You can also email the Dufferin-Caledon MPP and Minister of Heath at  [email protected] or leave a phone message at  519-941-7751.

Doreen Nicoll

Doreen Nicoll is weary of the perpetual misinformation and skewed facts that continue to concentrate wealth, power and decision making in the hands of a few to the detriment of the many. As a freelance...