Ontario Federation of Agriculture Commentary By Mark Reusser, Executive Member, OFA
The Ontario government recently released its Crombie Report – draft plans on the 10-year review of four significant land use plans for Ontario. These plans, released by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, cover the Greenbelt Plan, the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, the Oak Ridges Moraine Conversation Plan, and the Niagara Escarpment Plan.
The Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) participated in the initial consultations when most of these plans were first implemented more than 10 years ago. OFA has provided input and followed the review of these plans with keen interest as any changes to these plans have big implications for Ontario farmers.
OFA Vice President Keith Currie was part of the six-member expert advisory panel that led the review process. OFA’s participation brought the interests of farmers and rural landowners directly to the panel, based on input from OFA members and local county federations.
Farmland preservation has driven OFA recommendations throughout the review process for these plans, and was a key part of 10 recommendations OFA submitted on the first round of consultations in May 2015. An initial review of the recommendations for changes to the four plans shows a mix of outcomes for Ontario agriculture and rural landowners.
OFA did not endorse expansion of the Greenbelt. While some expansions were included in the Crombie Report recommendations, they are minor.
It is our contention that firm urban boundaries coupled with mandatory intensification targets are more effective at preserving farmland than arbitrary greenbelt boundaries.
The requirement for a new “agricultural impact assessment” for developments that impact agricultural land in the Greenbelt Plan and Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe and a recommendation that there be appropriate buffers between new urban developments and existing farmland are positive responses to OFA’s concern about new urban development that abuts agricultural land. We also applaud the government’s commitment to better defining Agricultural Systems and their importance to agriculture in Ontario.
OFA had recommended that all four land use plans move under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, however the Niagara Escarpment Plan remains under the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry.
OFA pushed for the need for consistency in language, policies and implementation across all four plans, but we are not seeing this outcome. OFA also recommended an end to the unique approval role of the Niagara Escarpment Commission, replacing it with local municipal approval, but this change was not achieved.
The push for farmland preservation never ends. OFA will continue to bring our grassroots view to government in the consultations that follow, to ensure these policies and plans preserve our most valuable natural resource and enable farming to continue to thrive within these protected areas.