Statement from Phil Pothen, Ontario Environment Program Manager, Environmental Defence

Toronto | Traditional territories of the Huron-Wendat, the Anishnaabeg, Haudenosaunee, Chippewas and the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation – This afternoon the Ontario government announced that it intends to break its loudest, clearest election promise, by inflicting a fatal 7,400 acre wound on the vital and wildly popular Greenbelt.  

It is clear that this attack would end the critical role the Greenbelt plays to stop sprawl and protect farmland, forests, and the source of our drinking water, as well address climate change. The government should be ashamed and the people of Ontario should be outraged.  

Promises by the government to “swap” in 9,400 acres of land in other locations will do nothing to mitigate the damage to the Greenbelt system. That is in part because at least some areas being floated as replacements for bulldozed segments of the Greenbelt were already off limits for development – meaning those additions would not mitigate the net loss of protected lands. Even more importantly, the government’s plans would utterly destroy the certainty of permanent protection that is vital to the functioning of the Greenbelt as a whole. 

Stripping these 7,400 acres of protection at the request of land speculators would unleash a firestorm of land speculation across the entire Greenbelt – denying farmers the certainty they need to continue stewarding the forests, wetlands and soils on their land, and pushing ownership forever out of reach. It will also start a never-ending queue of Greenbelt land speculators at the Minister’s door, each with their own convenient rationalization for paving their own patch of Greenbelt.

The government’s attempt to rationalize this attack on the Greenbelt as a measure to deliver “more homes” is disingenuous. There is such a vast supply of unused “greenfield” land already open for development within existing municipal settlement boundaries (350 square kilometers as of 2019), that opening up Greenbelt lands will not deliver a single net new home. The latest round of boundary expansions would – if approved – add 17,000 hectares more of non-Greenbelt land to that vast stockpile. Far from boosting the number of new homes, because of a constrained supply of skilled labour, materials and equipment, it is likely this plan would result in fewer homes being delivered within the next decade. 

According to Bilal Akhtar, a prominent volunteer organizer with More Neighbours Toronto:

“This proposal would be a disaster for housing supply. Slashing open the Greenbelt, combined with Bill 23’s extreme watering down of promised measures to facilitate more homes in existing low-rise “single detached” neighborhoods, will mean LESS housing supply in the places where it is desperately needed – not more. The last thing we need is to squander labour, materials, and equipment that we need to add compact family homes in existing built up areas and settlement areas – and especially in Toronto– on greenfield sprawl in northern York Region and Pickering.” 

Removing land from the Greenbelt, taken together with the Ontario government’s Bill 23 attack on Conservation Authorities, the Growth Plan, the Planning Act, the Endangered Species Act and other important legislation, dismantles decades of slow progress toward protecting Ontario’s environment and creating more sustainable communities. These actions together repudiate the important and historic work of many previous governments, including those of Bill Davis and Mike Harris. 

More information about how land swaps would be the death of the Greenbelt is available here

ABOUT ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENCE ( Environmental Defence is a leading Canadian environmental advocacy organization that works with government, industry and individuals to defend clean water, a safe climate and healthy communities.

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For more information or to request an interview, please contact:

Allen Braude, Environmental Defence,