Ontario planning Greenbelt expansion, would add moraine, urban rivers

·3 min read

TORONTO — Ontario said it plans to expand the province's Greenbelt by adding a moraine south of Toronto and a series of urban river lands to the protected zone.

Municipal Affairs Minister Steve Clark said Wednesday the proposed expansion will mean adding the Paris Galt Moraine, which runs approximately from Caledon to Brantford, to the Greenbelt.

The plan would also add lands around the Don River in Toronto and land around Duffins Creek in Ajax and Pickering to the protected area.

Clark said the government will immediately launch a 60-day consultation on its proposal, but will not consider requests to remove any lands from the protected area.

"We're looking to expand and further protect urban river valleys and increase the Greenbelt's footprint into high-density, urban areas," he said. "I want to be clear. We will not in any way entertain any proposals that will move lands in the Greenbelt, or open the Greenbelt lands to any kind of development."

Ontario created the Greenbelt in 2005 to protect agricultural and environmentally sensitive lands in the Greater Golden Horseshoe area from development.

The Progressive Conservative government's proposal earned praise from advocacy group Environmental Defence, which said when the plan is complete, it will limit sprawl and protect farmland, forests and drinking water.

It asked the government to also consider adding additional wetlands in Durham Region to the protected zone which are in danger of being developed.

"Adding such lands to the Greenbelt will increase farmland and nature protection and reduce land speculation in these areas," the group said in a statement.

Green party Leader Mike Schreiner was critical of the announcement, saying the government is using it as cover for its record of "environmental destruction."

He said if the government is serious about protecting the Greenbelt, it would cancel a planned highway — Highway 413 — through part of the zone.

The government should also restore powers it has recently taken from conservation authorities, he added.

"This feels like an effort in distraction and just cover up the agenda the Ford government has brought forward in destroying many environmental protections," he said.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said she doesn't believe the government will deliver on its plan, and pledged that if she becomes premier in 2022, she will stop work on Highway 413.

"We should be investing in public transit," she said. "We should be investing in mass transit. We should be finding ways to save farmland, to support farmers and rural communities. Not to run a highway through them."

Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca said in a statement Wednesday his party also would not proceed with the highway if elected in 2022.

"It has become even more clear that this proposed highway would have a catastrophic impact on the Greenbelt, prime agricultural land and our natural habitat," he said. "(We) would instead invest the billions of dollars earmarked for it in regional transit priorities.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 17, 2021.

Shawn Jeffords, The Canadian Press