LETTER FROM ONTARIO
Loopholes the size of houses and subdivisions

Farm & Countryside Commentary by Elbert van Donkersgoed

Editor's NOTE

Elbert van Donkersgoed is the Strategic Policy Advisor of the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario, Canada. CFFO is supported by 4,500 family farmers across the province of Ontario.

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January 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 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 agriculture."

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.

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Bill 26 2003, An Act to Amend the Planning Act can be found at <http://www.ontla.on.ca/documents/Bills/
38_Parliament/Session1//b026_e.htm#P152_12119
>

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/
HTML/nts_1_6976_1.html>

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