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LETTER: Province not listening to experts about Bill 23

'Damage to the Greenbelt is on you, MPP Dunlop, and you, Premier Ford,' says letter writer
Protesters take their demonstration to downtown Midland to get support from drivers to end Bill 23 in this file photo.

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I was recently treated to two communications from Jill Dunlop, MPP for Simcoe North. One was her letter to her constituents in MidlandToday while the other was a full page explaining the need for Bill 23 in Orillia Today.

For all the words in the two missives, they both mostly ignore the major objection being heard across Ontario about this legislation and its effect. That message, quite simply, is “leave the Greenbelt alone.”

One of Dunlop’s notes refers to the study by “the province’s Housing Affordability Task Force” and she cites a number of its recommendations. Interestingly, none of the eight actions that the writer bullets on the page mention incursions into the Greenbelt.

It may be significant that, in spite of the provincial outcry against the government’s proposal, Dunlop only mentions it as a “myth” that “Bill 23 is getting rid of the Greenbelt.”

This characterization of the objection being made to the government’s actions does two things: First, it misrepresents what critics are saying. What people are saying is that the proposed changes to the Greenbelt are the thin edge of the wedge and could lead to further erosion of the Greenbelt’s integrity. Secondly, they point out that it breaks the premier’s (and his party’s) 2018 promise to “leave the Greenbelt alone” — the clear beneficiaries of that broken promise being the developers who have bought Greenbelt property over the past few years.

The threat to the Greenbelt was not ignored by the report Dunlop cites. The Housing Affordability Task Force report does not spend a lot of time talking about either Greenbelt lands or the farmlands that exist in southern Ontario. Why? Simply because the writers of the report are quite clear in the following message:

(A) shortage of land isn’t the cause of the problem. Land is available, both inside the existing built-up areas and on undeveloped land outside greenbelts.… We need to make better use of land. (p. 10)

… More growth is pushing past urban boundaries and turning farmland into housing. Undeveloped land inside and outside existing municipal boundaries must be part of the solution, particularly in northern and rural communities, but isn’t nearly enough on its own. Most of the solution must come from densification …

At this point the language and the message is very specific:

Greenbelts and other environmentally sensitive areas must be protected (note the word “must”), and farms provide food and food security. Relying too heavily on undeveloped land would whittle away too much of the already small share of land devoted to agriculture. (p. 10)

Did Premier Ford and MPP Jill Dunlop not read the whole report? It’s not very long — 26 pages, plus appendices. Perhaps they just read certain pages and skipped the above passages.

In the report — a report commissioned by this government — the writers make it very clear that incursions into the Greenbelt by developers are not part of their recommendations. They make it clear that the problem is land use — not the availability of land.

One more thing. I hope Premier Ford will speak to Ontario developers about the observations below by the writers of this report:

Land is not being used efficiently across Ontario. In too many neighbourhoods, municipal rules only allow single-family homes — not even a granny suite…. New housing on undeveloped land should also be higher density than traditional suburbs, especially close to highways. (p. 4)

And this:

Too much land inside cities is tied up by outdated rules. For example, it’s estimated that 70 per cent of land zoned for housing in Toronto is restricted to single-detached or semi-detached homes…. In some suburbs around Toronto, single unit zoning dominates residential land use, even close to GO Transit stations and major highways. (p. 10)

Isn’t it time for the Ontario government to ask developers to build the housing that the province needs — rental units, starter homes, and smaller homes for seniors that wish to downsize? Would Greenbelt development even add the kind of housing the province really needs?

For MPP Dunlop and the premier to use this report as justification for removing certain pieces of the Greenbelt (yes, I know: They’re “swapping” land, not “removing” it) is simply an attempt to try to make it look like they are just following the advice of the experts.

Nope. It doesn’t fly. Damage to the Greenbelt is on you, MPP Dunlop, and you, Premier Ford.

But there’s still time. Cancel the plan to allow development within the Greenbelt — and do it right now. It would be a great Christmas present to Ontario and its future generations, those who will need the Greenbelt and Ontario’s farmland to maintain health and to raise families.

There are many important ideas in this report — but the idea to invade the Greenbelt is not found here. So, where did it come from, Premier Ford? From where, MPP Dunlop?

Fred Larsen