Ten year review process must be overhauled to repair damage caused by Greenbelt scandal

Toronto | Traditional territories of the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishinaabeg, the Haudenosaunee, and the Wendat – Nineteen of Ontario’s leading environmental and farm organizations are calling for significant changes to the Greenbelt Statute Law Amendment Act, 2023 – legislation introduced by the Ontario government last month in hopes of beginning to extract itself from the Greenbelt scandal.

In its current form, the draft legislation would restore Greenbelt protection to the fifteen key areas of farmland and natural heritage the government stripped of protection in December 2022. However, the group of organizations, which include Environmental Defence, the National Farmers Union and the Grand River Environmental Alliance, have warned the government that the changes proposed fall far short of making good on Premier Doug Ford’s September 21st promise that Ontario will never again remove land from the Greenbelt.

The proper functioning of the Greenbelt requires that farmers, landowners and prospective investors have virtual certainty that lands which currently enjoy Greenbelt protection will never be available for residential, commercial or industrial development or related infrastructure. According to organization signees, the damage the government’s actions and statements have done to that protection “cannot be repaired simply by restoring Greenbelt, Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Act, and Niagara Escarpment Protection Act protections to the affected lands themselves”, even if that protection is enshrined in statute.

In order to fix the damage, they have asked for amendments that would:

  • Expressly prohibit consideration of Greenbelt removals as part of the 10-year Greenbelt Plan reviews provided for under the Greenbelt Act.
  • Prohibit the Minister from recommending removal of Greenbelt land as a result of 10-year Greenbelt Plan reviews.
  • Close loopholes that have been exploited to allow new uses, like major new highways, to destroy the environmental or agricultural values of Greenbelt lands.
  • Continuously expand the Greenbelt to prevent GTHA sprawl from “leapfrogging” into land beyond its current boundaries.
  • Ensure that new statutory protection for current Greenbelt lands are not undermined by having to reopen the Greenbelt Act, 2003 every time new land is added.

Phil Pothen, Program Manager, Ontario Environment at Environmental Defence, said:

“Premier Ford promised, in his apology this September, that Ontario would never again remove land from the Greenbelt. However, Minister Callandra’s subsequent comments about the 10-year Greenbelt Plan review have reopened the wound. In order to close the loopholes that the government’s own actions have revealed, and restore the certainty that Greenbelt protection is permanent, that permanence must be stated much more clearly in the Greenbelt Act and built into all its processes.”

Kevin Thomason, Vice-Chair of the Grand River Environmental Network, said: 

“It is so important that the provincial government listens to the concerns of its citizens and expert groups that have been advocating for these stronger protections and important improvements to the Greenbelt legislation. Premier Doug Ford promised to fix things and it needs to be fixed better than what they are attempting. Not only does it need to be fixed but there are also improvements such as strengthening and expanding the Greenbelt that they know also needs to be done if our province is going to be successful in the future.”

Max Hansgen, President, National Farmers Union, said:

“Ontario Farmland is a finite resource; continuously and strategically expanding the Greenbelt and implementing protections for all farmland in Ontario will guarantee that future generations have secure access to local food. Ontario loses 319 acres of farmland per day. We simply can’t afford to lose more. Returning the 15 parcels of Greenbelt land is an important first step, but we encourage the government to work with farmers and conservation groups to expand the Greenbelt and farmland protections in the province.”

The full submission to the Ontario government is available here.

ABOUT ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENCE (environmentaldefence.ca): 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:

Carolyn Townend, Environmental Defence

Kevin Thomason, Grand River Environmental Alliance

Max Hansgen, National Farmers Union