The Greenbelt, 7,200 square kilometers of protected green space that rings the Golden Horseshoe, is up for discussion again.
During his Ontario Premier campaign, Doug Ford caused an uproar when he announced his intention to open up the Greenbelt for development. Ford’s idea was to use some of the large supply of underdeveloped land to build single-family homes to address the GTA’s severe housing affordability issue.
However, the backlash was so severe that Ford ultimately walked-back on his original statement. “I looked at it as making sure we have more affordable housing. 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.”
Now, new legislation proposed by Premier Ford has many concerned that parts of the Greenbelt could be opened up for development. Bill 66, also known as the Restoring Ontario’s Competitiveness Act, would allow municipalities’ power to bypass certain environmental protects. These sections include the Clean Water Act, Great Lakes Protection Act, the Greenbelt, and Lake Simcoe Protection Acts.
Ford’s goal is to reduce red tape for businesses seeking planning approval. Less red tape could see more development across Ontario. He assured delegates that the Greenbelt would not be opening up to housing developments, however, environmental experts warn that this new legislation could be dangerous. Contaminated water, diminished tourism to the area, and unprotected lakes could damage the province.
Mayors across the GTA have similar responses to the proposed bill- they’re open to discussing removing some development red tape, but not at the environmental expense that the current proposed legislation goes to.
A spokesperson for Toronto Mayor John Tory said, “City staff are reviewing Bill 66 and its implications. Mayor (John) Tory believes existing environmental and planning safeguards are especially important in a rapidly growing region. There are other ways to make the approval process more efficient without jeopardizing those safeguards.”
Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie stated, “While we are always looking for ways to cut red tape and make it easier for companies to establish themselves in our city, we must balance this with our commitment to protecting our shared environment and the safety of our residents for future generations to come. Sustainability and responsible development have always been our guiding principles, and we will continue to carefully review every single development application before it proceeds…”
The bill requires a minister’s approval, and the municipalities would need to prove the development would create jobs. It remains to be seen whether the current proposed Bill 66 will pass, or if the pushback will see the PC government amend it.