26, 2004: "Prime agricultural areas will be
protected for agriculture." so says Ontario's Provincial
Policy Statement issued under the Planning Act. When municipalities
and agencies such as the Ontario Municipal Board exercise
their authority under the Planning Act, this policy statement
is supposed to guide them.
During the 1990s, 15,000 new lots were created across the
province on land designated as agricultural. Some municipalities
allowed as many as four new rural lots per 1000 acres of farmland—
lots that had no connection to farming. Our cities continued
to sprawl onto the best farmland around them. Eighteen percent
(18%) of Ontario's best land is now buried under urban centers.
The provincial policy to protect prime agricultural land is
Our new provincial government is promising changes. Legislation
has been introduced in the provincial legislature that will
change the criteria that must be met when a municipality or
other agency makes any decision on land use. Today, those
who make our decisions -- such as allowing a new suburb on
the edge of a city, or severing a lot off the corner of a
farm— must "have regard to" the Provincial
Policy Statement. Our Liberal government is changing the criteria
to "be consistent with." In other words, land use
decisions will soon need to be consistent with the policy
statement, "Prime agricultural areas will be protected
But, I'm not expecting that farmland will be better protected.
Ontario's policy statement spouts noble language about protecting
prime agricultural land. At the same time, it includes clauses
that create loopholes the size of houses and subdivisions.
One such clause grants every farmer a retirement lot. Decision
makers can allow thousands of additional countryside lots
and still be consistent with the provincial policy. Incidentally,
many municipalities apparently don't check to see if applicants
for countryside lots are really farmers. A recent study published
by the School of Rural Planning at the University of Guelph
showed that 56% of those 15,000 severances during the 90s
were non-farm residential lots. The farm-related lots seldom
stayed that way for more than three years.
Another such clause grants municipalities a licence to expand
their urban area at the expense of prime farmland. All they
are obligated to do is demonstrate need. De facto this means
that all a developer needs to do is show that a house can
The Planning Act requires that policy statements be reviewed
every five years. Current statements date from 1997. A review,
initiated in timely fashion by our previous government, has
dragged on for more than two years. Meanwhile more prime farmland
grows one last crop of houses. Noble words with built-in circumvention
cannot protect our prime farmland.
Bill 26 2003, An Act to Amend the Planning Act can be found
A report on the severance activity in Ontario's agricultural
land during the 1990s can be found at <http://www.waynecaldwell.ca/development_final.PDF>
A summary of the consultations for the five-year review of
the Provincial Policy Statement can be found at: <http://www.mah.gov.on.ca/userfiles/
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