(Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press - image credit)
The Ontario government announced its plan Wednesday to expand the Greenbelt to include the Paris Galt Moraine as well as river lands in the GTA.
The Paris Galt Moraine is a glacial deposit of loose sediment and rock extending from Caledon to north of Paris, Ont. and Brantford and is home to critical groundwater resources.
"This is truly a unique opportunity to grow the Greenbelt and protect Ontario's environmental, groundwater and agricultural resources for future generations," Steve Clark, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing said.
The plan also calls for increasing the Greenbelt's footprint into high density urban areas including the areas around the Don River in Toronto and land around Duffins Creek in Ajax and Pickering.
The Greenbelt was created in 2005 by the Ontario Liberal government and is a permanently protected area of green space that surrounds the Golden Horseshoe area. Premier Doug Ford's government has said it won't allow any development there.
"Today I'm proud to announce our government is making good on that commitment," Clark said at a news conference.
"Our government together with all Ontarians is embarking on a once in a generation opportunity to protect some of the most ecologically important lands in our country. Today we are launching public consultations on growing the greenbelt."
Consultations will run for 60 days
The consultations will run for 60 days, and Clark said they could result in the largest expansion of the Greenbelt since its creation in 2005.
"We want to hear directly from Ontarians about how we can best protect more environmental, groundwater and agriculture resources from development," he said.
"This is truly a unique opportunity to preserve more of our farmlands, forests, wetlands and watersheds. But we need your help, that's why we launched the 60-day online consultation."
Mass resignations by Greenbelt Council members
The announcement comes just over two months after the chair — David Crombie — and six members of Ontario's Greenbelt Council stepped down to protest proposed government rules they say would gut environmental protections in the province.
Announcing his resignation in December, Crombie, a former Progressive Conservative federal cabinet minister and Toronto mayor, said it was in response to measures contained in an omnibus budget bill tabled the previous month by the provincial government.
The budget ostensibly focuses on helping the province bounce back from the ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic, although it contains measures on several other issues.
Crombie contends that Schedule 6 of the bill would strip power from local conservation authorities and expand ministerial authority on zoning and other potentially sensitive environmental issues.
Clark said he spoke to the remaining members of the Greenbelt Council Tuesday evening to let them know of the province's plan.
"This is a plan that doesn't take existing land out of the Greenbelt, it doesn't allow for land swaps, it doesn't change any of the policies that the previous government put into place when the Greenbelt was created in 2005," Clark said.
"It targets two areas that I think will provide very achievable results for us in our desire to grow the Greenbelt as a government."
The Greenbelt is a broad band of protected land that currently includes more than 800,000 hectares of land in the Greater Golden Horseshoe. It currently contains 21 urban river valleys and associated wetlands. These are the valleys of rivers that pass through cities or towns and act as urban gateways to the Greenbelt.
Greenbelt Foundation welcomes announcement
Meanwhile, the Greenbelt Foundation has welcomed today's announcement and says it looks forward to working with the government and key stakeholders to realize a vision of meaningful growth and enhancement that benefits Ontarians.
"By announcing its intention to expand the Greenbelt's protection of critical water systems in Ontario, the province has indicated an important path forward for extending and enhancing the unique benefits of the Greenbelt," CEO Edward McDonnell said.
"We welcome this discussion and look forward to finding ways to build on the Greenbelt's history of success."
According to McDonnell, especially in the context of COVID-19 and economic and social recovery, any growth of the Greenbelt will only improve the Greenbelt's overall contribution to the region's economy.
At present, the Greenbelt contributes $9.6 billion in GDP and supports more than 177,700 full-time jobs.
The foundation says that further investments in headwaters, urban river valleys, and other near-urban landscapes, will create more jobs and further reduce costs to communities related to the impacts of extreme weather, such as flooding and water contamination — both of which healthy, natural systems help prevent.