GUELPH — The Government of Ontario’s removal of 7,400 acres from the Greenbelt was unnecessary, biased, subjective, and ill-informed, according to the Auditor General’s recently-released “Special Report on Changes to the Greenbelt.”
The National Farmers Union – Ontario (NFU-O) demands that the Government of Ontario reverse its unconscionable decision to remove sensitive agricultural and natural heritage land from the Greenbelt.
As the Auditor General’s report makes clear, environmental and agricultural risks were deliberately removed from consideration prior to approving the 15 distinct land sites for removal from the Greenbelt.
According to the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA), over 83% of this land is Class 1-3 prime agricultural land, 11 of the 15 land sites are within sensitive natural heritage systems, and three sites are within specialty crop areas which rely on unique and scarce soil and climate conditions.
The removal of just three sites, making up 91% of the Greenbelt land lost, “will lead to significant adverse impacts on agriculture given their large size, existing agricultural uses and connectedness to the surrounding agriculture,” informed OMAFRA to the Auditor General.
Instead of consulting with OMAFRA, land planning experts, Indigenous communities, and farmers, the decision to remove these Greenbelt lands was based solely on the lobbying efforts of a handful of developers who stand to net at least an $8.3 billion payoff. In contrast, the over 35,000 comments from Ontarians in opposition to the removal of Greenbelt lands received during the consultation period were ignored.
The NFU-O agrees with the Auditor General, the government’s own Housing Affordability Task Force, and numerous other experts that this developer land grab has nothing to do with the housing affordability crisis. There is sufficient urban land to meet the government’s target of 1.5 million homes without gifting developers with our precious and finite farmland. As land use planners and municipalities shared with the Auditor General, it will be far more expensive to taxpayers to service any housing development on these lands compared with new housing projects within existing urban boundaries.
The Government admits that the process was hasty and flawed and, by “accepting in-principle” 14 of the 15 recommendations from the Auditor General, it promises to do better moving forward. Such weak promises are cold comfort for farmers and the general public who were depending on their government to uphold farmland and natural heritage protections. A recent poll found that 83% of Ontarians are opposed to development within the Greenbelt.
The one recommendation the Government says it will not entertain: re-visiting the removal of Greenbelt lands.
“Reversing the decision to open up the Greenbelt to development is the only way the Government can regain the trust of farmers and all Ontarians,” says Max Hansgen, NFU-O President.
In light of the Auditor General’s report, the NFU-O’s message to the Government is clear: Return the 7,400 acres unjustly and irresponsibly stolen from the Greenbelt.