Brief: Ontario’s Greenbelt Has Officially Been Redrawn

7 400 Acres Have Been Officially Cut from Environmental Protection

By Philip Harker, Senior News & Campus Life Editor

On December 14 2022, the Government of Ontario published a new regulation under the Oak Ridges Moraine Act Conservation Act of 2001, formally removing five plots of land around Southern Ontario from protection in the Greenbelt.  

This act came after over a month of public consultations from the Government of Ontario. Despite nearly 40 000 submissions from individuals and organizations throughout Ontario, no changes were made to the proposal following the consultations. Development on the newly sold land is expected to start no later than 2025. 

Established in 2005, the Greenbelt comprises some 2 000 000 acres of farmland, parks, forests, and wetland. It was created to protect land of ecological significance, as well as to prevent urban sprawl from eating up Ontario’s countryside. 

The move to allow development on parts of the Greenbelt has been described by the Government of Ontario as a means to tackle Canada’s housing shortages. In a November 4th statement, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, Steve Clark, said the land could be developed into 50 000 homes. 

Critics have been outspoken about this. The Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) made a statement on November 8 that they had not been consulted by the Government of Ontario on this decision. 

“The irreplaceable value of the Greenbelt is well-established, for the vital ecosystem services it provides through the nature, water, and farmland it protects,” the statement reads. “TRCA, while not supportive of changes to reduce the size of the Greenbelt, is prepared to work with our partner municipalities and the Province to leverage our independent scientific advice to inform their review of Greenbelt sites being considered for removal within TRCA’s watersheds.” 

Minister Clark has addressed these concerns and has communicated that an additional 9 400 acres of land is being added elsewhere in the Golden Horseshoe region. This, in effect, would mean a net increase of 2 000 acres to the Greenbelt.

Though this does effectively mean more green space for Ontarians, this entire affair is a complete reversal of policy from Premier Doug Ford’s 2018 promise to leave the Greenbelt boundaries alone. In a May 1 2018 statement, weeks away from that year’s provincial election, Mr. Ford pledged to listen to voters’ desire to leave the land undeveloped: “I looked at it as making sure we have more affordable housing… The people have spoken. I’m going to listen to them, they don’t want me to touch the Greenbelt, we won’t touch the Greenbelt.”

In the midst of skyrocketing housing prices, it is easy to see why the Government of Ontario is interested in developing land into new homes as quickly as possible. However, this subversion of previous promises—as well as a 2022 investigation by The Globe and Mail revealing a connection between the developing companies and the Ford Government—raises eyebrows among conservationists, activists, and citizens alike.