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Precious 2 Million Acres

Blog/FavouritesDecember 7th 2022
Stephen Near

Last year, in the waning days of the summer of 2021, my wife and I packed ourselves and our kids in her car and drove from our Hamilton suburb to the shores of Port Dover. Our route there and back again took us through countless fields and green and pristine farmland that seemed to stretch forever. I recall how invigorating, and how healing, this particular drive in rural Ontario was. Since moving here over a decade ago, my family and I have taken dozens of these drives among the countryside of southern Ontario surrounded by the rolling hills and lush forests.

Unfortunately, much of this countryside is now slated to be paved over.

Up until now, the encroachment of urban sprawl has been a gradual thing one might see along Rymal Road or Mud Street East. However, on October 25th of this year, the Ford government introduced Bill 23, awkwardly named "More Homes Built Faster Act,  2022". The Act is an omnibus bill that would result in a total overhaul of the urban planning process across Southern Ontario and the Greater Golden Horseshoe area. It would throw away critical protections for wetlands and woodlands in much of the Green Belt while accelerating uncontrolled sprawl across the GTHA.

Now, Conservatives would argue that Ford was elected to a majority mandate in this summer’s recent election (although that, too, is debatable). And part of that mandate included building roads and homes. So doesn’t he have the right to press forward? Except Ford also promised that his government wouldn’t touch the Green Belt and, indeed, would protect it.

Not surprisingly, the reneging by Ford’s government on this environmental issue has sparked a heated backlash. Last I checked, there were at least five “hands off the Green Belt” petitions, with well over 24,000 signatures combined. Furthermore, numerous protests and municipal council meetings all over southern Ontario have joined a chorus to see Ford’s broken promise reversed. What’s more, investigations by the media into the history of the developers who stand to gain from paving over the Greenbelt have revealed troubling links to the Ford government as big business donors and patrons.

The government claims they need this land to build more housing. Yet, it's difficult to buy that argument when weighed against the immeasurable loss of drinking water, biodiversity and parkland and heritage sites. Regardless of the politics, one thing is certain - if this land is paved over, it will be a loss felt for generations to come.

Indeed, after almost three years of the pandemic that shut so many of us inside, the importance of wide open rural spaces close by has never seemed so important. In more ways than one, the Greenbelt is Hamilton’s own backyard and once it’s gone… it’s gone for good.