Ontario just got 14,000 hectares of land to develop — so why does Doug Ford want the Greenbelt too?

The Greenbelt contributes $9.6 billion in GDP and supports more than 177,700 full-time jobs, according to a 2021 estimate by the Greenbelt Foundation. (Submitted by the Greenbelt Foundation - image credit)
The Greenbelt contributes $9.6 billion in GDP and supports more than 177,700 full-time jobs, according to a 2021 estimate by the Greenbelt Foundation. (Submitted by the Greenbelt Foundation - image credit)

On the same day the government of Premier Doug Ford said it wants to open up parts of Ontario's Greenbelt for housing construction, it also approved more than 14,000 hectares of land for urban development in municipalities in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area.

Put together, the newly approved urban land would be larger in size than Vancouver or Etobicoke.

Peel Region, York, and Halton all recently had their urban boundaries expanded as part of the municipalities' official plan updates, which required provincial approval. In Hamilton, the province recently ordered an expansion.

Asked why the government is proposing to open up the Greenbelt while it has thousands of hectares of new land for develop nearby, the office of Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark responded that the province is considering "every possible option to get more homes built faster."

In a statement, the minister's office said Ontario is experiencing a "housing supply crisis."

"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," the statement reads, referring to a pledge by the Ford government to add thousands of hectares of protected land in other areas.. 

"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." .

How much land do we need?

But even before expanding, some municipal leaders claimed they already had enough land to meet growth projections. With even more now available, some question why the government is targeting the environmentally sensitive Greenbelt.

"I feel sick about it, to tell you quite honestly," said Jane Fogal, a Halton Region councillor.

Submitted by Jane Fogal
Submitted by Jane Fogal

"Our planners told us that we had enough land. A 20-year supply is sitting there already approved. What it tells me is there is no excuse for opening the Greenbelt, absolutely none," Fogal said in an interview with CBC Toronto.

"To me it looks like planning by developers," she added.

Thousands of hectares for housing

The Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing would not provide the amount of newly approved urban land, but CBC Toronto obtained the numbers from the municipalities.

  • In Peel, 4,647 hectares of new urban land were added to the region.

  • In York Region, the urban area grew by 3,878 hectares.

  • Halton Region added 3,350 hectares for urban development.

  • Hamilton's urban boundary was expanded by 2,200 hectares.

Even more urban expansion is expected in other Greenbelt municipalities, including Durham Region, where planners estimate about 3,600 more hectares to open up based on recent staff reports.

Asked about the urban boundary expansion, Clark's office responded in a statement that the ministry "has the responsibility to ensure that these plans will maximize housing outcomes for all Ontarians. That is why, after careful review and consultation, the Minister took the necessary action to accommodate the significant growth the province is experiencing."

Greenbelt policy 'makes no sense,' Green leader says

Ontario Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner says he believes there is already enough land for urban growth within Golden Horseshoe-area municipalities, especially with the recent modifications made to official plans.

"It just makes no sense on so many levels," Schreiner said of the plan to develop parts of the Greenbelt.

"This land grab that Doug Ford is doing is really an opportunity for a handful of land speculators to turn millions into billions," he added in an interview with CBC Toronto.

"And we, the people of Ontario, are going to pay the cost for that in expensive sprawl development and the negative environmental consequences of paving over the nature that protects."

Evan Mitsui/CBC
Evan Mitsui/CBC

Ontario's Greenbelt was established in 2005, protecting more than two million acres of farmland and environmentally sensitive areas from development.

"It cleans our air, it helps us with our water, and it allows us to grow local food in this area," said Edward McDonnell, CEO of the Greenbelt Foundation, a charitable organization dedicated to protecting the Greenbelt.

He agrees that governments need to act on the housing supply crisis, but doesn't believe it should be done at the expense of the Greenbelt.

"In the context of climate change, we don't need less of the Greenbelt, we need more," McDonnell said in an interview.

"If we do this properly, we can have both: we can have the Greenbelt and everything it provides to Ontario, and we can find new housing solutions and work with development and other housing providers to increase supply."