Ontario is on the fast track to irreversible environmental ruin

Few, or very few, people would argue that anything good came out of the Corona Virus pandemic. But, well, forgive me if I show my optimistic side for a moment and say that one of the things the pandemic did was force us to look around us and see the everyday things and people in our lives from a different perspective. And you know what? Looking at things from a different perspective often proves to be enlightening.

For sure, the pandemic provided us with an opportunity to consider who our unsung heroes are that we count on every day. However, I know it surprised most of us when we realized the importance of not only our healthcare workers but a boatload of others, such as grocery store workers, delivery people, transport drivers and those in food processing, handling and distribution. I want to note, in particular, our farmers’ vital contribution. We remain forever indebted to farmers and farm workers.

This week I had the privilege of meeting with Manitoulin-North Shore Federation of Agriculture members. They requested a meeting to share some urgent concerns about the direction Premier Ford is taking this province, which will prove to be to the extreme detriment of the farming community. And if the farm community is aggrieved, the damage will quickly be felt by the rest of us who count on farmers to feed the world.

The OFA and many other agricultural federations and groups are extremely worried about Bill 97, the Helping Homebuyers, Protecting Tenants Act, 2023. The farmers are watching Bill 97 with bated breath as it is already in Committee in the legislature and will soon be presented for third and final reading and becoming law. So little time is left to get the government to amend the bill before the industry is permanently and irreversibly damaged. And if the farming industry suffers, so does our food supply and environment.

For decades there has been a noticeable trend for urbanites who want to relocate to more rural settings in agricultural communities. Developers purchase land and sell it to urbanites looking forward to picturesque, quieter natural surroundings. Unfortunately, the newcomers are sometimes not accustomed to the standard and necessary practices that farmers must follow, and disputes occur.

In addressing the need for housing development, the government is taking steps in the form of Bill 97. In effect, the government plans to permit subdividing entire farms into up to three sections on which homes can be built. Until now, there were rules to limit severing lots designated as farmland drastically. Bill 97 will change the Provincial Policy Statement and remove safeguards intended to protect agricultural land for the next generation of farmers. Therefore, if one of these new lots is turned into a residential property, it will limit a farmer’s ability to do their job. Necessary farm activities and structures will not be allowed to occur close to a personal dwelling. This makes it almost impossible for a farmer to operate his business where maybe he and his ancestors have lived and made a living feeding the world for generations.

Let’s face it, we all know that agricultural land is disappearing at an alarming rate. In fact, on June 18, 2022, CBC News reported that 2021 census data shows that already Ontario alone is losing 319 acres of farmland…DAILY! This is equivalent to losing one average family farm – EVERY DAY! Picture in your mind how much farmland we lose in a week, a month, …a year.

This is already unsustainable. And Bill 97 is going to exacerbate this growing trend.

Leaders of Ontario’s farming associations outlined in a joint statement on May 18, 2023, that “Ontario’s productive farmland is a scarce resource, making up less than five percent of all the land in the province. It is our unwavering position that agricultural production is the most valued and best use of this land.”

One must also remember that once arable, food-producing land is developed and paved over, it cannot be restored. That land is lost forever for agricultural use, even if the roads and structures are removed.

As I stated at the beginning, Ontarians have a burgeoning list of unsung heroes we count on daily. We owe them a vote of thanks and need to remember to acknowledge them. And I remind you to include Ontario farmers and farm workers in that list. Their success is to our benefit in every way. Yet, no matter how hard they work, their success and livelihood count on so many variable factors that are out of anyone’s control, including weather, pestilence, disease, transportation costs and market rates, to name but a few.

Ontario is on the fast  track to irreversible environmental ruin. All of us should be concerned. By way of example, Doug Ford was responsible for commissioning new gas-fired power plants and tearing up wind turbines. He is also creating what can be called a “pay-to-slay” system which developers can utilize when developing areas known to be habitats for endangered species. He is building unnecessary and unwanted highways and destroying the environmental protections of Ontario’s Greenbelt and wetlands. Premier Ford’s political agenda focuses almost solely on one thing – lining the pockets of his wealthy friends and supporters.

The people of Algoma-Manitoulin can be assured that their voices will be heard in Queen’s Park.

As always, please feel free to contact my office about these issues or any other provincial matters. You can reach my constituency office by email at my new address, [email protected] or by phone Toll-free at 1-800-831-1899.

Michael Mantha