Durham Region
Reka Szekely
AJAX — The mayor of Ajax wants to see the Greenbelt as one of the top issues during the next provincial election slated for this fall.
Mayor Steve Parish is co-chairman of Municipal Leaders for the Greenbelt, a group that recently fired off a letter to Ontario’s major political party leaders asking them to state their support for the Greenbelt.
“I want the strongest possible support from the government for the Greenbelt. I want to know, and I want all the electors to know, specifically what the various parties’ positions are,” said Mayor Parish.
About 1.8 million acres of Greenbelt lands ring the Greater Golden Horseshoe area of southern Ontario, which includes Durham and the GTA. In Durham, about 80 per cent of the Region is located in the Greenbelt. The Greenbelt is made up agricultural land, natural features and rural communities. It includes the Niagara Escarpment, the Oak Ridges Moraine and Rouge Park and was created in 2005 to curb urban sprawl.
The Greenbelt comes up for review in 2015 and Mayor Parish said the next elected provincial government will determine its fate.
He noted a recent survey by the Ontario Greenbelt Alliance which found that 70 per cent of Ontarians favoured strengthening the Greenbelt to protect green space and agricultural lands. Another 15 per cent supported lessening protections in order to promote economic development and 15 per cent of respondents weren’t sure.
The survey also found 53 per cent of respondents said a party’s position on the Greenbelt will influence their vote in the provincial election.
Mayor Parish said the Greenbelt is not a complicated issue for residents to grasp and likened it to other pocketbook issues such as jobs and commute times, which affect residents’ quality of life.
“The Greenbelt is very much that kind of issue, the more sprawl there is, the longer commute times are going to be,” he said, adding that the availability of locally grown food, clean air and water mean a healthy lifestyle for residents.
But he cautioned there are developer interests that would be better served by getting rid of parts of the Greenbelt and developing the land.
“Those interests, as I say, are influential and powerful. And I’m sure they’re lobbying the Liberal Party, the Progressive Conservative Party, everybody to make changes to the Greenbelt, but I don’t think it’s what people want,” he said.
With the review, Mayor Parish said he’s not opposed to land swaps in cases where it makes sense, which would see some land taken out of the Greenbelt with equal land added, but he opposed weakening the Greenbelt as a whole.
He also said there are economic incentives to maintain the Greenbelt, pointing to the importance of agribusiness as a piece of Durham’s economy.
“This is not just a tree-hugger issue, this is very much a core issue with respect to our quality of life in Ajax and Durham.”