Coalition condemns Ford government's move to open Greenbelt lands for housing

The Greenbelt is a swath of protected wetland, forest and farmland that surround the GTHA, moving north to the Bruce Peninsula.  (Friends of the Greenbelt - image credit)
The Greenbelt is a swath of protected wetland, forest and farmland that surround the GTHA, moving north to the Bruce Peninsula. (Friends of the Greenbelt - image credit)

A coalition of groups including environmentalists, labour unions, farmers, housing advocates and others has issued a statement slamming the Ontario government's plans to open up sections of protected Greenbelt land for housing development.

The statement, which has been signed by more than 125 organizations and 100 people, alleges that the government's plan will not create more housing or improve affordability, but will instead "supercharge expensive and wasteful urban sprawl" while also undermining environmental protections and transferring money "from taxpayers to land speculators and developers."

"These proposed actions by the Province will not solve the housing and affordability crisis," said Geordie Dent, executive director of the Federation of Metro Tenants' Association, in a statement.

"Renters will have fewer protections. And people who are looking for housing they can afford in neighbourhoods they want to live in won't be any better off because of these proposed actions."

As recently as last year, provincial officials said they would not open Greenbelt lands for development. Premier Doug Ford reneged on that promise earlier this month, justifying the proposal by saying the province's housing crisis has worsened — and that it will become more dire now that the federal government has unveiled a plan to bring in half a million more immigrants a year.

"We have a housing crisis that we didn't have four years ago," Ford said at a news conference earlier this month. "We are going to make sure we get housing built."

In a statement Monday afternoon, Victoria Podbielski, press secretary for Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark, told CBC News that the province is "acting decisively" to fix the housing supply problems.

"We are considering every possible option to get more homes built faster so more Ontarians can find a home that meets their needs and budget," Podbielski said.

"The proposed changes to the Greenbelt would lead to the creation of at least 50,000 new homes, while leading to an overall expansion of the Greenbelt. This is particularly important given the population growth our province is expecting over the next decade especially when taking into account the new immigration targets set out by the federal government.

Proposal won't solve crisis: ex-Greenbelt council chair

The province's proposal, which was released earlier this month, aims to build homes on more than a dozen tracts of land now in the Greenbelt, while adding roughly 2,000 acres of protected land elsewhere. This is all part of the province's plan to build 1.5 million homes over the next decade to alleviate Ontario's severe housing shortage.

The government's proposal is drawing criticism from Opposition politicians and provincial groups alike.

"What it amounts to is a direct attack on the territory and integrity of the Greenbelt. If this continues … it will begin the unraveling of the Greenbelt," said David Crombie, who has served as both Toronto's mayor and the chair of the Provincial Greenbelt Council, in an interview.

Crombie said the plan won't help with the housing crisis, considering the government has shied away from intensification in already built-up areas.

"Do we need more housing? Yes we do. Our argument is that we need affordable housing — and what they have not done, is done those things that require [participation] in programs for the development of affordable housing."

Max Hansgen, president of the National Farmers Union for Ontario, echoed that sentiment in the coalition's statement Monday. He said the proposal to remove farmland from the Greenbelt will harm farmers and their capacity to supply the province with food.

"These proposed actions would also take away farmers' rights to appeal development decisions that could harm their land and farm businesses and would make it much easier for land speculators to turn irreplaceable farmland into unsustainable urban sprawl," he said.

A joint statement from the Ontario Home Builders' Association and Building Industry and Land Development Association, however, said the province's plan is needed.

"We are in the midst of a housing crisis. When the Greenbelt was created, its boundaries encompassed not just environmentally sensitive lands but also farmland and land that had previously been designated for growth for housing and employment spaces," the statement reads.

"The lands being removed from the Greenbelt are close to, and in some cases adjacent to, existing developments and servicing. The lands will be subject to strict timelines for building to commence, which will enable the timely addition of desperately needed additional supply.

A closer look

Here are the areas of land the Ford government wants to open up for development:

  • King Township: east of Dufferin Street, south of Miller's Sideroad and west of Bathurst Street.

  • Vaughan: north of Teston Road, east of Pine Valley Drive.

  • Richmond Hill: east of Leslie Street, north of Elgin Mills Road East and west of Highway 404.

  • Whitchurch-Stouffville: 11861 and 12045 McCowan Road.

  • Markham: 5474 19th Avenue.

  • 10325, 10378 and 10541 Highway 48.

  • 10379 Kennedy Road.

  • Pickering: West of West Duffins Creek, between Highway 407 and the CP Belleville rail line.

  • Ajax: 765 and 775 Kingston Road East.

  • Clarington: Northwest corner of Nash Road and Hancock Road.

  • Hamilton: South of Garner Road West, between Fiddlers Green Road and Shaver Road.

  • Hamilton: Between White Church Road East and Chippewa Road East, from Miles Road to Upper James Street.

  • Grimsby: Between the GO rail line and Main Street West, from Oakes Road North to Kelson Avenue North.

  • 502 Winston Road.

  • Hamilton: 331 and 339 Fifty Road.

Here is the Ontario government's full proposal to cut Greenbelt land and open it for development: