Ontario's farmers are urging the Ford government to reverse the removal of Greenbelt land for housing development. They argue taking valuable agricultural land out of the Greenbelt is a short-sighted decision that overlooks the long-term implications for food production. Farmers say farmland within the Greenbelt plays a pivotal role in ensuring a stable and sustainable food supply for the province.

Demands from Ontario’s agricultural sector follow two scathing reports released last month from the province's auditor general and the integrity commissioner. The auditor’s report found the Ford government's 2022 decision to open a portion of the protected Greenbelt for development was made without consideration of environmental and agricultural risks. It also ran contrary to the Greenbelt plan's vision and goals, which aim to provide permanent protection for key agricultural land and natural features, and noted altering its existing boundaries may result in adverse environmental and agricultural consequences.

Gerry Reid, a longtime farmer in Mono, Ont., whose family has owned its farm Reid’s Potatoes for over 178 years, criticized the Greenbelt decision as a "bureaucratic boondoggle" that ignored critical factors like environmental sustainability, soil quality, food security and agriculture sustainability.

“This government has just proven that they don't understand or care about farmers. In other words, if you don't have a nickel in the barrel, you don't really care what happens to the barrel,” said Reid. “A farming unit needs a base to make it viable and sustainable. If we carve pieces off, it soon will cease to exist.”

Canada already imports more than 75 per cent of its fruits and vegetables, Reid said. Removing any of the highly productive land in southern Ontario will only increase the country's dependency on imports. “Note the spike and unavailability of lettuce during the pandemic, let alone the carbon and fuel to get it here from the U.S.,” he added.

According to the auditor general’s report, the Greenbelt plays an important role in sustaining ecological and human health and has some of the most productive farmland in Canada.

"Agriculture Ministry staff found that 76 per cent of the approximately 7,400 acres removed were in active agricultural use in 2022," the report stated. About 83 per cent of the total area removed is classified as Class 1 to Class 3 prime agricultural land, which the province’s Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs signifies is the highest quality and capability for agriculture.

The 2022 boundary changes removed almost 1,000 acres of wetlands and woodlands from the Greenbelt. The province’s own Agriculture Ministry staff determined removing three of the 15 sites (91 per cent of the total area removed) is likely to result in significant adverse impacts on agriculture due to their large size, existing agricultural uses and connection to nearby farmland.

“Farmland is for those who grow food, not speculative investors. Return the 7,400 acres unjustly and irresponsibly stolen from the Greenbelt,” said Max Hansgen, president of the National Farmers Union-Ontario. “[Premier Doug] Ford himself will do nothing to address the actual impacts this carving up of the Greenbelt will have on food production or the continued protection of our finite farmland, which we were already losing at a rate of 319 acres per day,” Hansgen said.

Gerry Reid, a longtime farmer in Mono, Ont., criticized the Greenbelt decision as a "bureaucratic boondoggle" that ignored critical factors like environmental sustainability, soil quality, food security and agriculture sustainability. #Greenbelt

The fact the province is refusing to reverse its decision is further eroding trust among farmers and the public, he added.

Both reports stated that the Ford government's 2022 decision resulted from 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 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.

According to the latest data from the 2021 Census of Agriculture, the rate of farmland depletion in Ontario has surged to 319 acres per day. In the 2016 census, the rate was 175 acres per day.

Between 2016 and 2021, the overall acreage of Ontario farmland declined from 12.3 million acres to 11.7 million acres.

Ford insists the removals are necessary to build crucial housing for Ontario, despite the auditor’s conclusion that there were other ways the province’s housing needs could be met.

Ontario’s Greenbelt was created in 2005 to permanently protect agricultural and environmentally sensitive lands from development. The swath of about two million acres of protected land includes farmland, forests, wetlands, rivers and lakes. In December 2022, the Ford government removed land from the Greenbelt to open it up for housing development as part of the province’s commitment to build 1.5 million new homes over the next decade. A total of 7,400 acres were removed, which the provincial government rationalizes with its commitment to add another 9,400 acres to the Greenbelt elsewhere.

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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Like I said in another story on this topic, you know you're in deep manure when you rile up farmers. Most of them form Doug Ford's base, but the again so do many of the residents of the suburbia Ford is expanding like there are no more tomorrow's.

Food security is too important to let agriculture become a plaything for politicians who act like immature schoolyard bullies and servants to their benefactors.

I hope that the Federal Minister of the Environment will have the political courage to step in and block this ludicrous land grab.

One might wonder why we are importing 75% of our fruits and vegetables, and how much we export.
Perhaps it's time to stop the (over-?) emphasis on cattle and glyphosate-drenched wheat, corn, soy and canola, and restore some of those fields to broad-leaved plants -- if they'll grow in the by now herbicide-drenched soil.
Perhaps we should have a home-grown first policy ... and alongside it a supply home first one.
Where the climate is now, there is already reduced yield capacity ... and it's not going to get better in the lifetime of anything with a heart that's beating now.
Perhaps it's time to add climate and fossil fuel disinformation to our Criminal Code -- of course, that would have to apply to everyone equally, including our leaders and politicians. Enough is enough!!!
Perhaps it's high time to start educating kids about how our various systems actually *work*, so they aren't sucked in by made-for-the-US disinformation mills.
Perhaps it's time to stop building "homes" with no access to sun or garden space.
Perhaps it's time to stop hiding water quality numbers in lumped annual averages.
Perhaps it's time to stop privileging profits and the purveyors of poisons over the health and well-being of people.
Perhaps it's time to stop pretending that the solution to cancer and various chronic illnesses is more and "better" drugs, rather than prevention by reducing the toxicity of air, water and land ... and thus also food.
Frankly, the deregulation and privatization fanaticism has led to utter dysregulation of virtually everything.
Some things are at least apparently better, but one has to wonder whether what's better exceeds what's worse: and whether this business of weighing things "on the balance" in terms of entire populations is reasonable to apply to individuals. Our entire society, after all, is made up of individuals, not "populations."

Regarding federal involvement, one might wonder why there has been none around the Holland Marsh Highway. That is important wetland, that saves the lands between it and Lake Ontario from massive runoff after the deluges we now get, as opposed to the "summer rains" we used to be accustomed to.

One might also wonder why "land use planning" is now by some academics held to be the legitimate purview of provinces, rather than municipalities.

And I wonder if anyone has tried to get the 2022 mandate letters from Doug Ford.

We all need what (as far as I know) only BC has: the power to recall politicians by referendum.

Oooh I like the suggestion that Nordvie proposes, BCstyle recall referendums. Of course they picked that up from California and other western and Republican states It hasn't spread as far as one might have expected.

The U.S. currently seems to favour impeachment - Perhaps they think it provides speedier justice, sort of like a political lynching.