Awash with tall trees and rolling hills, the Duffins Rouge Agricultural Preserve is one of the most ecologically sensitive areas in Ontario. A sprawling 4,700-acre piece of land east of Toronto, it’s home to more than 1,700 species, including 42 that are considered at risk.
Until December of last year, the area was also part of Ontario’s Greenbelt, a swath of protected land surrounding the Greater Toronto Area that includes farmland, forests, wetlands, rivers and lakes. But last year, the province’s Progressive Conservative government, led by Premier Doug Ford, opened the area to development.
The news was a blow to local residents like Marion Thomas.
“We fought for this area for many years to be added to Greenbelt, and the entire effort was to protect (the preserve) and Rouge National Urban Park from development. But now we are betrayed by the Ford government,” said Thomas, who lives in nearby Pickering’s Whitevale community. “I am really pissed off because I spent so much time trying to save it.”
To address the ongoing housing crisis, the Ontario government plans to build 1.5 million new homes across the province in 10 years. Part of that plan involves removing 7,400 acres of protected land from the Greenbelt and opening it up to development. That includes the Duffins Rouge Agricultural Preserve (DRAP) area, which shares its eastern border with Rouge National Urban Park. At nearly 80 square kilometres in size, Rouge is the largest urban park in Canada.
Environmental activists and residents of Pickering, where Duffins Rouge is located, warn the decision could cause “irreversible harm” to wildlife, natural ecosystems, agricultural land and threatened species.
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“There are many other areas of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) to build houses without touching the Greenbelt,” said Stephen Marshall, co-ordinator of the Common Ground community garden.
Marshall said he and other community members are not against bringing more people into Pickering, but they want new neighbours in the right place.
“You can have growth with benefits, or you can have growth with destruction and cost, and this growth is with destruction and cost. We don’t want to see development that damages the environment and puts wildlife at risk," he added.
Another problem is that Duffins Rouge is farmland, he said. “When you take a big hunk out of the middle, it makes it difficult for the farmers. You have to have a big enough cluster of farms to support the agriculture services.”
Then there’s the waterway. Duffins Creek runs south to the shores of Lake Ontario, connecting communities throughout Durham and York regions. It's one of the few waterways in the GTA that remains largely untouched — 71 per cent of its watershed runs through rural landscapes.
These lands are all in harmony, and they work together to keep the creek running clear and cool and protect animals in the area, said Lloyd Thomas, Marion’s husband. “To destroy this harmony, you really are destroying the wildlife, the fish, birds and other species.”
Environmental advocates are asking the provincial government to reverse its decision to build houses in the Duffins Rouge Agricultural Preserve area.
They may get some help from the federal government, which launched an environmental study of Rouge National Urban Park last month to understand the impacts of housing developments in the area.
Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault has warned the Ontario government that housing development near Rouge National Urban Park will be shut down if the study finds potential negative effects on biodiversity and at-risk species from such projects.
The province’s Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing told Canada’s National Observer any future developments in this area must comply with provincial law.
“As previously noted by the federal government, the readily developable lands in question are not connected to the Rouge National Urban Park. Any development on these lands must avoid impacts to species at risk and comply with the Endangered Species Act,” a ministry spokesperson wrote in an email.
A statement on the federal Environment Ministry’s website says the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada will conduct the study in collaboration with Parks Canada and Environment and Climate Change Canada.
“The objectives of the study are to understand the potential effects, including cumulative effects, of past, ongoing, and potential future development on the integrity of the park and on the park’s management objectives,” the statement reads. “This includes protecting biodiversity, natural resources, and natural processes; ecological connectivity throughout the park.”
According to the statement, the study will involve working with Indigenous groups and interested parties to collect data.
Advocates of Duffins Rouge also take issue with the lack of opportunity to speak out in support of protecting the land.
“There was no public consultation in advance,” said Alexis Edghill Whalen, co-lead of Stop Sprawl Durham, a community group advocating for farmland, natural heritage and the environment. “So, it speaks to a government that didn’t have a good intention from the beginning to engage, inform and conduct a democratic review of what they were planning.”
The day before Whalen spoke to Canada’s National Observer, a storm had passed through Pickering.
“This area is providing an ecosystem service absorbing the water and protecting downstream communities and Lake Ontario from flooding and polluted runoff,” she said. “I don’t think there is enough attention being paid at all to what would happen downstream, where there are established larger communities, if urbanization happens in DRAP.”
Whalen said there is extensive reporting that Pickering has sufficient land to accommodate beyond what the projections are for new neighbours.
“It is completely unnecessary, and it is disrupting the orderly queue that was going to deliver somewhat affordable housing to communities that urgently needed it.”
This story was produced in partnership with Journalists for Human Rights for the Afghan Journalists-in-Residence program funded by the Meta Journalism Project.
"Environment Minister Steven
"Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault has warned the Ontario government that housing development near Rouge National Urban Park will be shut down if the study finds potential negative effects on biodiversity and at-risk species from such projects."
What will the Feds do when the study finds a clear case of negative effects to warrant shutting down Ford's plan. Meanwhile, our failing Premier Doug Ford throws up his middle finger and proceeds regardless?
It's doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out the impacts are pretty clear to farm land and biodiversity.
Ford's plan to rape and pillage the greenbelt in the name of affordable housing is a complete farce. First, being prime land, there will be ZERO affordable homes built, second, over 10 years is a joke, third, only the top 10% will be able to afford what is built on prime land, and fourth, doesn't solve the affordable housing problem.
This whole thing is just smoke and mirrors as usual with Doug Ford and designed only to fill the pork barrels of his corrupt developer donors. Ontarians need to wake up and realize conservative governments don't care about climate change, the environment or the people they serve, just the pork barrels of their corrupt donors.
And the man even presents as
And the man even presents as porcine....
Thank you for that. Not much
Thank you for that. Not much to add, as you've covered his offenses and violations and abuses in this issue.
Up here in North Bay (Vic Fedeli's riding, aren't we lucky), we used to have a protected wetland at one end of the city--protected under the Fraud government's own legislation. It was home to an endangered species--again, protected under the legislation of the same gang. But they find ways. I forget what the little "exception" rulings were called, but we got one--despite protests from a very active environmental portion of the community, but of course supported by the "oh look, something shiny" portion.
Now we have a ginormous casino. All on one level. Together with its huge black parking lot, I think it takes up more than an acre. Asphalt is SO environmentally-friendly. There's been no report, and no assessment as far as I know, of the fate of the endangered species--but the wetland is certainly gone.
One of the chief sources of income for NB is tourism, largely centred around Lake Nipissing, and other smaller lakes and rivers. Wetlands, as we know, protect larger bodies of water.
Ever since this gang took office, I've been trying to find a way for citizens to block their offenses. I've been unsuccessful. And he takes with both hands--if anyone can gather sufficient funds to take him and his thralls to court, well, taxpayers pay both sides of the court. There are no penalties for him and his gang. We have no recourse.
This must change.
Thank heaven for the feds, and let us pray that they DO intervene, before he paves the whole province.
wetlands ore the biggest
wetlands ore the biggest natural carbon sinks we have. Destroying them not only destroys the species and land but the environment. I wish people would vote during elections and really pay attention to the record and policies (if there are any) of the candidates and Government they are voting for.
The Ford Government got in
The Ford Government got in with about 39 per cent of voters getting out the vote. I worked on the election and it was appalling. So thank you to all who did not vote as they brought in this Ford undemocratic government and now we are paying for it. Ford is showing his true colours without consideration for the people or the environment.