Ford gets feisty on Greenbelt and housing crisis amid immigration influx

The Ontario Progressive Conservatives are under fire over Greenbelt development while simultaneously attracting nearly half of Canada’s newcomers, underscoring the challenge of balancing essential needs.

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Earlier this month Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s government was under fire after what was being called a “scathing” report by Ontario’s Auditor General.

Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk accused the government of favouring developers and landowners, claiming they had direct access to Housing Minister Steve Clark’s chief of staff, Ryan Amato, who has since resigned.

But that wasn’t enough.

Reporters and others are pressing Premier Ford about his handling of the Greenbelt and its potential development.

The premier recently had a feisty — but fitting — response wherein he pointed out that many Ontarians do not have a home to go back to each night.

Ford refers to 2018 when he explicitly stated that he would not touch the Greenbelt, which just so happened to be a year after his government did amend Greenbelt boundaries. We’ll get to that in a minute.

Premier Ford clearly relayed in 2018 that there was a housing crisis. That was six years ago.

So, what has changed between now and then?

The unreasonably high number of immigrants coming into Canada, for starters, with seemingly little infrastructure or tangible strategic programming to support them.

Canada is on track to intake 465,000 immigrants this year (2023), another 485,000 by the end of 2024, and 500,000 by 2025, according to the government of Canada’s most recent annual report.

Total ranges, however, exceed those amounts by 40,000 or 60,000 additional people, per year. Of those nearly 1.5 million people over the next few years, Ontario will attract almost half of them.

In 2022 alone, Ontario received over 227,000 immigrants. It’s been that way since at least 2001, according to Statistics Canada.

StatsCan further confirms that “Ontario attracts the most immigrants, but also loses the most non-permanent residents.”

Meanwhile, data from Statista show that immigration shot up exponentially in Ontario in 2021/2022.

When pressed about the issue, Premier Ford condemns Prime Minister Justin Trudeau saying that he “didn’t know that the federal government was going to bring in over five hundred thousand [immigrants]. Now we learn that those aren’t accurate numbers, it’s probably up to seven or eight hundred thousand that are arriving.”

“I didn’t get a phone call saying ‘surprise, surprise we’re dropping this many people into your province. Good luck, you deal with them,’” Ford furthered.

It begs the question: where do those newcomers end up?

Well, mostly in Toronto since it’s the Canadian city with the highest number of immigrants arriving.

In 2021/2022, Toronto received nearly 160,000 immigrants. That’s nearly three-quarters of the entire province's immigration numbers funnelling primarily into one major city.

The population then sprawls out into the Greater Toronto area (GTA) — exactly where the Greenbelt is located.

It’s urban sprawl.

Now this urban sprawl is conflicting with Ontario’s Greenbelt, the world's largest protected greenspace with two million acres of lush farmlands, forests, wetlands and watersheds. It’s said to act as the heart and lungs of the GTA.

The Greenbelt includes over 800,000 hectares of land that extends 325 km from the eastern end of the Oak Ridges Moraine, near Rice Lake, in the east, to the Niagara River in the west. It’s the heart of the Greater Golden Horseshoe.

The Greenbelt Act was passed in 2005 that delegates protection and land use designations for the Greenbelt.

The Greenbelt Plan of 2017 more clearly defines protections and designations, stating that it’s meant “to establish a land use planning framework for the GGH [Greater Golden Horseshow] that supports a thriving economy, a clean and healthy environment and social equity.”

Page 95 of the 98-page plan shows settlements of development within the protected areas, comprising of towns and hamlets.

Premier Ford’s government is under fire for amending the act as recently as 2022 and swapping out land.

The map shows removals from the protected countryside as well as additions to the urban river valley area.

This happened in 2017, too. The government added and removed protected areas extensively. Was there opposition uproar and the wrath of the media hoisted at the government then?

As it goes, the further out one sprawls, the less infrastructure is in place to support things like housing, transportation and amenities; all things that are necessary for anyone just starting out in a new country.

So, Ontario, and Ontarians, what gives?

If the province continues to receive the vast majority of the Trudeau government's absolutely astonishingly high immigration targets, then where should they be housed?

And if Ontarians want to protect greenspaces then, how does the province still meet those imminent immigration targets while trying to get ahead of the housing crisis?

You can’t have your cake and eat it too.

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  • By Ezra Levant

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