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A series of rallies organized by environmental activists aims to pressure Ontario’s Ford government to reinstate protections on land removed from the protected Greenbelt for housing development.

The Hands Off The Greenbelt rallies are set to take place Sept. 8 to 23 in several locations, including Queen’s Park in Toronto and MPP Christine Hogarth’s office in Etobicoke, as well as in Richmond Hill, Newmarket, Ancaster and Barrie. One of the first rallies occurred Friday in Kitchener, where Premier Doug Ford's public event, Ford Fest, was held.

“The Greenbelt removals must be reversed before any habitat or farmland is actually destroyed,” said Phil Pothen, Ontario environment program manager at Environmental Defence. “Rallies like the one happening today in Kitchener are vital to making MPPs understand that there is no path to ending the Greenbelt scandal that doesn't start with reversing the Greenbelt removals completely.”

Public opposition to the government's Greenbelt plan has been growing following two scathing reports released last month by the province’s auditor general and integrity commissioner. The reports revealed the Ford government’s 2022 decision to open part of the protected Greenbelt for development was the result of a deeply flawed and biased process, and that Ontario's previous housing minister, Steve Clark, violated ethics rules. Clark and his chief of staff have since resigned, and the Ontario Provincial Police has handed over its review of the Greenbelt land swap to the RCMP for investigation. Ford has expressed his confidence that the investigation will reveal no criminal wrongdoing.

Ontario’s new municipal affairs and housing minister, Paul Calandra, announced a Greenbelt review on Wednesday that will re-examine land already removed for development as well as the possible removal of additional Greenbelt lands, this time using a fair, transparent process.

Pothen told Canada’s National Observer that a so-called “review” process, which doubles down on the policy of entertaining Greenbelt removals, is inherently corrupt and is only making the scandal worse.

“The premier and his hand-picked housing minister, Paul Calandra, have been hoping that their rigged ‘review’ process will fool the public into letting them walk away without reversing the $8.3-billion giveaway,” said Pothen, referring to the amount that developers’ property values stand to increase thanks to the Greenbelt plan, according to an auditor general’s report.

“The outpouring of public rage here today in Kitchener, and in places like Hamilton over the last few days, are demonstrating that the public is not falling for Paul Calandra's attempt to misdirect them from the important issue,” he added.

Hundreds of Hamilton residents gathered at a local community centre meeting organized by the city on Wednesday evening with signs reading “No development in the Greenbelt, Hands of the Greenbelt” to voice their discontent over Ontario's decision to remove 2,000 acres from Hamilton's section of the Greenbelt.

Public opposition to the government's Greenbelt plan has been growing following two scathing reports released last month by the province’s auditor general and integrity commissioner. #Greenbelt

The purpose of the meeting was to gather public input on the “community benefits” the city should aim to negotiate with provincial facilitators and potential developers looking to build on the former Greenbelt lands.

The protests and rallies are putting pressure on local electoral leaders and minor cabinet ministers who have the power to make the government reverse the Greenbelt removals in their entirety, Pothen said. “These protests show local MPPs that unless they do the right thing and make the reversal of the Greenbelt removals a condition of their continued confidence in the government, they will be the ones losing their jobs in the next election.”

Last December, the Ford government removed 7,400 acres from the protected Greenbelt in a bid to build sorely needed housing. Environmental advocates and opposition parties have repeatedly decried the move, which a recent auditor general's report found was the result of a process that favoured certain developers. That report also found the province could achieve its goal of building 1.5 million new homes over the next decade without using Greenbelt lands.

This story was produced in partnership with Journalists for Human Rights for the Afghan Journalists-in-Residence program funded by the Meta Journalism Project.

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the Hamilton meeting was set for a hall with 480 capacity. 2000 showed up and it was “raucous”. as described in cbc article. good! that should scare the politicos

Tomorrow night its Barrie. sleepy, conservative-loving barrie. I expect the same overcapacity angry crowd. Ive never felt so pleased with the generally “nothing is worth getting riled about” Ontario public.
The farmers are mad! that is the tory. base.
mild-mannered tory voters here are pissed by the obvious corrupt policy. and also loss of farmland, disregard for nature, etc. even if not well informed on actual appalling details of this slimy process that has been quietly ( underreported of course) dismantling of all laws and protections to stop it.

I think the feds are waiting to let Dugh hang himself with his own rope if possible and anger build naturally before they “ interfere “with a federal assessment ( dug cancelled all protection of waterways, etc and neutered conservation authority power to protect us)

I'm glad that Doug Ford was judged as having "gone too far". Before he decided to take the Sudetenland.

There is hope, especially when farmers get riled up. BC's Agricultural Land Reserve was first conceptualized by Harold Steves, a farmer with a deep family history in Richmond, BC where subdivisions were starting their disastrous trajectory of covering every metre of flat land with asphalt and vinyl no matter how rich and productive the farmland was. The community of Steveston on the mouth of the Fraser River is named after them.

His determination blossomed in 1972 with a brand new NDP provincial government under Dave Barrett. They were an educated group of lefties in a hurry with a smattering of knowledgable planners at the cabinet table, something the NDP lost in subsequent years and so desperately needs today. The Barrett government saw the value of protecting perhaps the most undervalued natural resource in the world -- soil -- in a mountainous province where only 4% of its 945,735 km2 is arable.

The ALR remains intact even after 50 years when several conservative governments rife with high school dropouts and car salesmen took office and tried to erode or dismantle it for their suburban sprawl developer pals, some of whom were also in cabinet. Many cities and the public are aware of the value of the ALR and the independent role of the Agricultural Land Commission and were key to resisting every major attempt to take out big chunks of prime farming land, usually for ticky tacky suburbs and malls. Though removals have been somewhat successful, the ALR is still largely intact.

Ontario may have policies around protecting the greenbelt, but my perception is that those policies aren't as powerful as codifying it under an actual ALR Act with an arm's length commission to manage it. Yes, a province does have control over cities and planning processes, but they are discovering how much cities, farmers, planners and the public value their farmland.

Ontario doesn't have the same scarcity of food producing land BC has, which helps explain why it can be quite lackadaisical about letting it go while the annihilation of the concept of food security is realized with terribly inefficient and widely discredited forms of urbanism. But it doesn't hold a candle to Prairie provinces where farmland is seen as cheap and vast as the ocean. These attitudes need to be countered with sound, neutral, professional land use planning and science that inevitably concludes that, in the absence of foresight, you don't really value what you've got 'til it's gone. California's inevitable limitations on food exports in future due to drought and water mismanagement may bring all that into everybody's own home before too long.