Ford government puts housing, gravel pits ahead of farmland preservation
In an effort to juice up the economy, the Ford government is pulling out all the stops on development, including development of gravel pits. It relegates farmland to “the land between” urban development, and leaves little to protect it.
There are no press releases announcing this in so many words, but it becomes clear day-by-day as new policies and legislation are introduced.
In May, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing introduced the government’s More Homes, More Choice: Ontario’s Housing Supply Action Plan. In the preamble, it says, “Increasing housing, supporting jobs and streamlining development approvals are top priorities for the government.”
In July, the ministry began a consultation on its proposed Provincial Policy Statement (PPS) for land use. The deadline for comment was October, and, in their response, the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario issued the following conclusion:
“Our reading of your effective ranking of priorities is the following: 1. Speed all development; 2. Promote housing development, jobs, economic development; 3. Expand aggregates operations, and do so closer to development areas; 4. Prioritize mining and resource identification and 5. Provide consideration to prime agricultural and specialty crop land.”
Farming and food production ranks fifth, after “development”, housing, gravel pits, and mining.
The CFFO continues: “Our stock of farmland could be run down without limit with the proposed changes to the PPS.”
“According to the PPS and the proposed changes, the driver of development is population growth. “If you “legitimize development in line with limitless population growth (and) remove the directive to municipalities to pursue coordinated growth across communities”; then, farmland becomes “the space between” urban developments, where municipalities fight over rural resources, but no one champions its protection.
Before CFFO delivered feedback on the PPS, proposed changes to the Aggregate Resources Act arrived on Brenda Dyack’s desk.
Dyack, who is Executive Director of the CFFO, said, “It overlaps” with the Provincial Policy Statement on aggregates.
The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry is amending the Act to “reduce burdens for business while maintaining strong protection for the environment and managing impacts to communities.”
MNRF says it consulted with industry to develop the proposal. Apparently this occurred at the Aggregate Summit, held in March, said Dyack. The list of participants included First Nations and some environmental groups like Ducks Unlimited, and the National Conservancy of Canada, but the large majority were aggregate groups like LaFarge.
No one representing agriculture seems to have been invited. “I didn’t even know it was happening,” said Dyack.
Furthermore, the proposal is “thin” on details, Dyack told CFFO’s Provincial Council.
There are three major changes. One would allow extraction below the water table. Another would clarify that the Aggregate Resources Act takes precedence over any municipal rules regarding the depth of extraction. The third change is intended to “enhance” reporting regarding rehabilitation, by allowing operators to self-file, and to allow some “low risk activities” to occur without a licence, if certain conditions are met.
Dyack added that the proposed PPS would exempt the remediation of farmland if it proves to be too expensive.
Dyack said she had not done enough research to determine how these changes would impact land use and water quality, which are CFFO priorities. She suggested that a requirement to demonstrate the need for additional aggregate resources could help manage development.
However, comment may be moot, as the changes to the Aggregate Act were incorporated into Bill 132, an omnibus bill. The Better for People, Smarter for Business Bill reached Second Reading on Hallowe-en. The provincial government may have taken a longer than usual summer vacation, but it’s wasting no time getting back to business for business.