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A group of environmentalists rallied outside of Ontario MPP Peter Bethlenfalvy’s office on Saturday, April 22, urging the Progressive Conservative government to scrap its contentious plan to open up land in the province's protected Greenbelt for housing development.

The plan includes building homes in the Duffins Rouge Agricultural Preserve (DRAP), which is in the Pickering-Uxbridge MPP's riding. Bethlenfalvy is also the minister of finance.

Protesters warn housing development in DRAP, one of the most ecologically sensitive areas in Ontario, will have a negative impact on its environment and agriculture and threaten the life of the 42 at-risk species that live in the area.

“No one wants affordable housing more than me, but I don’t want to destroy the environment to build us housing,” said Abdullah Mir, a Pickering resident who attended the rally. “This is a false dichotomy that's been set up by the government that it's either we destroy the environment and build affordable housing, or we can’t do the rest. Well, that’s completely nonsense.”

Mir said the purpose of representative government is to protect and promote the interests of regular, hard-working middle-class people in the community. He argues that by allowing development on protected land, Doug Ford's government is not doing that.

“The most glaring example of disrespecting and disadvantaging people that live here (is) by removing 4,700 acres of land from the Greenbelt in Pickering, in the DRAP, under the pretence of building affordable housing.”

Alexis Edghill Whalen, co-lead of Stop Sprawl Durham, the community group that organized the rally, told Canada’s National Observer they invited concerned citizens to Bethlenfalvy's office in Pickering to demonstrate their commitment to the integrity of DRAP and neighbouring Rouge National Urban Park, the largest urban park in Canada.

“Today's impressive turnout, despite heavy rain showers, is just a small sample of deeply engaged Ontarians urgently seeking the repeal of Bill 23 and the return of protections to the ag preserve,” said Whalen.

Late last year, the Ford government passed Bill 23, a law that makes significant changes to the province's environmental protections to fast-track housing development. That provided the impetus for Ontario to open up parts of the protected Greenbelt — a swath of protected land surrounding the Greater Toronto Area that includes farmland, forests, wetlands, rivers and lakes — to development in an effort to build more houses, protesters contend.

A group of environmentalists rallied outside of Ontario MPP Peter Bethlenfalvy’s office, urging the Progressive Conservative government to scrap its contentious plan to open up land in the province's protected Greenbelt for housing development.

“No one gathered at the rally is protesting the delivery of more housing; the issue is the location proposed by Queen's Park in collaboration with the current and previous mayors of Pickering. Pickering residents stand in solid opposition to Greenbelt cuts across Ontario and are sounding the alarm as more developer movements are observed in the ag preserve with each passing day.”

The province’s Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing told Canada’s National Observer that Ontario is acting decisively to fix the housing supply crisis and “considering every possible option to get more homes built faster.”

“Our recent changes will help build at least 50,000 new homes while leading to an overall expansion of the Greenbelt by approximately 2,000 acres” by adding lands within the Paris Galt Moraine and 13 urban river valleys, said ministry spokesperson Nazaneen Baqizada. “The lands removed from the Greenbelt provide a unique opportunity for the provincial government to ensure Ontarians’ housing needs are addressed.”

Baqizada said the provincial government will return lands currently opened up for housing development to the Greenbelt if the conditions set by the government are not met and if progress on new homes does not adequately proceed by 2025.

The premier and housing minister aren’t the only ones responsible for opening up Greenbelt land for development, said Phil Pothen, Ontario environment program manager with Environmental Defence.

"It could not have been done without the direct participation of MPP Peter Bethenfalvy and the 77 other MPPs who knowingly broke their clearest, most unambiguous election promise by voting for Bill 39, which stripped protection from the DRAP — the crown jewel of the Greenbelt,” Pothen said.

Canada's National Observer contacted Bethlenfalvy’s office and the Pickering mayor’s office for comment. Neither responded in time for publication.

Bonnie Littley, co-founder of the Rouge Duffins Greenspace Coalition and a former Pickering city councillor, said protecting the Greenbelt is tremendously important for the environment. DRAP is invaluable because it’s irreplaceable, she added.

“We call on Ford's government to have some respect for what was supposed to be protected,” said Littley, referring to the Ford government’s promise not to touch the Greenbelt. “Rescind Bill 23 and keep the ag protected as promised.”

Bonnie Littley, co-founder of the Rouge Duffins Greenspace Coalition and a former Pickering city councillor, said protecting the Greenbelt is tremendously important for the environment. DRAP is invaluable because it’s irreplaceable. Photo by Abdul Matin Sarfraz for Canada's National Observer

In March, the federal government launched an environmental study to assess how neighbouring development projects might affect Rouge National Urban Park. Federal 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.

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








Updates and corrections

| Corrections policy
May 5, 2023, 09:11 am

This story has been clarified to note land taken from the greenbelt for housing was done separately from Bill-23.

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It is not just the Green Belt issue, it is the fact that Doug Ford and the Conservatives have run over the entire structure of (Municipal Government) in Ontario, It is telling the that their land grab and explosion of municipal taxes to the betterment of the Builder Buddy Club is now running the province.

Doug Ford is only here for his corrupt developer donors and no one else. His mandate is to fill the pork barrels of his donors, while stripping away funding for education, health care and other funded services. Even the EV battery plants have little to do with Doug Ford, but he will take the credit regardless as he pretends, he is taking action on climate change and the environment.

Absolutely.

De-mock-racy In Action With Doug Ford.

De-mock-racy In Hyperdrive With Doug Ford.

Can't see any impressive turnout in the photos. Just not enough to scare Doug Ford, at least.

The Wynne liberals carved up the Green Belt 17 times for developers. Wonder if there await a story in the Observer when that happened. Anyone remember?