National Newswatch

Housing can be built without ruining farmland and conservation areas.

Ottawa—The Ontario government is facing widespread and vocal opposition to its legislation to boost home construction in the province.

Peggy Brekveld, President of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, along nature and conservation groups and many local community leaders, are telling the province to focus home building in residential areas.

Brekveld told a legislature committee that intensifying residential construction in urban areas is a better solution than paving over even more farmland.

“It likely looks like there is farmland everywhere, it shouldn’t matter. But it does. Farmland is a finite resource. When something is rare, we treat it as precious, like a gem or diamond. Agricultural land makes up less than 5 per cent of our province. But we don’t hold it as precious.”

The OFA understands the need to build more affordable housing, she said. “We are not against that. In fact, even rural and agricultural Ontario needs more labour, we want to retain our youth in our rural communities and they in turn need houses too.”

During the last two census, Ontario lost 700,000 acres of farmland, she said. “The urban boundary expansion announced will use up more farmland. And once it turns into housing and development, it never goes back to farmland.”

OFA has been promoting intensifying cities and building inside of the current urban footprint. So parts of Bill 23 make sense – building more on transit lines, allowing up to three units on a single detached lots. “There are more ways to intensify and hit intensity targets.”

Farmland, agricultural land and local food are critical to our future in a growing province, she said.

More than 35 mayors have endorsed an Eastern Ontario Conservation Authority letter to Premier Doug Ford and cabinet ministers about the impact of the More Homes Built Faster Act.

The letter outlines six key concerns with the bill and how the changes will negatively impact the local development review processes, download new responsibilities to municipalities, increase costs to taxpayers, increase the risk of flooding, erosion and slope failure and damage the local environment. “The support our letter has received from local mayors reflects the value and importance of Conservation Authority services to their municipality,” says Richard Pilon, Raisin Region Conservation Authority (RRCA) General Manager.

The government’s target of 1.5 million new homes during the next 10 years should not come at the expense of protecting people and their properties from natural hazards or protecting natural infrastructure, such as wetlands, which reduce these risks, Pilon said.

The province should reconvene their multi-stakeholder Conservation Authorities Working Group to consider the impacts of the proposed legislative changes and identify better solutions to increasing Ontario’s housing supply.

The Ontario Greenbelt Alliance Steering says the government building plans is more about satisfying the interests of developers and the Ontario’s Housing Affordability Task Force explained in a 2022 report that “we do not need to sacrifice environmental protection to address the housing crisis.

“Most of the solution must come from densification. Greenbelts and other environmentally sensitive areas must be protected, and farms provide food and food security.”

Ontario Nature says nature, farmland and democracy are under attack in the housing bill. It would make sweeping changes to the province’s natural heritage and land use planning legislation and policy.

At the same time, related to but separate from the legislation, “the government is proposing several significant policy changes that would exacerbate the profound and devastating impacts of the bill on Ontario’s natural heritage.

“To top off the bad news, the provincial government is also proposing to remove lands from the Greenbelt for development. The bill first and foremost satisfies the interests of developers, Ontario Nature said. It too advocates increased densification in urban areas.

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