Ontario’s Provincial Land Use Policy: Who Wins?

October 25, 2019 | Brenda Dyack

Ontario’s Provincial Land Use Policy: Who Wins?

This week, CFFO submitted comments on government-proposed changes to Ontario’s Provincial Policy Statement (PPS). The Provincial Policy Statement directs municipal land use planning and guides municipal land development for all of Ontario. It was last updated in 2014.

This new review suggests a marked shift in priority when it comes to land use planning. Expanding housing supply and development are top of mind for 2019.

Fortunately, the draft policy does recognize that the agricultural system promotes economic prosperity. The policy recommends agricultural impact assessments and commits to “protecting agricultural resources, minimizing land use conflicts, providing opportunities to support local food, and maintaining and improving the agri-food network.”

There are several changes in the nitty gritty of implementing the PPS, however, that make us wonder how these goals can actually be accomplished. Reading between the lines, we see the agricultural system being given a back seat. Development and aggregate operations are the focus and take top priority over and above prime farmland and natural heritage preservation.

In our recommendations to government, CFFO focused on the proposed changes that could have a direct impact on farmland preservation.

For example, CFFO cautioned against the recently reduced development intensification and density rates, as well as PPS changes to allow expansion of municipal borders outside of a municipal comprehensive review. We reminded government that farmland is a fixed—and increasingly valuable—resource. We are concerned that farmland could be paved over or aggregate resources mined without limit, thanks to subtle shifts in the PPS. For example, in too many instances what municipalities had been told they must or Shall do, have been watered down to merely what they should do in this new version. And we know where ambiguous language gets us.

We believe problems will arise when municipalities comply with PPS direction and must scramble to deal with limitless population growth. With no mechanism that enables municipalities to coordinate development plans with their neighbours, there should be no surprise when land grabs eat up the  valuable agricultural and natural heritage lands between communities.

Government has the duty of care here. The government decides how to steward all Ontario’s natural resources for the benefit of us all. Only the provincial government has the power and legislative authority to preserve our remaining stock of farmland. After all, this is the foundation of our food security. Therefore, we are urging government to consider carefully the long-term implications of such an important land use policy as the PPS. Can they develop a policy that better balances all provincial goals? We’re counting on our provincial government to do the right thing for Ontario.

Brenda Dyack is Executive Director/Acting Director of Research & Policy 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, and CKNX Wingham.