Greenbelt: Drama Over Provincial Land Use Planning Will Persist

In an otherwise flawless election campaign, the Progressive Conservatives under Doug Ford made the questionable suggestion of weakening the Greenbelt. However, the looming threats to the Ontario Greenbelt masked a seldom discussed issue: provincial land use planning. Since its inception in 1969, the use of provincial land use planning as an instrument to protect wildlife was approached with caution. MPP Jim Bradley came to be one of the longest serving members of the provincial legislature due to his ambitions to put substance over partisanship. In fact, he was the only Liberal Party caucus member to oppose the dissolution of the Niagara Escarpment Act in 1977. 

Fragment of the Niagara escarpment green belt on sunny warm day. Photo taken on: September 28, 2014. 45362194 © Vitaldrum

Fragment of the Niagara escarpment green belt on sunny warm day.  Credit: ©Vitaldrum

At its core, provincial land use planning is a complex contest between politicians, public servants, developers, various public and private sector stakeholders, and, of course, environmentally concerned citizens and advocacy groups. In our opinion, it should be a high stakes event, more noteworthy than any televised program. Unfortunately, it suffers from low ratings encouraged by poor media coverage. With that being said, it’s important to recognize that it’s more than the attitudes of politicians and public servants that contribute to provincial land use planning. Above all, it’s everyday citizens who care about the earth that can have the largest impact in environmental policymaking. This cannot be better illustrated than in the case of the Oak Ridges Moraine Plan, passed during the Harris Government.

Environmental groups had previously attempted and failed to persuade the preceding NDP-run government to bring about similar legislation. In its first term the Harris government, amidst rolling back many of NDP’s planning reforms, was similarly apprehensive. Eventually, prevalent public mobilization caused it to embrace provincial land use planning. As a result, a ten year moratorium on any urban boundary expansions was imposed as part of the Oak Ridges Moraine Plan. Through Greenbelt initiatives over the years, Ontario Liberals led by Premier Dalton McGinty turned Harris’ 10-year Moraine freeze into a 14-year one. Unfortunately, recent changes in the legislation surrounding the Greenbelt has shown that ice is thawing.

Ford was able to propose weakening the Greenbelt legislature with such ease because it has, in reality, already been partially undermined. Apart from the Niagara Fruit Belt, Holland Marsh, and the Niagara Escarpment, most of what the Greenbelt Plan calls “protected countryside” is much less protected than before. Now, apart from the aforementioned areas and what are termed “specialty croplands” or “natural heritage areas”, urban expansions are to be considered by upper and single tier municipalities as part of their normal five year reviews. This means that we need to be vigilant in monitoring municipal plans and oppose inappropriate urban expansion propositions. Sierra Club asks you, the people, to share the reins in the fight for a greener future - find out more about provincial land use planning here.

Flowerpot Island, Fathom Five National Marine Park, Bruce Peninsula, Ontario. 29037392 © Natalyalt

Flowerpot Island, Fathom Five National Marine Park, Bruce Peninsula, Ontario. © Natalyalt

Original article was written by Dr. John Bacher, Chair and Greenbelt Campaign leader at Sierra Club Ontario.

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