Greenbelt plans fail the environment, agriculture and future residents, says Scarborough Southwest MPP Begum

Riverdale Collegiate students protest plans to build on the Greenbelt during a rally in front of the school in December of 2022. Photo by Alan Shackleton.

By AMARACHI AMADIKE, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

As many Ontarians continue to rally against the provincial Progressive Conservative government of Premier Doug Ford and its plans to build homes on the Greenbelt, a study has recently been released suggesting development on the protected land is unnecessary.

Late last month, Environmental Defence, a Canadian environmental advocacy organization, released a report by Registered Professional Planner Kevin Eby which stated that Ontario has enough space to build two million new homes by 2031 without expanding urban boundaries into the Greenbelt.

This far exceeds the 1.5 million homes the Province’s More Homes Built Faster Act (Bill 23) aims to build over the next 10 years.

“This makes it evident there is no planning rationale for building on the Greenbelt or mandating sprawl development,” read a statement from Environmental Defence.

The Greenbelt is an environmentally protected zone in and around the Greater Toronto Area including wetlands and farm land.

Critics including Scarborough Southwest NDP MPP Doly Begum have been sounding the alarm that the rationale behind building inside the Greenbelt is to favour developers with ties to the provincial government.

“They’re going into the Greenbelt which is protected land that is important for the environment; agricultural lands that are important for food security,” said Begum. “Once you destroy that land, you can’t go back.”

The Ontario NDP, of which Begum is a Deputy Leader, has called on Ontario’s Integrity Commissioner to investigate a “stag-and-doe party” for Premier Ford’s daughter at which a number of developers attended and if it had any bearing on the provincial government’s decision to open up Greenbelt lands for residential housing to be built on.

A number of developers purchased lands on the protected area of the Greenbelt just weeks before the province revealed plans to add those particular areas to the list of lands being removed from the Greenbelt.

As of March 16, Ontario Integrity Commissioner J. David Wake said he was “pausing” the request by the NDP as it may “overlap” with another investigation.

Ford’s government has repeatedly suggested building 1.5 million homes in the next decade is a vital part of preparing for the expected influx of immigrants to the province in that time period, and is the motivation behind Bill 23.

However, Begum told Beach Metro Community News that the Ford government is neglecting the fact that newcomers will need not just homes, but communities in which to live.

“Are we building communities or are we just building buildings,” she said.

“Schooling, grocery stores, good transit. People are attracted to all of those things we need that are hubs for a community. So, you cannot just expect people to go and live in a place that is like a dessert for many of these things.”

Begum said that the results of such development shortcomings can be seen in her riding of Scarborough Southwest where the Toronto Disrict School Board has voiced concern about new developments in areas that don’t have local schools able to offer space to students moving in.

“If you look at different municipalities where we have areas that are zoned, when development takes place, you have to make sure that you prioritize this need for a community,” said Begum.

According to Eby’s report, the available development spaces are fairly distributed across all municipalities in the province, leaving equal opportunity for growth amongst these already established communities.

Furthermore, construction on the Greenbelt is expected to provide only 50,000 additional homes.

Also of concern, said Begum, is that environmental standards are being jeopardized by Bill 23 due to the freezing of Conservation Authority fees. This hinders those organizations ability to review environmental impacts of new developments on the Greenbelt.

Eby’s report stated that about 1.3 million units could be provided in existing “built-up areas” inside Greater Golden Horseshoe (GGH) municipalities. An additional 700,000 units could be developed on designated greenfield areas or rural lands.

“The housing crisis currently faced in Ontario relates to both supply and affordability,” said Eby in his report. “New housing having access to transit within the BUA (Built Up Area) has the potential to help resolve both these issues, particularly when considered in the context of the associated cost of transportation.”

Eby said that there is no indication this can be achieved by constructing more low-density dwellings in car-dependent greenfield areas.

In the report, Eby suggested the provincial government’s heavy reliance on the private sector to fix Ontario’s affordability crisis is a strategy bound for failure.

“That is not the business [developers] are in,” said Eby. “Ultimately, the affordable housing crisis will only be resolved through partnerships between the federal government, the province, municipalities, non-profits, co-operatives, charitable organizations and other agencies.”

Amarachi Amadike is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter for Beach Metro Community News. His reporting is funded by the Government of Canada through its Local Journalism Initiative.

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