Ontario’s Greenbelt is over two million acres of continuous land including the Greater Golden Horseshoe surrounding the Greater Toronto Area, the Oak Ridges Moraine, Niagara Escarpment, and twenty-one urban river valleys and seven coastal wetlands surrounding Lake Ontario (Greenbelt Foundation, n.d.). Originally enacted in 2005, the Greenbelt Act was created to prevent urban sprawl and loss of rural farming land and communities, promote sustainable resource use, and maintain ecological and hydrological functions of the Greater Golden Horseshoe (Greenbelt Act, 2005). Since then, the Greenbelt Plan of 2017 incorporated the urban river valleys and wetlands that are now protected, and also placed greater emphasis on natural heritage, ecosystem services related to climate change, and partnership with First Nations and Métis communities (Greenbelt Plan, 2017).

Although, the Greenbelt Act itself is not without flaws, the inception of the Greenbelt Act has been a component of the Greater Toronto Area’s housing crisis (Curtis, 2014). It likely also caused the decrease in vacant farmland values of Greenbelt land close to urban areas (Deaton and Vyn, 2014), which would make sense considering the “not in my backyard” sentiment about some agricultural practices like manure application and pesticide spraying from residents who complain to the farmers. Most importantly, the capital of a farmer is in their assets, namely their land. Many farmers sell and purchase land to free up capital often for purchasing better land or retiring. The drop in land value within the Greenbelt negatively impacted many local communities that lost the opportunity to develop. This also greatly affected Greenbelt farmers hoping to eventually liquidate their assets to retire, considering the average Ontarian farmer is 56 years old (Green et al., 2015; Murray, 2011; Statistics Canada, 2021).

(Photo by: Sara B: Waterloo Region)

However, in November of 2022, the Ontario government announced its plans to open parts of the Greenbelt for development under the More Homes Built Faster Act by removing 7,400 acres from the Greenbelt, and adding 7,400 protected areas to the Urban River Valley and 2,000 acres to the Paris Galt Moraine Lands, totalling 9,400 acres added (More Homes Built Faster Act, 2022). Many other changes are included in this Act to expedite the process of residential development, and if the Greenbelt land is not developed by 2025, then it is to be returned to protected land (More Homes Built Faster Act, 2022). 

Despite protest from the majority of Ontarian’s, development is continuing. Some of the largest stakeholders in the Greenbelt’s future include developers, local communities, Indigenous peoples, and future generations. Of these, only shareholders, some of Ontario’s largest land developers, have been considered with the implementation of the Act. The regions of Halton and Hamilton were both set to be developed according to the provincial government, despite municipal decisions made last year in consultation with local residents in both of these areas to intensify development within city boundaries to retain their urban boundaries (Syed, 2022). The Toronto and Region Conservation Authority, Parks Canada, Ontario Nature, and many other environmental conservation organizations are also opposed to the loss of wetlands and provincially significant wildlife corridors (Ontario Nature Staff 2022; Sinibaldi 2022; TRCA 2022). Further, the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation released a statement declaring their opposition to the More Homes Built Faster Act, and that there was no prior consultation to the First Nation peoples of this Treaty Territory (Hristova, 2022). Clearly, these blatant disregards of involved peoples are contrary to what the Greenbelt’s enactment sought to achieve. 

The controversies surrounding the Greenbelt and its development are nuanced and differentially voiced between different stakeholders. Overall, the Greenbelt’s development is a crucial housing solution and retirement fund for a farmer at best, or indications of ulterior political agendas, loss of biodiversity and climate change mitigation at worst. Ultimately, each municipality and its peoples can do their best to fight for their situational issues. For example, the city of Hamilton has not developed the Greenbelt, despite Bill 23, and does not plan to as of this past March (Van Dongen, 2023). We can only hope that decisions made without the regards of stakeholders are minimized, and that people are open to discourse.

