ON Election 2018



- by Francesca Dobbyn

What lies beyond Toronto's borders? "Just farmer's fields," according to Doug Ford. The PC leader made the comment Feb. 12 as part of his private promise to developers that he'll "open a big chunk" of Greenbelt up to development if he wins the June 7th General Election.

It turns out Ford's plan for affordable housing will be at the expense of rural Ontario. It was bad enough that he pledged to force municipalities to open their books and find "efficiencies" in his efforts to slash 1% of our province's GDP in spending. Ford wants to make cuts, and it'll be at the expense of those who can least afford it--those outside of Toronto. You. Me. Our neighbours across Grey and Bruce, and the rest of rural southwestern Ontario.

It won't be his friends in big business footing the bill. No, Ford promises to give his friends a corporate tax cut.

Now we know he plans to expand the GTA sprawl into 7,284 km² of protected Southern Ontario green space, too, to make his developer friends happy.

Ontario's Greenbelt spans our own backyards in Bruce and Grey counties, via the Niagara Escarpment. According to a new report called Ontario's Good Fortune: Appreciating the Greenbelt's Natural Capita, the Greenbelt contributes $3.2 billion annually in ecosystem services to the region. In addition, the Greenbelt hosts recreational activities valued at $2.1 billion per year and provides $224M in flood protection for private property.

And yes, 43% of the land at stake is used for agricultural purposes. As of 2011, the Greenbelt accounted for 7% of Ontario's farmland and 11% of Ontario's farms. Fully 60% of Ontario's post-farm-gate employment in food processing and manufacturing is located within the region. For a relatively small share of the province's land base, the Greenbelt has a disproportionately large share of several important food crops, including 55% of Ontario's acreage in fruit production, 60% of our celery acreage, and 35% of our carrot and onion acreage. It's a mirepoix of crops.

One has to wonder, has Mr. Ford not eaten today? Does he even understand where Toronto's food supply comes from?

And as it turns out, Ford's attack on "farmer's fields" is a solution without a problem. In March of 2017, Rob Burton, Mayor of Oakville, lamented the lack of development on already-serviced lots in his municipality on Twitter, where he shared: "In Halton, where I live, we have 6,000 housing units permitted, serviced, and not being built." In fact, developers are snatching up available land and sitting on it, driving prices ever-higher in what Burton calls a 'cartel economy.' He told CBC, "The line that we're being asked to believe is that they need more serviced land in order to supply this voracious demand for housing. But we've given them serviced land they're sitting on."

Toronto's chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat tells us that 118,610 housing units have been approved and not yet built in Toronto. Basically, there's enough undeveloped land within the GTA region to continue building new housing until 2031.

The answer to Toronto's affordable housing issue is to build smaller, well-insulated, above standard housing, not sprawling suburban or condo farms for investors and the short-term rental market. Toronto needs to find its own "efficiencies" and leave the Greenbelt and its farmer's fields alone. Small communities and rural regions are tapped out.

One thing is for sure: Doug Ford's Progressive Conservatives certainly don't have the "little guy" or his best interests at heart. He promises to gut the services, jobs and now the very land that sustains us "little guys" outside of Toronto.

I think we should take him at his word, don't you?

Francesca Dobbyn is the Liberal Party of Ontario candidate in Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound

map from Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation





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