Paul's Internet Landfill/ 2018/ The Greenbelt is Dead

The Greenbelt is Dead

Sometimes I wish I had a bigger readership. This is one of those times. This entry might be one of the most important/alarming I have written all year, and next to nobody will read in.

In 2017, I predicted that the Ontario Greenbelt legislation would be severely curtailed when the Ontario PCs formed government. First Doug Ford told developers that he would open up the Greenbelt to developing (citing exactly the "affordable housing" argument I predicted), and then there was a backlash, and then Ford walked back that promise, saying "the people have spoken -- we won't touch the Greenbelt."

Then he won a majority government, and the PCs can do whatever they want. Sure enough, they are going to develop the Greenbelt, but they are doing so in an indirect way, via Bill 66, the so-called Restoring Ontario's Competitiveness Act. According to a good overview from TVO, the bill will allow municipalities to pass bylaws that override a bunch of environmental legislation, including the Clean Water Act, the Places to Grow Act and the Greenbelt Act. It is a clever trick, because the Ontario government is not destroying the Greenbelt itself; it is giving the local municipalities the right to do so instead. In principle these bylaws need to be approved by the Ontario government, but my suspicion is that not a single one will be challenged.

Also in principle these bylaws are supposed to pertain to commercial and industrial developments, not residential ones (as if paving the Greenbelt with factories is so much better than paving it with subdivisions). But this is nonsense. There is no way that developers will not use this opportunity to develop whatever they want. Ontario is "open for business," after all.

Maybe municipalities will take a strong stand against developing the Greenbelt? Not a chance. The developers are too strong, and the demand for development in the GTA is too strong. If you think that municipalities can stand up to those pressures, maybe you should listen to this CANADALAND Commons episode, which illustrates what happened to Caledon's mayor when she ticked off a developer. (Oh, but that was just a bad apple, you say. No other developer would apply that kind of pressure to a municipality, right? Right?)

The Ford government has a majority. It can do whatever it wants, and it feels nothing but contempt for the aesthetes and hippies who want to preserve Ontario farmland. Maybe if farmers and rural people who lived in PC ridings staged a revolt it would make a difference, but I highly doubt they will. They stand to profit handsomely from land speculation. I am glad that the Waterloo Federation of Agriculture is taking a position against the legislation, but I don't know the degree to which they actually represent the interests of rural residents.

Locally I hope that Waterloo Regional government will stand strong for the Countryside Line, but I have my doubts about that too.

I have zero illusions that we can do anything effective to stop this. This is not a pocketbook issue, and we are not a powerful demographic. But let's tilt at windmills anyways. Here is what you can do:

People often mistake me for a single-issue voter. I probably am a single-issue voter, but the issue I care about isn't electoral reform. It is true that electoral reform got us into this mess (hello "majority" governments) but at heart I am still a bleeding-heart environmentalist, and preserving some of the world's most productive agricultural land from urban sprawl is one of the issues closest to my heart. I care a lot about the Countryside Line in Waterloo Region and I care a lot about the Greenbelt. It breaks my heart that we can develop these lands permanently on the whims of a government, and unlike a lot of other policy lurch we do not get to undo the changes when the next government wins power.