Doug Ford’s Attack on The Greenbelt Has Little to Do With Housing Affordability, Everything to Do With Cronyism

Despite widespread opposition from Ontario’s business community, municipalities, environmental organizations, and Indigenous groups, Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives (PCs) are forging ahead with their plan to develop sensitive lands in the Niagara Escarpment and Oak Ridges Moraine.

Having done away with protections for 7,400 acres of land, the PCs face an uphill battle justifying their move to the public. A safeguard for farmland, cultural heritage, and recreation, in addition to forests, wetlands, waterways, and other key ecosystems, the Greenbelt transcends the left-right paradigm to bring together a diverse coalition of supporters — including many that typically align with the Progressive Conservatives. 

The Greenbelt encompasses more than 810,000 hectares and provides the Greater Golden Horseshoe Area (GGHA) $3.2 billion annually in ecosystem services, most importantly water filtration, flood mitigation, and carbon sequestration. As the population of the GGHA is set to surpass 14 million by 2040, protecting the natural capital that keeps residents healthy is critically important.

The Greenbelt also functions as an integral part of Ontario’s agricultural system, protecting farmers’ commercial crops while supporting direct-to-market agri-food opportunities. Encroachment into this highly productive farmland — which is some of the best in all of Canada — will do little but make the province more susceptible to food insecurity and supply chain disruptions.

Ford’s PCs have pointed to Ontario’s worsening housing crisis and the federal government’s ambitious immigration targets as reasons for the Greenbelt attacks, but these arguments fail to hold up under scrutiny. After all, the PC’s hand-picked Housing Affordability Task Force made clear that there’s more than enough space in existing neighbourhoods and pre-zoned “greenfields” to accommodate Ontario’s growing population without the need for car-dependant, emission-heavy sprawl in the Greenbelt.

The PC’s justification is further undermined by the fact that only 50,000 homes are slated for construction in the recently-opened lands — a fraction of the 1.5 million homes the PCs are targeting over the next decade. 

If opening up the Greenbelt was truly about lowering housing costs — rather than rewarding party donors that stand to make millions from building high-income neighbourhoods — the PCs wouldn’t be pushing inefficient sprawl. And while Ford and Steve Clark, the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, have vehemently denied tipping developers off ahead of the decision, it’s obvious that this is not the case.

At a time when urban densification has become an economic and environmental imperative, there is simply no reason for the province to be forcing sprawl upon municipalities — especially when it comes at the cost of sensitive and protected land. Sprawling cities are prohibitively expensive to maintain, requiring either minimized public services or an increased tax burden. Neither of these options are attractive, yet the PCs seem hellbent on making Ontarians choose between them.

The Greenbelt is one of many reasons that Ontario is such a beautiful, healthy, and prosperous place to live, work, and raise a family. Its creation stands as one of the most significant provincial accomplishments — Liberal, Progressive Conservative, or New Democratic — over the past thirty years and is fiercely popular across all political factions, setting the stage for intense, prolonged resistance to the PC’s changes. 

Doug Ford would be wise to take a page from his earlier self and back off the Greenbelt, lest he exhaust his political capital while cementing a legacy of unadulterated cronyism.

Published by Brett Porter

Comms. guy with a passion for public policy and responsible corporate governance. Conservation advocate. Plant person.

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