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More than 100 residents packed the Old Town Hall in Newmarket, Ont., Thursday night to rally against the Ontario government’s plan to build houses on a nearby part of the protected Greenbelt.

The meeting was one of a growing number of community gatherings aimed at reversing the Ford government’s decision to remove 7,400 hectares from the existing Greenbelt and turn it over to developers for housing projects. Part of the land being removed is farmland that will be paved over west of Newmarket in King City, about 40 kilometres north of Toronto.

Attendees at Thursday night’s meeting said the government has done very little consultation to determine whether Ontarians agree with the decision. They hope public pressure will convince the government to change its mind and leave the Greenbelt untouched.

Franz Hartmann, a co-ordinator for the Alliance for a Liveable Ontario, pointed out that public opinion indicates most people value the Greenbelt as an important environmental legacy. Polls taken since the Ford government’s announcement indicate that most people oppose the decision, Hartmann said.

“I think that’s probably one of the reasons the government didn’t do a lot of public consultation because they would have heard over and over again people saying, ‘Why are you doing this?’”

An online survey conducted by SPR Associates of Toronto found that of 6,400 Ontario residents polled, more than 80 per cent want the government to repeal Bill 23, which makes significant changes to the province's environmental protections in order to fast-track housing development, and undo its changes to Greenbelt protections.

Canada’s National Observer asked the province’s Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing about the size and exact location of the land to be removed from the Greenbelt in Newmarket and King City. The ministry did not respond to this question.

The meeting was one of a growing number of community gatherings aimed at reversing the Ford government’s decision to remove 7,400 hectares from the existing Greenbelt and turn it over to developers for housing projects. Photo by Matin Sarfraz /Canada's National Observer

The Ford government passed Bill 23 late last year. Part of the government’s push to build 1.5 million new homes across the province in the coming decade involves building on parts of the protected Greenbelt. The Greenbelt is a swath of protected land surrounding the Greater Toronto Area that includes farmland, forests, wetlands, rivers and lakes.

More than 100 local residents packed the Old Town Hall in Newmarket, Ont., Thursday night to rally against the Ontario government’s plan to build houses on a nearby part of the protected Greenbelt. #Greenbelt

The province’s plan involves removing 15 parcels of land, totalling about 7,400 acres, from the edge of the Greenbelt. In return, the government says it will add another 9,400 acres to the Greenbelt elsewhere.

Some experts argue swapping one parcel of protected land out for another doesn't lead to the same environmental benefits, since the health of animals and their habitat depends on factors like the local climate, the water available in a given area and how that ecosystem connects to others nearby.

“These changes to the Greenbelt will build a minimum of 50,000 new homes in fast-growing communities while leading to an overall expansion of the Greenbelt by approximately 2,000 acres,” said Nazaneen Baqizada, spokesperson for the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing of Ontario.

“In addition to building desperately needed affordable and attainable homes for our rapidly growing province, this initiative will provide significant public benefits, including hundreds of millions of dollars in new public infrastructure, including transit, hospitals, long-term care homes, parks, roads and schools.”

Baqizada said developments will require planning approvals from the municipality, and the province will require that environmentally sensitive areas are set aside and protected before any construction begins. “Our commitment remains that these lands will be returned to the Greenbelt if these projects do not move forward within the next two years,” she added.

Newmarket area residents who attended Thursday’s meeting say the government’s plans will negatively impact the environment and agriculture. They view the Greenbelt as an important environmental legacy and point out the land is currently used by farmers who make a living growing food that Ontarians eat.

Hartmann said the provincial government is wrong to build houses on protected land. “All of the data says there is more than enough land already set aside for development in cities across the Greater Golden Horseshoe,” he said.

“We don’t need to take land out of the Greenbelt. We don’t need to set aside farmland for development. That's the exact wrong thing to do.”

Claire Malcolmson, executive director of the environmental advocacy group Rescue Lake Simcoe Association, pointed out the Greenbelt supplies a lot of the Greater Golden Horseshoe — a region in southern Ontario home to 10 million people — and Lake Simcoe with clean water, filtration and recreational spaces.

“Everybody loves being in nature and it all feels good, but there is also the value of respecting and protecting the life of the non-human.”

Malcolmson said the government’s housing plan increases sprawl and simply serves to enrich landowners.

John Taylor, mayor of Newmarket, told Canada’s National Observer he believes the Greenbelt should be protected and said it is noteworthy that such a large group of residents is devoting time to debate how to build better communities and protect the environment.

The Greenbelt is environmentally important and is “sort of the lungs of (the Greater Toronto Area),” said Taylor.

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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I live in Mike Harris' old riding. We knew what to expect when he moved to provincial from local. And it turned out to be so much worse than most of us had even imagined.
And the kinds of damages that are irreparable---nature, poverty, civil rights, violations of regulations and laws--it's a very long list.
Now we see Harris' sock puppet, and that of the provincial Con party, wreaking even worse havoc on the province, and its citizens. On practically a daily basis, there is another assault by the worst premier, and the worst government, Ontario has experienced in all my 75 years.

But he/they CAN be stopped. The last time he over-reached himself, with another shot at the NWS, the public fury stopped him--it seems to be the only thing that ever has.

The Greenbelt is such a critical part of Ontario, for so many reasons. And once gone, it can't come back. He and his "government" don't know, and don't care--they have very different priorities.

We have to unite, again, even more widely, to stop this appalling vandalism. Now.

I live in Barrie. absolutely agree with comment above. Mainstream news even socalled left outlets such as cbc, the Star simply dont report regularly on the assault on democracy dug fraud’s socalled laws ( our mpp a realestate lawyer is the A G! yikes) which are regularly removing democracy.

it is in fact a slowmoving parliamentary coup, which if happening in another country would be commented on daily. eg. cut Toronto city council in half, by decree DURING a municipal election. use ministerial orders hundred plus times to override the local government, now with NO APPEAL added to the sledgehammer. OUTLAW ranked ballots in municipal elections! ( because you know, then cons would never get elected again,) How can the socalled news not be outraged at that!! crickets.

and of course zero respect for unceded first nations territory in mineral rich. Northern ontario. consult?respect? I think not, dug says.
lets see if feds intervene. lets see if CITIZENS. intervene in his selling public everything for private profit.

dug now freely warning us daily not to vote for “ lefty” government in To. or we will regret it! How are papers not commenting on that as illegal and outrageous. what. would the Star, never mind the “freedumb “ loving Sun say if Trudeau picked a favourite for mayor and slagged the other runners? you can picture their OUTRAGE. I despair. we are hurtling backwards

Because Doug the Thug is a conservative, the media tends to downplay anything Doug does, but are on top of Justin Trudeau should he happen to fart and then turn it into a scandal.

The latest pork barrel trough feeding for Doug's corrupt developer donors appears to be around Fergus and Elora Ontario where prime farm land and desirable green space, is being given green light to build more affordable homes as Doug calls them, which are typically out of reach for most Ontarians. As usual, doesn't solve any housing problem, just enriches his buddies.

The Ontario Greenbelt works to protect Ontario and for that matter, all of the planet, against the ravages of climate change. Every single decision to protect or to not protect our natural environment, will make a difference one way or the other. It is a tragedy that the Ford government is so blind as to think that short term profits are more important than protecting the air we breath, the water we drink, the soil that produces the food we eat, and the diversity of life that is crucial for the balance and survival of all life on Earth.
I wonder, do Ford and his cronies, think they will take their wealth with them? Do they think they are enriching the families they leave behind by offering them money and a unliveable planet destroyed by greed and willful ignorance?