Ontario farmers are expressing their concern about the Ontario government’s latest proposal to supercharge the development of housing. It’s called Bill 97 – the Helping Homebuyers, Protecting Tenants Act – and while that sounds like it has nothing to do with farming, there is a caveat in the legislation that has farmers concerned. Something they say will accelerate the loss of precious farmland in Ontario.
Put simply, Bill 97 will make it easier for municipalities to split large parcels of farmland into small residential lots that will theoretically make it quicker and easier to build new homes to combat the housing crisis. A joint statement from various Ontario farming groups including the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, the National Farmers Union-Ontario, the Beef Farmers of Ontario, and the Dairy Farmers of Ontario sees things different though.
“Residential lot creation in agricultural areas has long been controversial and the detrimental impacts for agriculture are well demonstrated, including fragmentation of the agricultural land base, increased conflicts between neighbouring land uses, risk of inflating farmland prices and increasing costs to municipalities,” reads the joint statement.
The farm groups are also concerned that Bill 97 will weaken farmland protection, and make Ontario farms the target for land speculation and investment, which will increase the cost of farmland overall and make it harder for new people to get into the business of farming. The Ontario Farmland Trust has been trying to raise awareness about the loss of farmland, which they peg at 319 acres per day in Ontario with the province’s prime farmland getting absorbed for urban development.
“We do not support policies that will increase residential lot creation in prime agricultural areas or in rural areas that are actively farmed. Ontario boasts some of Canada’s richest and most fertile farmland and these policy changes put the sustainability of that land and the food system it provides at great risk,” the statement added.
The farmers have an obvious ally in Green Party of Ontario leader and Green MPP Mike Schreiner who in his own statement called on the Ontario government to follow the farmers’ advice and pull Bill 97 and the proposed provincial planning statement.
“Ontario’s farmers have a clear message for the Ford government: to farm, we need farmland. Our province’s food and farming sector is a $50-billion economic powerhouse. It fuels our economy, supports rural communities, and strengthens our food security,” Schreiner said. “Ontario Greens know there’s clear value in our food and farming sector. We stand with the agricultural leaders across the province fighting to protect it.”
A report released by Environmental Defense in February said that there was enough land in Ontario already target for development or redevelopment that they could absorb the construction of two million new homes without ever touch the Greenbelt or expanding urban boundaries.
“The homes required to reach the projected 2 million number could be built in the range of types and forms, and at the lower than beneficial densities that have occurred in the past, and still achieve this goal,” the report said. “Even more homes could be created in this same area if forms and densities were built that would provide optimal arrangements for supporting public transit, walkability, higher amounts of public amenities and lower infrastructure costs.”
Bill 97 has passed second reading in the legislature, and it is available for public comment online until June 5.