Proposal to cut up Greenbelt is ‘non-starter’: Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition

PC Leader Doug Ford says he supports Ontario's protected greenbelt, but is considering opening it up to build affordable housing on, adding that he will "replace" any protected lands that are developed upon.

The Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition is calling a proposal to open up the province’s protected Greenbelt for development a “non-starter.”

On Monday, Ontario PC Leader Doug Ford, said that if elected, he would open a “big chunk” of the Greenbelt for residential real estate development to ease the housing crisis in the Greater Toronto Area.

Margaret Prophet, Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition co-chair called Ford’s plan a “non-starter.”

“The conversation should not be about cutting up the Greenbelt, but rather about expanding it, as it has been the last two and a half years,” Prophet says.

The coalition is a non-profit volunteer group which works in collaboration with various Simcoe County and provincial organizations with the aim of growing the Greenbelt in the area.

READ MORE: Ontario PC leader Doug Ford says he would open up Greenbelt for development in some areas

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In Simcoe County, Prophet says the main call to action is water. With only a portion of the Simcoe watershed currently protected by the Greenbelt, Prophet’s organization has been advocating expanding that for the last several years.

According to Prophet, the water in Simcoe County is protected by a series of fragmented policies, but not a system. She says expanding the Greenbelt to protect Simcoe County’s water would offer a protection system that has proven to be effective in other parts of the province.

With most residents of Barrie, Bradford and Midland-Penetanguishine relying on groundwater, and with a projected growth to 667,000 people by 2031, Prophet says it is unclear whether the quantity of groundwater needed in the future will be available.

Prophet says that expanding the Greenbelt is not about inhibiting development. “Development and growth is important to these communities,” she says. Instead, it is about ensuring it is done in a financially responsible and sustainable way.

However, she says it is unclear whether we have already past the sustainability tipping point. “It’s like trying to use a credit card without knowing how much money you have in the account.”

Prophet says the Greenbelt has become a “people’s policy,” citing a study that has shown over 90 per cent of Ontario residents care about the Greenbelt. “It’s a policy that has transcended those that are discussed at Queen’s Park without any public interest.”

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READ MORE: Ontario announces $1.5 million in funding to Barrie for affordable housing

She says she would caution any politician who wades into the conversation. “They need to recognize that they are talking about a legacy issue. It’s about the green space, the water, the hiking trails that Ontarians care about.”

A tweet from Barrie Liberal MPP Ann Hoggarth echoed Prophet’s sentiment, calling Ford’s plan “short-sighted and reckless.”

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