Environmental groups are demonstrating against Ontario’s plan to develop the Greenbelt.
Dozens of rallies took across the province from Windsor to Ottawa, including the GTA in Brampton, Etobicoke, Markham, Scarborough and in Orangeville, outside the office of deputy premier Sylvia Jones, as well as at Bay and College streets in downtown Toronto.
The demonstrations are in opposition to the government’s controversial Bill 23, known as the More Homes Built Faster Act, which is part of the province’s goal of building 1.5 million homes over the next 10 years.
It allows the government to remove about 7,400 acres in 15 different areas from the Greenbelt, which has been protected from development by legislation since 2005.
Phil Pothen with Environmental Defence helped organize many of the weekend rallies. He says protesters are concerned about who will benefit from the Greenbelt.
“This government is using rhetoric about housing as a pretext to do things that will deliver no more housing,” said Pothen. “But they will put the money in the pockets of people who own particular chunks of land.”
Premier Doug Ford had previously promised he wouldn’t touch the protected lands.
The province launched a 30-day consultation period which wraps up at 11:59 p.m. on Dec. 4.
The federal government has warned provinces it would not provide disaster compensation where development is greenlit in areas prone to flooding while expressing concern with “what I’m seeing in Ontario.”
Ford responded, saying the province has no plans to allow homes to be built on floodplains while calling on the federal minister to “do his research.”
Experts say there are other development options on the table that the Ford government should be considering instead of using Greenbelt land.
Matti Siemiatycki, Director of the Infrastructure Institute at the University of Toronto, said there are many sites and large portions of land that in most cases are already serviced and near critical infrastructures like public transit, hospitals and schools.
“This is a small amount of land being taken out of the Greenbelt, but it sets the precedent that the entire Greenbelt is now open for debate,” said Siemiatycki.
“What we should have done instead of opening part of the Greenbelt, is make it super easy to build on our older neighbourhoods in the region, particularly in Toronto, that are losing population right now,” said Karen Chapple, Director of the School of Cities at the University of Toronto.
Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner has filed a complaint with the province’s integrity commissioner, asking whether Ford’s plan to open parts of the protected Greenbelt lands for development broke any ethics rules.
“It looks to be a pretty shady deal,” said Schreiner. “Of the 15 parcels of the Greenbelt that’s being opened for development eight of them, over half of them, have been purchased since Doug Ford was elected premier.” Schreiner said in one case, “One developer took out a $100,000,000 loan at 21 per cent interest. Who does that for land you can’t develop? Something doesn’t look right here. It doesn’t pass the smell test.”
Media reports have suggested that some prominent developers who are Progressive Conservative donors stand to benefit from the move.
The province says new home construction would begin on Greenbelt lands no later than 2025, with significant progress on approvals by the end of 2023.
CityNews did reach out to the Ford government for a response, but did not receive a response.
Files from The Canadian Press were used in this report