Farmland protection a hot topic at Peterborough-Kawartha debate
The question of how much farmland ought to be protected in Ontario was a hot-button issue at an all-candidates’ debate on Wednesday evening, with Progressive Conservative Dave Smith arguing for greater freedom for development and incumbent Liberal Jeff Leal arguing for less.
Smith said that the combination of the Places to Grow Act and the designation of prime agricultural lands in Ontario have left many communities “hamstrung” when it comes to development.
Densification and smaller residential properties may work well in big urban centres, he said, and the PCs understand the need to avoid urban sprawl.
“But let’s not just apply what works in Toronto to the rest of the province,” he said.
Meanwhile Leal, who has been minister of agriculture, food and rural affairs since 2014, argued strongly in favour of preserving land for farmers.
“I’ll do everything in my power to protect prime agricultural land in Ontario,” he said, adding that PC Leader Doug Ford mused recently about opening up the Green Belt for more development “We’re not that party,” he said. The debate was hosted by Peterborough and the Kawarthas Association of Realtors (PKAR) at the Lions Community Centre. About 50 people were there and the meeting was moderated by realtor Kristi Doyle (of Exit Realty).
Leal, Smith, Sean Conway (NDP) and Gianne Broughton (Green) participated.
Broughton participated for most of the discussion, but left with about 30 minutes to go in the two-hour debate; she said she wasn’t physically able to go on (she also left early from a debate on Tuesday evening, saying she wasn’t able to continue).
Meanwhile Ken Ranney of the Stop Climate Change party didn’t attend Wednesday evening and neither did Jacob Currier (Libertarian party) or Rob Roddick (Trillium party).
Many of the questions on Wednesday focused on housing. Candidates were asked, for instance, what they would do in the short term to add more serviced residential lots to the city.
Smith pointed out that a prospective annexation deal with the Cavan Monaghan Township last year that would have brought more residential lots into city limits.
“The province could mediate it, and come up with a solution that would work for both (the city and the township),” he said.
But Leal said he’d arranged for a mediator’s appointment to the case and that there’s been behind-the-scenes progress lately on the file (although he said he’s not privy to any details).
Broughton took a different tack: she said there ought to be a focus on infill, rather than urban sprawl.
“We would really try to update city zoning laws … for tiny homes, secondary suites and laneway housing,” she said.
Conway – who said he’s a renter – focused on the bigger picture, saying the NDP plans to build 65,000 new units of housing across the province over the next decade.
“That’s the baseline of what we’re going to need,” he said.
The candidates were also asked how they would alleviate the need for long-term care, and Leal mentioned that in February the Liberals announced a new longterm-care home for Havelock.
Smith said that was too little, too late.
“The reality is that in the last 15 years there hasn’t been a new long-term care bed in Ontario,” he said, adding that the new facility for Havelock was announced just 72 days before the election.
Leal replied that HavelockBelmont-Methuen Township Mayor Ron Gerow – who wasn’t in the room – wouldn’t likely call it a last-minute effort from the Liberals to gain votes.
“Ask Ron Gerow – his version of events would be radically different (from Smith’s),” Leal said.
Peterborough-Kawartha NDP candidate Sean Conway, Progressive Conservative Dave Smith, Liberal incumbent Jeff Leal and Green party candidate Gianne Broughton take part in the Peterborough and the Kawartha Association of Realtors debate on Wednesday at the Lions Community Centre.