Hamilton city councillor Ted McMeekin speaks at Association of Municipalities of Ontario event in 2015.
Hamilton city councillor Ted McMeekin, then-provincial housing minister, speaking to Ontario municipalities in 2015. Credit: Ontario Municipal Affairs and Housing / Flickr Credit: Ontario Municipal Affairs and Housing / Flickr

The Ford government is following through with its plan to slash Greenbelt legislation and to greenlight housing projects on formerly protected land.

This is happening. Despite the fact that over 72 per cent of Ontarians think the Greenbelt is the single most important thing the previous Liberal government has accomplished, according to Hamilton Ward 15 Councillor Ted McMeekin. 

“This provincial government projects an air of arrogance, paternalism and authoritarianism that is quite novel and strange to the people of Ontario,” McMeekin said in an interview with rabble.ca.

He argues that the provincial government disrespects democratic values by reversing official plans for Greenbelt land. Official plans, McMeekin suggests, are essentially a snapshot of the community’s DNA. At their best, they reflect an expression of the hopes and dreams a community has for itself. 

McMeekin and several Hamilton councillors have said they are willing to stand between the bulldozers and the Greenbelt if Ford refuses to heed the will of the people.

Bad news for Hamilton’s coffers

In the fall of 2021, the City of Hamilton conducted a survey in which 90.4 per cent of respondents opposed expanding the established urban boundary. Later that year, council voted 13 to 3 not to sprawl onto the Greenbelt and surrounding farmlands. 

Council also voted not to assume the fiscal damage that urban sprawl inflicts on taxpayers. 

McMeekin described a study done in Ottawa, which showed that $411 in new revenue is generated for each new home developed using infill, because the infrastructure is already in place. The study also showed that every new urban sprawl home adds $991 per year, forever, to the tax bill. 

This means that reducing density requirements is bad news. The Ford government’s Bill 23, More Homes Built Faster Act (2022), has added to the burden of Hamilton taxpayers. Even if Hamilton doesn’t incur a single new cost of any kind, property taxes for 2024 will need to increase by 3.7 per cent. 

The water rate will also increase by 9.4 per cent because sprawl means having to build infrastructure and that cost was downloaded to municipal governments by Ford.

The Association of Municipalities of Ontario has indicated that Bill 23 reflects a $5 billion transfer of monies, that would be paid by developers to municipalities, back into the pockets of developers.

A threat to Ontario agriculture

Slashing Greenbelt protections also means sacrificing Ontario’s farmland. The agriculture and food industry is the largest single contributor to Ontario’s gross domestic product (GDP) and employs 814,000 people.

The Greenbelt Foundation’s 2015 report Dollars and Sense: Opportunities to Strengthen Ontario’s Food System details how Ontario could ramp up farm profitability while reducing the carbon footprint of local produce. 

The study found that agriculture in Ontario currently generates $11.5 billion annually. That means that farmers and their suppliers spend $29.3 billion a year which nets $4.4 billion in tax revenues for municipal, provincial and federal governments combined.

It also found that replacing just 10 per cent of Ontario’s top fruit and vegetable imports with locally sourced produce would create a multitude of benefits. 

It would create an additional 3,400 jobs while helping the province improve food sustainability, security, and sovereignty.

It could reduce transportation-driven CO2 emissions by 59 per cent, or 12,249 tonnes.

But these impressive goals can only be realized if cities don’t sprawl onto invaluable farmland and protected Greenbelt.

Building homes, on the other hand, releases vast amounts of carbon into the atmosphere through archaeological excavation, digging foundations, moving the soil by truck, paving lands for roads and infrastructure, and hardscaping around homes. That impact would be minimized by building within existing urban boundaries. 

Agricultural operations also require a land use buffer because homeowners don’t want to live next to growing crops, livestock barns and manure piles. This land use conflict is avoided, in part, by maintaining the Greenbelt.

Not a solution to the housing crisis

“The guise that this will somehow provide ‘affordable’ housing is misleading,” says Zoe Green, Co-Founder and Community Lead with Action 13. 

Over 20 per cent of Hamiltonians live below the poverty line. Forty-one per cent of those people are children under the age of 14. Yet, the Ford government is intent on building homes that will list for over $1 million each.

“The government has stated that housing built on these former Greenbelt lands will not be counted in the City’s housing goal. So, if the goal is not to provide housing, then why the Greenbelt grab?” Green added.

Green also noted that Greenbelt protections are critical for containing watersheds – “compounded impact of chipping away will increase the risk of flooding and downstream water quality issues, matters that the people of Hamilton are already all too familiar with,” she said.

McMeekin points to the fact that Ontario’s Big City Mayors issued a report documenting that 460,000 building permits have already been approved across the province. Yet, most of those permits are not being acted on due to unfavourable market conditions including high-interest rates, labour shortages, and supply chain problems. 

McMeekin says that scenario is mirrored within Hamilton. The city has already approved 38,000 building permits within city limits. Additionally, Green collaborated with a wide variety of community stakeholders to create a map showing where the remaining growth can be accommodated within the urban boundary. 

“It would be shameful if we didn’t speak up.”

Hamilton City Council has arranged public consultations in August. They invited Hamiltonians, Members of Provincial Parliament (MPPs), Members of Parliament (MPs), Provincial Facilitator Paula Dill, and developers.

Initially, McMeekin was determined to vote against holding the consultation until he realized that talking with a facilitator may be the only opportunity council has to speak with anybody whose listening in the provincial government. 

“If we walk away from that, what we’re going to have is an MZO [Ministry Zoning Order] world on steroids. The provincial government wouldn’t hesitate to come in and take over things in the City of Hamilton. And, I in good conscience, couldn’t allow that scenario to take place,” said McMeekin.

Hamilton has been stripped of any planning authority. That’s having a tremendously debilitating effect on the fiscal climate in the city. Hamilton’s current assessment ratio is 14 per cent industrial/commercial to 86 per cent residential. McMeekin would like to see that move closer to a 50:50 ratio to ease the burden on residential taxpayers.

The unequal tax split means that homes of equal value in Toronto and Hamilton pay vastly different property taxes. Toronto residents pay 38 per cent less because big business pays about 7.9 times more than the residential tax rate.

The city is looking at a potential 10 to 12 per cent tax increase next year. McMeekin says he’d like to see a target of 4 per cent. However, he says “if the property tax increase goes to 7.7 per cent because of what the provincial government does, I think we run full-page newspaper ads to tell everybody that.”

He added:

“It would be shameful if we didn’t speak up, if we weren’t the voice of the people. We were elected a new council with new hopes, visions, a real commitment to climate change, combating homelessness, and to being more engaged, transparent, and honest. The provincial government has really been an impediment to most of those aspirations.”

Multiple attempts were made to reach Housing Minister Steven Clark and his staff for comment. No response was received at the time of publication.

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...