By AMARACHI AMADIKE, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Southwest Scarborough residents who were mobilizing earlier this week for a march against the Ontario government’s plans to open parts of the Greenbelt to development, and the many issues brought to light regarding that process in recent reports by the province Auditor General and Integrity Commissioner, will now be celebrating the reversal of the plan as announced by Premier Doug Ford late on the afternoon of Thursday, Sept. 21.
Now, community members will be joined on Saturday, Sept. 23, by environmental advocates such as Duffins Rouge Agricultural Preserve and the Scarborough Southwest Environmental Group, as well as Scarborough Southwest NDP MPP Doly Begum, in a march from the Gus Harris Trail in Scarborough to Dentonia Park in East York for a victory rally.
“The government’s decision to reverse the Greenbelt land swap is a significant win for all Ontarians who demanded better and held their government accountable,” said Begum, who is an NDP MPP.
The march, which was initially just a Scarborough event, evolved over time to a “community event that’s sort of city-wide” due to increased public interest. Begum told Beach Metro Community News that the high interest in the event speaks volumes about how Ontarians are feeling about the Progressive Conservative government of Premier Ford.
According to a recent Angus Reid poll, less than 28 percent of residents are satisfied with the provincial government. It is widely believed that this decline in popularity led to Ford’s decision yesterday to put all Greenbelt lands back under protection from development.
“These past months have been truly inspiring, and these collective efforts have shown what’s possible,” said Begum. “This Saturday I would like to take an opportunity to recognize everyone who made this achievement possible.”
Earlier this month, public pressure regarding the process in which some developers were able to get lands they owned removed from Greenbelt protection led to the resignation of the Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark.
And on Wednesday, Sept. 20, Minister of Public and Business Service Delivery Kaleed Rasheed resigned from his position following revelations that his account of a Las Vegas trip and his contact with a developer there during the Integrity Commissioner’s investigation was contradictory to actual events.
Begum views the resignation of a second minister as a result of the pressure applied by Ontarians who have voiced concerns about the apparent inner dealings associated with the decision to open some Greenbelt lands for development.
“My office received countless messages and calls from concerned constituents in Scarborough Southwest who opposed the government’s decision to open up the Greenbelt for development,” said Begum.
With the Auditor General’s report showing that 92 per cent of the 7,400 acres of land removed from the Greenbelt could be connected to three developers with affiliations to the housing ministry, it became the belief of many Ontarians that development on the land had little to do with the affordability crisis as stated by the government and more to do with personal gain.
Furthermore, individuals who were expected to gain more than $8 billion in land value from the approved Greenbelt deals were identified as large donors to the current provincial government.
Begum said that not only did Ontario’s government fail to address the affordability crisis with the land swaps, it would have instead increased food insecurity as building on agricultural land would have forced the province to “import more from outside (the province) which is going to increase the cost of groceries”.
According to Ontario’s agriculture ministry, an estimated 76 per cent of the land removed from the Greenbelt was utilized for farming in 2022. The ministry also said that 83 per cent of the impacted area was classified as “prime agricultural land” due to its recognition as having the highest quality farmland in the province.
The Greenbelt as it now exists also serves to protect wildlife, and the Auditor General’s report stated that fragmentation and loss of wildlife habitat –which includes already-at-risk species – could be expected as a result of the removal of Greenbelt land for development.
“Many wildlife species depend on intact, connected habitat to feed, reproduce and maintain genetic diversity,” stated the report. “However, development can break up previously connected habitat into smaller, more isolated fragments.”
Begum said protecting the Greenbelt is a cause that has become a priority for people across the province, not just those who live near the area which mostly surrounds Toronto.
“I truly believe in the power of the people,” said Begum. “The fact that we’ve seen a small community initiative turn into a much larger event with local support speaks to the volume of the strength of the people, the power of local organizing, and the power of people’s love for our Greenbelt and their commitment to protect the environment.”
Any resident who is interested in celebrating this “victory” by taking part in Saturday’s march is asked to meet at the parking lot near Gus Harris Trail at 11 a.m. The parking lot can be accessed by entering Warden Woods Park from Pharmacy Avenue, just north of Teesdale Place.
Attendees will then march south on Pharmacy Avenue towards Danforth Avenue. They will then march west along Danforth before turning north onto Thyra Avenue to head to the rally at Dentonia Park, 80 Thyra Ave.
— 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.