GHFFA Speaks up for Agricultural Land to Ontario’s Co-ordinated Land Use Planning Panel

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

As many of you know, the province held a Co-ordinated Land Use Planning Review to develop recommendations on how to amend and improve the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, the Greenbelt Plan, the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan and the Niagara Escarpment Plan. A panel of six advisers were appointed: Keith Currie, Rae Horst, John Mackenzie, Leith Moore, Debbie Zimmerman, chaired by David Crombie.

This panel has a massive task at hand that will set the stage for a vibrant economy for the future of our province.

The Golden Horseshoe Food and Farming Alliance presented to the Panel on May 27 with members of other agricultural organizations such as the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, the Christian Farmers Federation, Wine Growers, Ontario Tender Fruit Growers and delegation from Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Forty-three percent of the Greenbelt lands are farmed and privately owned. Farm families operating 5,500 farms not only conduct their business producing food but are stewards of large areas of natural heritage features, water, woodlands and wildlife. Local food for the growing population in the Golden Horseshoe is supplied from this region. And modern Ontario farms also produce more than food, with over 200 products from food to fibre, energy and nutraceuticals, all contributing to the health and viability of Ontario communities and the economy.

During the last 50 years, we have lost 2.6 million acres of farmland in the Golden Horseshoe to development. Prime farmland is a finite resource and once houses, industry or major roads have been placed on the land, its food production is lost forever. Placement of the Greenbelt on these lands has slowed the unchecked sprawl but has also brought to light many of the unintended shortcomings of the plans.

The Golden Horseshoe Food and Farming Alliance strongly supports the following principles:

1. Primacy of agricultural lands and agricultural activity needs stronger protection – The original intention of the Greenbelt Plan was to reduce the disappearance of Canada’s best agricultural lands and protection of watershed areas from residential, commercial, industrial, or infrastructure development. While the plan has achieved significant successes in the protection of environmental features, the pre eminence of agricultural lands and activity within the Greenbelt must be supported as equally as natural heritage features and systems.
As a society, we must value agricultural land for the contribution that it gives not only to our economy but to our food security and contribution of ecological goods and services. Society must stop the temptation to use scarce agricultural land as an unlimited resource for housing lands, dumps, gravel pits commercial development, and infrastructure such as highways, utilities and renewable energy. The highest and best use for agricultural lands is agriculture.

2. Definitions and policies in the plans should align with the PPS 2014 – We have created a fortress of regulations that are strangling economic growth and innovation in the Golden Horseshoe. The four plans were written at different times and for different purposes. The plans are not harmonized with respect to their policies, designations, and definitions. Harmonization would be useful across the policies in the four plans relating to agriculture, natural heritage and water resources, and should also consider rural uses, settlement policies and servicing. Contradictions and confusion arise especially when the plans overlap. The Provincial Policy Statement establishes more permissive language relating to permitted uses on agricultural land which helps keep agriculture viable. The language and definitions of the plans should be updated and consistent with the PPS 2014.

3. Connectivity of agricultural systems must be maintained – The plans currently protect the connectivity of natural heritage systems. In many cases, the connected natural heritage systems are disconnecting agricultural lands and fragmenting farms. Agricultural lands are not as well protected from fragmentation. Fragmentation of agricultural lands will lead to the demise of farm operations. Farmers cannot survive if they are surrounded by urban boundaries and disconnected by large swaths of natural heritage designations. Agricultural systems must be defined and connectivity between agricultural areas ensured. Agricultural systems are mentioned in the Greenbelt Plan but not sufficiently defined for sound decision making at the municipal level.

4. Appropriate infrastructure must be part of modern agriculture business and rural life in the Greenbelt – Infrastructure in near-urban areas means more than transit and highways. Access to natural gas, water, three-phase power and high-speed internet are essential to the operation of modern agricultural businesses. Families living within the Greenbelt need high speed internet for the operation of business in the global market place. Without access to these modern supports, agriculture in the Greenbelt is relegated to low-tech status and the young people entering agriculture will move out of the Greenbelt to areas more welcoming to modern progressive farms.

5. Investment required in Environmental Farm Plan and Source Water Protection initiatives targeted at Greenbelt area – to further protect watershed areas in Oak Ridges Moraine and other sensitive areas, a reinvestment in the Environmental Farm Plan should target Source Water, Watershed health and Climate Change mitigation. Farmers are good stewards of their land but cannot bear all of societal costs to do so.

6. Intensification of urban areas require buffer zones between people and agriculture – Many of the farms in the Greenbelt are family farms established for several generations. As development comes closer to the farmed area, appropriate buffer zones should be required from the developer and not from the existing farm business. MDS exists for livestock operations and siting of development. Reverse MDS should be considered for farms and development and applied within urban boundaries. Tools such as buffer zones have been used successfully in British Columbia for many years.

7. Niagara Escarpment Commission is redundant when dealing with land use issues – The addition of another layer of oversight ends up adding costs, time delays and frustration when a farmer wants to add a building or build a value-added on-farm enterprise. Many times we have seen this happen especially in the regions of Niagara, and Peel.

8. Bring Plans together under one Ministry – Currently the four plans are administered under different Ministries within the Ontario government. To bring the four plans together for consistency, we would recommend that they all be housed under the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing. As many of the staff within these Ministries have scant knowledge or appreciation for agricultural issues, we would also recommend that the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food take a more assertive role.

Click here to read our full response to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing.

The Panel is to deliver a report to the Ministers of Municipal Affairs and Housing, and Natural Resources and Forestry by September 1, 2015.