Making the Greenbelt Bigger…A Lot Bigger

April 23, 2021 | Suzanne Armstrong

Making the Greenbelt Bigger…A Lot Bigger

The Ontario government recently conducted a consultation on “Growing the Size of the Greenbelt.” This proposal included considerations for adding a large area along the Paris Galt Moraine, as well as more urban river valleys.

The CFFO strongly supports the Greenbelt and the permanent protection it provides. We were pleased that no land is being considered for removal from the Greenbelt through this consultation. However, adding small parcels to the Greenbelt, like the Paris Galt Moraine, will simply increase development pressure elsewhere.

The CFFO believes that Greenbelt protections need to be more broadly applied to be effective. As a result, we have requested that all prime agricultural areas across Ontario be added to the Greenbelt.

The CFFO strongly supports the Agriculture System model operating within both the Greenbelt Plan and A Place to Grow: Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe. As part of supporting the Agriculture System, OMAFRA has defined “prime agricultural areas” that are mapped within the Greater Golden Horseshoe. Prime agricultural areas are also designated in official plans across the province. These defined prime agricultural areas are where development should not occur.

The CFFO is concerned about protecting productive farmland across the province. Greenbelt policy protections, including fixed settlement boundaries, have proven to be effective at protecting farmland within the Greenbelt both from development and from speculative land purchasing. Unfortunately, land outside the Greenbelt has still been subjected to development pressure.

Ontario’s agri-food sector has proven to be resilient in economic downturns and agile in adjusting to significant changes and new opportunities. Agriculture and agri-food will be important in helping to rebuild our Ontario economy.

The consultation emphasized that any new additions to the Greenbelt need to connect to the existing Greenbelt. We recognize the importance of connectivity and that isolated islands of either farmland or greenspace are hard to protect. Pressures between the Greenbelt and surrounding areas also need to be considered. We recognize that agriculture functions not just as a land base, but as a whole agricultural system connected across the province.

There is significant prime agricultural land outside the current Greenbelt boundaries. This land is highly valuable as a source of food, as an economic driver and as a provider of environmental goods and services. It should be protected.

Ideally, farmland protections and urban boundaries would be strengthened across the province through the Provincial Policy Statement. However, with the passing of Bill 257, Supporting Broadband and Infrastructure Expansion Act, 2021, including Schedule 3, the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing has the power, through Minister’s Zoning Orders, to circumvent all land use planning policies in the province except within the Greenbelt Area. MZOs may be enacted in good faith now, but these changes to the law open the door for poor development decisions in the future.

Suzanne Armstrong is the Director of Policy & Research for the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario. The CFFO Commentary represents the opinions of the writer and does not necessarily represent CFFO policy. The CFFO Commentary is heard weekly on CFCO Chatham, CKXS Chatham, CKNX Wingham, and CHLP Listowel.