When we think about February, we think of hearts, roses and all things love. Ninety per cent of Ontarians love the Greenbelt. It’s fitting that February, a month of love, is when we celebrate the Greenbelt’s birthday. And what better way to show the Greenbelt some love then by strengthening and protecting it?
At 1.8 million acres, Ontario’s Greenbelt is the largest protected Greenbelt in the world. It’s one of Ontario’s most groundbreaking pieces of environmental policy and has won international awards. The Greenbelt ensures that some of the best farmland left in Canada – capable of growing just about anything – remains farmland. It preserves some of Ontario’s most stunning natural features including the Niagara Escarpment and the Oak Ridge’s Moraine, which sit on the doorstep of Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA). The Greenbelt is also a climate superhero. Its green spaces stores carbon; its rich soils grow our food while its forest, wetlands and watersheds clean our air and water.
Back in 2005, the land that is now the Greenbelt was in trouble. Low-density sprawl was paving over precious environmentally sensitive features including rivers, streams, wetlands, forests and endangered species habitat. Gridlock seemed unbearable with no signs of letting up and no effective coordinated transit planning. Farmland was disappearing at an alarming rate, leading people to wonder if the local food supply would disappear. Citizens of the GTHA had enough and demanded the province act – and act it did. The political leadership of the day created a nexus of protected agricultural and natural lands under the Greenbelt Plan, while balancing the planning for the region’s expected population increase by requiring growth in appropriate areas and through smarter development patterns under the Growth Plan
Over the past 11 years, the Greenbelt has become a permanent fixture in Ontario’s landscape. It has grown in several communities and withstood pressures to remove lands from it in others. However, the Greenbelt still needs strong leadership to protect it from the threats it faces ranging from unnecessary highways, encroaching urban sprawl and the provincial Growth Plan not being implemented as it should be.
This year will be an important year in the Greenbelt’s history. In 2015, the province began the review of both the Greenbelt and Growth Plans for the Greater Golden Horseshoe region. As part of the review, a David Crombie-led panel delivered a report to government with 87 recommendations. While many of the recommendations are positive in recognizing the importance of the Greenbelt and the need for smarter growth, check out our report card to see how it really stacks up. It’s now up to the province to bring forward amendments to both plans to ensure they are stronger and more effective and keep protecting what Ontarians love. There’s no storybook ending just yet, but this year the province has a chance to write a memorable next chapter.
It’s time for Ontario to give the Greenbelt the birthday present it deserves – a bigger, brighter future, where Greenbelt boundaries are steadfast in the face of irresponsible requests to shrink it; where additional lands are added to protect more vulnerable water sources and key agricultural systems; where municipalities must follow Growth Plan targets so that smarter, sustainable and climate friendly communities will be built.
Happy Birthday Greenbelt, let’s hope this year is the best yet!
You can help ensure the Greenbelt has a happy birthday. Sign our petition and tell Ontario to strengthen the Greenbelt.