Special Report

Municipalities Need to Unite against Ford's Firehose of Land Use Changes

Do Hamilton City Councillors really want our taxpayers to subsidize low-density future growth which will increase pollution, car commute times, impact our emissions and pave over farmland?

By Michelle Silverton
Published February 16, 2021

Hamilton Community Energy and Emissions Plan (CEEP) consultant Yuill Herbert explains:

"The most powerful mechanism municipalities have is land use planning. Land use planning locks in patterns of a lot of emissions or patterns of very little emissions."

Hebert's bold statement should be informing Hamilton's growth plan. Unfortunately, the province's Land Use Growth Plan for Hamilton is ready to go in April 2021, while the CEEP is only going through preliminary stages.

The City of Hamilton needs to hear the advice of the final report of the CEEP consultant before submitting to any provincial Land Use Growth Plan: and the public needs an opportunity to give in-person input.

Right now, some in our community lack internet resources to participate in City and Regional Zoom meetings. Instead of rushing through its plan, the province should be asked to wait until COVID restrictions lapse.

In 2019, Ford's government made many changes to land use planning through a variety of provincial statutes and policy documents (A Place to Grow), and, most notably the changes to Conservation Authorities and MZOs."

Essentially Ford's government has watered down smart growth intensification plans favouring, instead, a profit-driven sprawl approach. As Councillor Jane Fogal of Halton Hills says, "It is death by a thousand cuts, all sanctioned by the provincial government that only sees the economic value of buildings."

With the Ford approach, cities and towns will encroach beyond their boundaries, and be allowed to develop single home suburbs on large lots 1970s style.

While Land Use planning may seem like an unlikely lever of climate impact, land use plans represent a way to preserve our environment and save our fragile, indispensable farmland. Why do the new changes to land policy seem to contest the sound, reasoned, existing smart intensification goal targets?

How can we plan population and economic plans for a distant future without adequate farmland? Why are we using mid-century, car driven, laissez faire plans to get us there?

Hamilton needs to follow the lead of Halton Hills Council. In a motion passed on February 1, Halton Council is requesting more time from the province to consult and engage residents regarding the Growth Plan.

Despite restrictions from the pandemic, public consultations are absolutely necessary: the Ford land use plan will lock in decisions until 2051.

Farmland is not being considered as the resource it represents for the province. In fact, these farmland properties are treated in these documents as 'empty lots' without the consideration that less than five percent of Ontario land is actually arable.

With the Ford approach, Class 1, 2, and 3 farmland could be destroyed permanently. Much of the best farmland in Canada is right here in Southern Ontario. Why allow low-density sprawl to eradicate one of our most precious resources, arable land?

Already, 179 hectares of agricultural land in Ontario are lost daily to urban growth (OFA). De-regulation of land use by Ford "will accelerate agricultural land losses across the Growth Plan area, hamstringing Ontario's productive agri-food sector." (OFA.)

Fixed urban boundaries, and re-establishment of smart growth intensification can protect finite and shrinking agricultural land resources. But these reasonable ideas are lacking in the Ford government's fire hose of recent policy changes.

As Lynda Lukasik of Environment Hamilton has said, "We don't have time to be messing around with this ridiculous sort of undoing of good policy changes that have been built up over multiple years."

Our cities need vital investments in our downtown and urban areas. As London, Ont. (pop. 410,000)'s municipal plan states:

"A very compact form of growth could save billions of dollars in infrastructure costs and tens of millions of dollars in annual operating costs compared with a highly spread-out form of the same growth over the next 50 years."

Rural low-density sprawl costs more as Emergency and Community services, utilities and roads needed to be added to an ever-expanding city footprint. Do Hamilton City Councillors really want our taxpayers to subsidize low-density future growth which will increase pollution, car commute times, impact our emissions and pave over farmland? Who really benefits from low-density sprawl?

The courageous motion by Halton's Jane Fogal needs to be replicated by all of the municipalities in the Greater Golden Horseshoe. Councils in the region must band together against this assault on farmland and climate targets.

The province should suspend the timetable for municipal conformity to the Growth Plan to ensure that the public can fully participate in the process of planning their communities for the next 30 years of growth.

Solidarity amongst our municipalities is necessary to protect our farmland, soils, and to have any hope to reduce emissions.

"Humans, despite all their accomplishments, owe their entire existence to six inches of topsoil and the fact that it rains."

--Middlesex Federation of Agriculture Message Board


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