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 failing us.
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 for
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 be sold.
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 at
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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