News from the Park – Opportunity knocks only once

When I was in high school, I remember our teachers would put posters up to promote a positive atmosphere. Some were humorous, and some were words of wisdom. However, there is one that, to this day, stands out in my mind. It said, “Opportunity knocks only once, but temptation keeps hammering at the door, time after time.” I’ve read similar words of wisdom over the years, but this one has always hit home with me.

Currently, I am extremely concerned about Bill 23, the More Homes Built Faster Act, that the Ford Government is trying to pass. This bill is their attempt to tackle Ontario’s housing problems. There is no question that Ontario needs to resolve its housing crisis. We need more affordable housing for families, especially those of modest means. But the concern is HOW they want to fix the problems. If Bill 23 passes, Ontario’s Greenbelt lands will be forever lost. This when Ontario’s population is also growing by leaps and bounds, with no end in sight.

Greenbelts are lands set aside in Southern Ontario to protect our environment. In 2005 Ontario recognized the critical role of specific lands and locations in keeping drinking water naturally clean, preventing or reducing the damages caused by flooding and erosion, scrubbing our air clean, providing habitats for wildlife and preventing urban sprawl. People also need access to green space to help maintain both physical and mental health.

My priority as an MPP is to represent the needs and concerns of Northerners. So, why am I worried about the passage of Bill 23? The reason is that the reduction or loss of Greenbelts will directly impact us in the North. Northerners have reason to sit up and take notice of this bill.

Like the rest of Canada, Ontario has finally realized the benefits of buying locally-grown or produced foods. Eating local is a total win across the board for everyone. It cuts down on transportation costs and hydrocarbon production. It makes our local economy stronger and more stable. Eating local initiatives support farm families and provide employment here at home. It ensures we have access to a steady, reliable food supply. And best of all, locally grown food is fresher and tastes better. We know the Eat Local initiative is a success just by looking at the popularity and abundance of farmers’ markets across the province. “Good things grow in Ontario.”

Given the above, what is arguably of greatest concern is that the Ford Government’s scheme would allow developers to bulldoze and pave over 7,000 acres of farmland in the Greenbelt. And that is just the first wave. On top of this enormous loss of arable land, Ontarians don’t realize that the 7000-acre loss will be in addition to the 319.6 acres that Ontario already loses daily to development. If Ontario’s population continues to grow for years to come, as expected, we need more farmland, not less, to feed everyone. And once the land is bulldozed and developed, it is gone for eternity.

Greenbelts also help prevent flooding. The belts of land are strategically set aside because they absorb rainwater and melting snow and provide naturally flowing waterways during storms and severe weather. If we pave over such lands, building highways, parking lots and homes, precipitation is not absorbed, so it pools up and floods because it can’t get away fast enough in manmade drainage lines.

If Ontario sees increases in flooding, that will mean more payouts by insurance companies. Those payouts come from the pockets of all Ontarians who pay insurance premiums.

Since first elected in 2018, Doug Ford has been caught red-handed so many times, making promises to his wealthy developer friends to lay open acres of Greenbelt land to build on. Over and over again, he puts the profit interests of politically-connected developers and land speculators over the food security of Ontarians.

In 2018, Doug Ford was captured on video assuring a group of investors that he would open up the Greenbelt for them to develop, calling the land “just farm fields.”

In January 2019, Premier Ford tried again to punch holes in the Greenbelt using Bill 66, a massive deregulation bill in which he buried incentives for developers to pave over the Greenbelt.

In December 2020, the Ford Government stripped power from Conservation Authorities, gutting environmental protections. He took decision-making power out of the hands of experts who care about the land and the environment. So incensed were Greenbelt Council members that almost all resigned in protest, saying that the changes put the Greenbelt at risk. I’m sure Mr. Ford could not have been more pleased to see the watchdogs disappear.

In 2021 Premier Ford announced his plan to build a superhighway in Greenbelt areas, a project that would only reduce commuting time between 30 to 60 seconds.

Premier Ford has been saying for years he can simply replace land taken out of the Greenbelt by designating some other land as Greenbelt land. But this is not possible. Not all land is suitable or strategically located to be set aside for its Greenbelt capabilities.

We know Doug Ford never does the right thing until he gets caught. Unfortunately, it seems that he keeps falling into the temptation of trading favours with insiders, as happened in 2019, when he tried to cut a sweetheart deal to break up the Greenbelt with a developer whose family has given more than $100,000 to the Conservatives. And he does these things at the expense of the rest of Ontario.

Doug Ford is dragging us backward in the fight against climate change, and the costs of that are huge. The cost of cleaning up and rebuilding again and again after floodwaters recede is far greater than the cost of improving the province’s protection from flooding.

It is time that Ontarians across the province stand up to protect greenspace, local agriculture and food, a clean environment, and the physical and mental health for future generations to enjoy. This is why NDP Agriculture Critic, John Vanthof, has proposed Bill 27, the Protecting Agricultural Land Act, to ensure that existing farmland in the province is protected. If passed, the bill would prevent land prescribed for agricultural uses from being rezoned and the uses of the land from being changed unless it passes an Agricultural Impact Assessment.

Opportunity knocks only once. But it seems Doug Ford succumbs time after time to the temptation of opening the door to the constant hammering of his wealthy developer friends. And once it’s gone, it’s gone.

As always, please feel free to contact my office about these issues or any other provincial matters.

Mike Mantha

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