Photo by: Ave Chuklanov
Ontario’s Greenbelt is under attack by the Ford administration as they look to develop housing in the protected regions. Suddenly the Ford government’s slogan, “Open for Business” is the literal truth when it comes to the province.
The move to develop in the protected Greenbelt is solely for profit gains as Ford continues to hide behind the veneer of an altruistic intention to combat the worsening housing crisis. Early in November, Ford cited the recent plans by the Federal Government to bring in 500,000 immigrants to Canada by 2025 as justification for his expanding housing development into the protected Greenbelt.
This reasoning is asinine.
Most immigrants will not be able to afford housing in Canada for a long time, if ever and the Fed’s recent interest rate hikes only make the prospect of housing prices ever coming down more dismal. Even if in some far off reality some of them can, the chances that what’s being developed are affordable, spatially reasonable, environmentally-friendly units as opposed to the euclidean zoning which are conducive to hot housing items for speculators and middle to high-income families are slim.
Let’s not forget that in December of last year, a Housing Affordability Task Force created a detailed report on the best ways to eliminate the housing crisis. When their findings were published in February, one of their main solutions for the housing crisis was banning exclusionary zoning from provincial law because the seemingly all-encompassing category of densified housing is illegal in most areas exclusively zoned for single-family dwellings. Due to these zoning practices, it is estimated that up to 70 per cent of total land in Ontario’s municipalities can’t absorb population growth.
Ontario’s Minister of Housing, Steve Clark, tabled Bill 109, entitled the More Affordable Home for Everyone Act, in March of 2021. It was an act informed by the Task Force’s report that clearly avoided most of the fixes, such as radically changing exclusionary zoning laws, suggested in the report.
This government simply does not care about fixing the housing crisis, immigrants. Trudging into protected green regions isn’t a solution. At least, not when there’s no one with any sense at the wheel in the Ontario legislature who wants to face the underlying causes of the housing shortage. Ontario’s housing prices have jumped to over 200 per cent in the last decade while incomes have risen only 38 per cent in the same time.
Despite the median entry wage for Canadian immigrants in 2017 being the highest ever recorded (roughly $30,000), it’s still not enough for the astronomical price of housing. The fixation, made apparent in Bill 109, with doing away with “red tape” and getting concrete laid down ASAP sounds good on paper but if it’s built on a flawed theory then it’s tantamount to looking busy just for the look of it — or for the profit motives and power insurance attached to it.
While Ford denies that his intention to open up the Greenbelt for development expansion was fueled by special interest groups, the optics are not in his favour with unclear details left out of this latest move and old statements of Ford’s surfacing that outright go against his contention.
The previously mentioned Minister of Housing, Steve Clark, has given no clear details on how the plots of land in the wild and rural lands were selected for development and which developers were pushing for it.
“It doesn’t matter who you are,” Clark said in a statement to the press in mid-November. “If you’re looking at assisting the Government of Ontario in building 1.5 million homes, we want to work with you.”
Dalton McGuinty enshrined the protection of the 800,000 hectares that make up the Greenbelt into law in 2005. These areas consist of farmland, wetlands and forests. Much of this land is environmentally sensitive and provides Ontario with some of its most beautiful scenery and clean air.
In 2018, just before coming into office, Ford was recorded at a business event saying that the idea to expand into the Greenbelt came to him because “I’ve already talked to the biggest developers in the country… I wish I could say it’s my idea, but it’s their idea as well.” This sentiment is something he would backtrack on shortly after, claiming he wouldn’t enter the Greenbelt if elected. But here we are.
Of course large developers want the Greenbelt open; they can buy cheap farmland which is relatively flat and unencumbered by dense wildlife and make massive profits.
This government doesn’t care about getting the next generation of Canadians, which includes the influx of immigrants, into affordable housing. Developers care about profit extraction and their bottom line using the political power granted by Doug Ford’s overwillingness to shill to the highest bidders.