Expanded Greenbelt raises questions
WATERLOO REGION — Waterloo Region’s farmers, rural townships and municipal planners are trying to figure out what a proposed expansion of Ontario’s Greenbelt could mean for restrictions on land use in this region.
The province is considering adding huge swaths of land to an 810,000-hectare area around the Greater Golden Horseshoe, known as the Greenbelt, as part of expanded plans to protect water resources.
Among the areas being studied are the Waterloo and Paris/Galt moraine in Waterloo Region — a water supply that runs through the local townships of Wilmot, Wellesley, Woolwich and North Dumfries.
While some rural politicians are skeptical of the province’s timing, just months before an election, others point out the Region of Waterloo has had protections for local farmland and groundwater in place for decades.
Region of Waterloo Chair Ken Seiling said the municipality is worried handing conservation of local farmland and groundwater over to provincial jurisdiction might actually mean less, not more, protection.
“Our concern has always been that they don’t weaken the protections we already have in our plan,” he said. “We want a guarantee that what we have isn’t weakened by the Greenbelt legislation, because in some cases, we believe we’re stronger . ... We don’t want to lose control.”
Others speculated the province’s announcement looks like a move to win more environmental votes in the 2018 election. The area under review stretches from Simcoe County and the Niagara Escarpment to Wellington County and as far south as Brantford.
“Is this just an election ploy to appease a certain group for vot- ers?” asked North Dumfries Mayor Sue Foxton.
“We’ll have to see how this plays out . ... We’re not saying that it’s wrong or right. But it has to be analysed to see the true impact. We can’t hurt farmers anymore than they’ve already been hurt.”
She said an expanded Greenbelt could affect everything from farming to development to the aggregate industry.
But she said the townships needs to study the province’s proposal further. Her municipality plans to weigh in on the public consultation process, too.
The province’s study is only focused on rural lands. The urban areas of Waterloo, Kitchener, Cambridge and Guelph, and the towns within the rural townships, are exempt.
The Region of Waterloo, one of the largest municipalities in Ontario that relies on groundwater for its drinking water supply, has had policies to protect its water system since the 1990s.
When the Greenbelt was first being drafted, some of the rules around farmland protection were also based on polices developed by the Region of Waterloo when the municipality was formed in the 1970s.
The municipality is planning to formally respond to the province’s study, but firmly believes it already has more rigorous protections than what’s being proposed.
“The region has always been a leader on this. Based on our review of the policies, I’d suggest the region’s current policy is actually stronger,” said Michelle Sergi, the region’s director of community planning.
“The region has always had very strong policies for protection of our rural areas. We’ve had those in place for a long period of time.”
The Grand River Conservation Authority, which protects the Grand River watershed, said it’s also reviewing the province’s proposal, and plans to respond.
Les Armstrong, mayor of the Township of Wilmot, said he’s suspicious of the timing and doubtful of the potential impact around expanding the Greenbelt into areas where’s there’s already strong conservation polices in place.
“I’m not sure why they’re looking at this. I know these are things they look at around election time,” he said. “There’s already lots of protections in place.”
In other parts of Ontario, some farmers are concerned about a proposal to double the setbacks required to create a larger buffer around water sources, said Keith Currie, president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture.
The province says the Greenbelt is already home to more than nine million people, and is experiencing significant growth and pressure from urban development. It says the moraines, cold water streams and wetlands that border on the Greenbelt are most in need of protection.
“Our lakes, rivers and wetlands are essential to the high quality of life enjoyed by people living in the Greater Golden Horseshoe’s outer ring, today and in the future. We all have an important role to play in preserving these vital water resources,” said Bill Mauro, Minister of Municipal Affairs.