The question of how to use our limited land in Southern Ontario is where many key election issues — housing, farmland, climate change, highways, good government — all intersect.

Southern Ontario is home to a rapidly growing population, but it is also a place where we grow good, local food and provides ideal habitat for many local species. The provincial government must find a way to balance all these needs.

With a war in Ukraine and extreme weather threatening global food supplies, we must be especially careful to preserve our capacity to grow food locally. Southern Ontario has rich, fertile soil and moderate weather. About half of Canada’s prime farmland is in Ontario. Once this land is paved or developed, the soil is damaged irreparably.

Farmland in Durham Region

Although municipalities are responsible for planning where and what different structures can be built, the province sets guidelines for city planning and plans the routes of highways.

Doug Ford is threatening our farmland (and the habitat of many endangered species) in two different ways.

First of all, in the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, Ford reduced the minimum number of homes cities are expected to build in areas already zoned for housing thereby pushing places like Peel, Hamilton, Durham and York to open up the farmland around their peripheries for housing. 

Both the National Farmer’s Union and the Ontario Federation of Agriculture have raised concerns about the endless push for more sprawl.

In Durham, the planning and growth committee literally selected a growth plan written by land speculators over the plan recommended by their own planning staff! Sean Collier, the Mayor of Ajax, called out other Durham region councillors about this absurdity.

When farmland is rezoned for housing, its price skyrockets, making real estate speculators — many of whom are big Ford donors — extremely wealthy almost over night.

And remember, the plans were adjusted so that cities build LESS HOMES close to current infrastructure and build them on larger lots on the periphery instead — so we don’t even get more affordable housing by paving our farmland, we get LESS AFFORDABLE HOUSING!

The other — more expensive — problem is the $10 Billion Highway 413.

Highway 413 will pave over 400 acres of the Greenbelt and over 2,000 acres of Class 1 and Class 2 farmland! And that’s just the land the will be consumed by the highway itself.

Once the highway is built, farmland surrounding the highway will also be bulldozed for cookie-cutter McMansions that nobody can afford.

Oh — and who happens to own that land? Ford donors!

This map from a National Observer investigation maps the properties owned by major Ford donors against the route of the 413.

One subsection of the 413 was rerouted— against staff recommendations — so that it avoided property owned by Ford donor Argo Developments and went straight through the Nashville Conservation Reserve instead.

BOTTOM LINE: Ontario is planning to spend more than $10 billion paving over farmland and putting endangered species at risk in order to reward Doug Ford’s donors. The government has also distorted municipal growth plans with the same goal in mind. And we’re not actually even getting more housing as a result — because Ford changed the rules so less houses would be built in central areas in order to ensure that we sprawl further outwards.

The Ontario NDP and the Ontario Greens have both committed to cancelling the 413 and the Bradford Bypass. The Ontario Liberals have committed to cancelling the 413 and pausing the Bradford Bypass until a new Environmental Assessment has been completed.

The Ontario NDP and the Ontario Greens have both committed to making changes to municipal zoning rules so that more homes can be built in existing cities and farmland can be preserved. The Liberals will work with municipalities to make changes to zoning with a similar long-term goal of preserving farmland and reducing sprawl.

Because the other three parties will all cancel the 413 and adjust growth plans to preserve farmland, you should vote for whichever party has the best chance of beating the Conservatives in your riding.

To learn more, read the answers from all four parties to Question 7 — which focusses on highways and sprawl — of this survey from the Environmental Priorities Working Group.