Housing Minister Steve Clark announced Friday that the government is launching a 30-day consultation on removing about 7,400 acres in 15 different areas from the Greenbelt, which was created to protect environmentally sensitive regions from development.
If that proceeds, landowners will be expected to develop housing plans quickly with construction beginning no later than 2025, he said. The aim is to build at least 50,000 homes on those lands in service of the government’s target of building 1.5 million homes in 10 years.
“Today, we are taking further action to support this goal by launching a consultation on proposed changes to the Greenbelt,” Clark wrote in a statement.
“These proposals will support our municipal partners’ plans for responsible growth and help build at least 50,000 new homes, while leading to an overall expansion of the Greenbelt.”
Last year, when announcing plans to expand the Greenbelt by adding a moraine south of Toronto and a series of urban river lands, Clark said he would not cut the protected area or do a land swap.
“I want to be clear: We will not in any way entertain any proposals that will move lands in the Greenbelt, or open the Greenbelt lands to any kind of development,” he had said.
The government is now proposing to add 9,400 acres to the Greenbelt elsewhere — including a portion of the Paris Galt Moraine and 13 urban river valleys in the Greater Golden Horseshoe — so when factoring in the land that would be removed, the Greenbelt would grow in size by 2,000 acres, Clark said.
Ontario created the Greenbelt in 2005 to protect agricultural and environmentally sensitive lands in the Greater Golden Horseshoe area from development.
The group Environmental Defence said Friday’s announcement breaks the government’s “loudest, clearest election promise, by inflicting a fatal 7,400 acre wound on the vital and wildly popular Greenbelt.”
“It is clear that this attack would end the critical role the Greenbelt plays to stop sprawl and protect farmland, forests, and the source of our drinking water, as well address climate change,” Phil Pothen, the group’s Ontario environment program manager wrote in a statement.
“The government should be ashamed and the people of Ontario should be outraged.”
Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner noted the government made the announcement while all eyes were on a strike by 55,000 education workers. Premier Doug Ford’s legacy of “environmental destruction” gets worse every day, he wrote in a statement.
“We cannot allow this government to force the false choice between protecting the environment and building the housing we desperately need,” Schreiner wrote.
Interim NDP Leader Peter Tabuns called the announcement “disturbing.”
“Our greenspace and farmland have always been in Ford’s crosshairs. He’s on an anti-environment crusade on behalf of his billionaire developer buddies,” Tabuns said in a written statement.
“Mr. Ford has backed off his schemes to carve up the Greenbelt before after facing public outcry, and the NDP won’t rest until he backs off, again.”
Public backlash in 2018 prompted Ford to backtrack on an election pledge to allow housing development in the Greenbelt, with him promising he would maintain the protected area in its entirety.
“The people have spoken. I’m going to listen to them, they don’t want me to touch the Greenbelt, we won’t touch the Greenbelt,” Ford said at the time.
Ford also made a similar vow in 2020 not to “touch” the Greenbelt, saying “we won’t build on the Greenbelt” while facing criticism after the chair and six members of Ontario’s Greenbelt Council resigned over differences of opinion with the government.
Interim Liberal Leader John Fraser wondered Friday “which one of (Ford’s) friends stands to benefit” from his new decision.