(Photo by: Jaime Gana)

Article References

[TRCA] Toronto and Region Conservation Authority. (2022, November 8). TRCA Responds to Planned Development of 50,000 New Homes on Protected Greenbelt Land. Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA). https://trca.ca/news/response-development-homes-protected-greenbelt-land/

Carter-Whitney, M. (2010). Ontario’s Greenbelt in an International Context. In Greenbelt (pp. 1–118). Canadian Institute for Environmental Law and Policy. https://www.greenbelt.ca/ontario_s_greenbelt_in_an_international_context2010

Curtis, T. (2014, November 21). Has Toronto’s Greenbelt done more harm than good? The Globe and Mail. https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/has-torontos-greenbelt-done-more-harm-than-good/article21689009/

Deaton, B. J., & Vyn, R. J. (2014). The Effect of Ontario’s Greenbelt on the Price of Vacant Farmland. Canadian Journal of Agricultural Economics/Revue Canadienne D’agroeconomie, 63(2), 185–208. https://doi.org/10.1111/cjag.12045

Green, K. P., Herzog, I., & Filipowicz, J. (2015, February 2). The collateral damage of Ontario’s greenbelt: op-ed. Fraser Institute; Waterloo Region Record, Guelph Mercury. https://www.fraserinstitute.org/article/collateral-damage-of-ontarios-greenbelt

Greenbelt Foundation. (n.d.). Learn. Greenbelt Foundation. https://www.greenbelt.ca/learn

Hristova, B. (2022, December 13). Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation says Ontario should repeal housing plan, leave Greenbelt alone. CBC. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/hamilton/first-nation-ontario-housing-bill-greenbelt-1.6684127

Kuruvilla, S. (2022, January 18). Greenbelt of Southern Ontario. EcoSpark Environmental Organization. https://ecospark-ecospark.hub.arcgis.com/apps/42f0d56ea8144fa7ac707e2176fca608/explore

Lafleur, S., & Filipowicz, J. (2022, November 21). Opinion: Like it or not, building houses on the Greenbelt is necessary. National Post. https://nationalpost.com/opinion/we-need-more-urban-sprawl-in-gta

McIntosh, E. (2022a, November 8). Everything you need to know about Doug Ford’s plan to cut into Ontario’s Greenbelt. The Narwhal; The Narwhal. https://thenarwhal.ca/ontario-greenbelt-plan-ford-housing/

McIntosh, E. (2022b, December 22). Head of Ontario species at risk agency resigns over changes to Greenbelt, conservation authorities. The Narwhal. https://thenarwhal.ca/ontario-species-at-risk-resignation/

Murray, C. (2011, August 19). How Ontario’s Greenbelt is failing farmers—and the local food movement. This Magazine. https://this.org/2011/08/19/greenbelt-farms/

Ontario Housing Affordability Task Force. (2022). Report of the Ontario Housing Affordability Task Force. In Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing (pp. 1–33). King’s Printer for Ontario. https://files.ontario.ca/mmah-housing-affordability-task-force-report-en-2022-02-07-v2.pdf

Ontario Nature Staff. (2022, November 30). Greenbelt Lands on the Chopping Block: What’s at Stake? Ontario Nature. https://ontarionature.org/greenbelt-lands-at-stake-blog/

Sinibaldi, J. (2022). PARK CANADA’S TECHNCIAL RESPONSE TO THE PROPOSED DEVELOPMENT OF GREENBELT. In Policy Commons (pp. 1–4). Environmental Defence. https://policycommons.net/artifacts/3332233/nov/4131091/

Statistics Canada. (2022). Canada’s 2021 Census of Agriculture: A story about the transformation of the agriculture industry and adaptiveness of Canadian farmers. Statistics Canada. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/220511/dq220511a-eng.htm

Syed, F. (2022, November 12). “Appeals are not allowed”: defying residents’ choice, Doug Ford orders Hamilton to allow sprawl. The Narwhal. https://thenarwhal.ca/ontario-housing-hamilton-halton/

The Greenbelt Council. (2022). Greenbelt Plan (2017). In Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing (pp. 1–98). King’s Printer for Ontario. https://www.ontario.ca/document/greenbelt-plan-2017

Van Dongen, M. (2023, March 7). The Hamilton Spectator. Thespec.ca; Hamilton Region. https://www.thespec.com/news/hamilton-region/2023/03/07/hamilton-does-not-need-to-build-homes-on-greenbelt-lands-report.html#:~:text=So%20far%2C%20no%20developer%20in%20Hamilton%20has%20publicly,a%20housing%20crisis.%20Skip%20Advertisement%20ARTICLE%20CONTINUES%20BELOW 

Yazdani, T., & Bond, M. (2023, January 17). CityNews. Toronto.citynews.ca; CityNews. https://toronto.citynews.ca/2023/01/13/ontario-greenbelt-indigenous-communities-consultation/

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