Ford government backs down on Schedule 10

 In Opinion

As you are most likely aware, on Jan. 23 the news was tweeted out by Municipal Affairs Minister, Steve Clark, that the government had listened to the responses of MPPs, municipalities, farmers federations, environmental organizations, the Ontario Professional Planners Institute, and countless citizens – responses which were overwhelmingly against Schedule 10 of Bill 66 – and when the legislature returns in February the government will not proceed with Schedule 10. 

That’s democracy in action you could say. This is what can happen when citizens and their local groups are aware and engaged, and when municipalities take a stand and lead. 

“Who has time for this? We have our own lives to lead,” I think someone once said.  So, one could also say this is the very reason we elect MPPs: to propose the kind of legislation in the first place that the majority of people want and can support. So, this may not be a good example of democracy in action.

However, know that the government is also currently proceeding with a review of the Regional Government Model and with proposed amendments to the Provincial Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, 2017. These may well have an impact on Clearview, and consequently us, and they, too, are open for public comment through February. Are you interested in researching these proposals and becoming fully engaged, or do you too have a life to lead?

Of course, the crux of all of this revolves around the issue of orderly and sensible development. The dilemma we confront is that immutable law of the universe – you know, the one that says when you add something here, you take it away from somewhere or something else. The same holds true with land development. Our reality with this is that, here in Southern Ontario, the land we make our development decisions on is farmland – we can choose between keeping it as farmland or change it to some other use we believe is needed. 

In the past that didn’t seem like such a difficult decision. Southern Ontario was all farmland so when we needed lands for other things, we simply took it. After all, there was plenty left out there.  However, by 2006 we discovered we were losing up to 350 acres a day, 365 days of the year, to some form of development. Going forward, the simple meaning to that number is that a person born in 2005 would see all of Ontario’s farmland gone by the time they reached their nineties. 

The Ontario government now claims that it aims to protect farmland. The 2006 Census showed that the loss of farmland has declined to about 175 acres a day. Good news is it will take twice as long now to use it up. By the way, this is also good news for Canada, as half of all the prime agricultural land in Canada is right here in Southern Ontario, and we have slowed our destruction of it. This puts me in awe of all the condos I see when I visit Toronto, when I think each one could represent a subdivision somewhere and ponder the amount of land that would take up.

So back to the laws of the universe, the source of this dilemma. How do we create needed development without sacrificing our irreplaceable farmland? 

Dean of the Ontario Agricultural College, Dr. Rene Van Acker, in a speech given back at NDACT’s AGM in February 2013 said that there are only four elements required for farming – and the first three were soil quality, water, and genetic diversity. Here we have a possible answer to our universal law dilemma. Farming isn’t about the land – it’s about the soil. The right kind of soil, you can farm, the wrong kind, you can’t. Not too many farms out in the Sahara. Not too many farms in the Canadian Shield. What this means is that if farming can only be located where the soil is, then that is where we have to locate it. We have no other choice. Which, by default, means all other kinds of land-use should occur in the land area where there isn’t good soil. 

The fourth element, Dr. Van Acker stated, was farmers. I know – obvious, right? He had just been to Russia and saw the potential for agriculture there as “poor, in this generation” – there were no farmers. There hadn’t been any post-1917, and Perestroika hadn’t made a transition from the collectives to independent owner-operators such as we have. Without farmers, agriculture cannot progress.

Keith Currie, President of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, in his submission on Schedule 10 of Bill 66, noted two things: the government’s statement that Ontario is “Open for Business” and that farming is a business. Again, obvious, right? This is part of what Keith Currie had to say: “Schedule 10 of Bill 66 is a direct attack on the family farm businesses, farm input supply businesses and food processing businesses located throughout Ontario. On-farm production of food underpins a broad spectrum of rural and urban businesses… In 2017, Ontario’s family farm and food processing businesses contributed $39.5 billion in GDP and supported 822,483 jobs. Agriculture and agri-food processors are the number one economic contributor to Ontario’s overall economy. Jeopardizing these stable, recession resistant businesses and jobs runs counter of an ‘open-for-business’ mindset.”  

Wow. Farming is big business and soils and farmers are at the core of that business. So, doesn’t it follow then, if we know where the good soil is, we need to really protect that land for farming, and if farming is also dependent on the availability of farmers, then we need to support our farmers and encourage others to get into farming and the agri-business sector? Our ‘Open for Business’ government should be driving pro-agricultural policies – protecting the soil lands for farming and creating the infrastructure needed by farmers and the agri-business sector.

Kudos to Clearview Township on this – last Friday’s Echo reported that, in budget discussions, council carried Thom Paterson’s recommendation to develop a comprehensive road improvement and maintenance plan for Mount Zion in response to a request from the area farmers, who are affected by adverse road conditions on Concession 5, the 3/4 Sideroad, and the Mulmur/Nottawasaga Townline. (Disclosure of interest: I live on Conc. 5 and can attest to the condition of the roads, which must be damaging to the higher tech farm equipment used today.) This is all about building the infrastructure necessary to promote the biggest business and employment sectors in Ontario. What looms larger in Clearview’s economy than farming and agri-business? We should be actively working with the farming community to ask what they need and building that infrastructure. In the process, we may help people stay in farming and encourage others to get involved.

Nothing is simple of course. But it is a case of understanding the realities and those universal laws and having the political will to make decisions that are in the best interests of everyone. That’s what is so good about living in Simcoe County – we believe in the ‘greater good.’ And that other universal law – everything’s connected.

Brian Bell is Chair of Food and Water First and Vice-Chair of NDACT.                                                                                                                        

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