by BETTER FARMING STAFF
More than 10 years after it was enacted, the Greenbelt is stirring controversy as the provincial government pushes to expand the farmland protection designation’s scope to include a portion of Brant County.
The issue erupted on Monday night when about 150 residents of Brant attended a public consultation meeting in Paris that had been organized by the county.
The majority of those who spoke were opposed to Brant joining the Greenbelt, including the Brant Federation of Agriculture.
The province describes the Greenbelt as 1.8 million acres of land, extending in a circle north of the urbanized Greater Toronto Area from the western edge of the City of Hamilton in the west to Durham Region in the east. As well as Brant, other potential candidate counties and regions from a list published in 2008 are Haldimand, Wellington, Dufferin, Simcoe, Peterborough, Northumberland, City of Kawartha Lakes and the Region of Waterloo.
The Greenbelt’s stated purpose is to protect farmland from urbanization, and the province wants to expand it. But expansion is highly controversial. In early August, Brant county council passed a resolution stating its intention to stay outside of the Greenbelt. Following an Association of Municipalities of Ontario meeting later in the month, Brant County’s mayor, Ron Eddy, reported to council that Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Ted McMeekin wanted Brant to rethink its position.
This bothers Brant federation vice-president Sandra Vos. Last week her notice of the Monday night public consultation included a statement from the Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation that said, in part, "Minister Ted McMeekin (Municipal Affairs and Housing) has made it clear the province intends to grow the Greenbelt in Brant County.”
“We can’t get a sense if any other county was directed by Ted McMeekin with the same kind of directive,” says Vos.
Vos says McMeekin’s approach “isn’t helping. It’s going to pit people who think it’s a nice idea and have no idea whether it works or not against the farmers. A lot of us feel (Greenbelt) is just one more piece of legislation that hasn’t addressed the real issue of poor public policy planning land use and keeping agriculture viable in southern Ontario.”
“Not one of our members has phoned to say they agree with Greenbelting the county,” Vos told Better Farming. Many have said they don’t.
Christopher Kyle, South Dumfries township, president of the Brant Federation of Agriculture, told the meeting Monday night, “The federation is in support of the intent of the Greenbelt, which is in containing urban sprawl. However, we don’t’ feel the Greenbelt Act as it is currently stated accomplishes this.”
“It is our understanding that the Greenbelt expands at the ask or the request of the county or municipality supported by a resolution to that effect which in this case did not happen. In fact, quite the opposite. Our concern is if rule one doesn’t apply, then how many more rules don’t apply?”
Jay Howell, an apple grower from St. George, says he’s talked to farmers who are now part of the Greenbelt and wished they had taken the time to go to the meetings and oppose it before the designation was brought into place in 2005. “This legislation is far from fair to the producer,” Howell said. His family has had the farm since 1821 and it’s a going concern. “If we are forced to sell we’d like to get full market value.”
Also speaking was Caledon mayor, Allan Thompson. He said 20 per cent of his municipality in Peel is in the Greenbelt. He allowed that the Greenbelt had increased awareness of agriculture but at a high cost. “The Greenbelt alone cost us more than $1 million in studies to comply with. We already had a good official plan in my humble opinion.”
The County of Brant completely encloses the city of Brantford. There are currently negotiations between the county and the city which wants to annex some county land for further development. A number of speakers said more discussion of being part of the Greenbelt should be delayed until the annexation issue is settled.
Greenbelt’s supporters were also at the meeting. The Greenbelt has not caused farmland it protects to be devalued, insisted David Donnelly, a lawyer for Environmental Defence, representing the Ontario Greenbelt Alliance, based in Toronto. “Greenbelt land values have risen throughout the Golden horseshoe area,” he asserted. “The Fraser Institute study (which said land values had declined) is not correct.”
“If your property is in agricultural use, the problem is not with the Greenbelt,” Donnelly said. “It is with the conservation authority or the official plan of the municipality.
“To say that the Greenbelt plan is somehow going to apply to an economic right (as in take away the economic right) is not true.
“There are restrictions within natural heritage areas. These restrictions are common throughout southern Ontario.
Eddy responded to Donnelly’s comments by noting Brant’s “very strong official plan that protects farmland” is the original reason why county council had refused the Greenbelt.
Mark Cripps, senior communications advisor in McMeekin’s office, says in an emailed statement on Tuesday: “Our mandate requires us to look at how we will grow the Greenbelt. As such, it's not very helpful to have a resolution that just says ‘no more Greenbelt.’”
He adds that McMeekin “was suggesting to the municipality that they take a more constructive approach which at least considered possible options for Greenbelt growth. To be clear, no decisions on growing the Greenbelt in Brant have yet been made.” BF