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Ford government cancels ‘clueless’ plan to allow housing on farmland after backlash

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In Agriculture
Jun 4th, 2023
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Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark speaks in the Ontario Legislature on May 18, 2023.  CHRIS YOUNG / THE CANADIAN PRESS

From the Toronto Star, May 31, 2023
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A rare climbdown by Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives — on an ill-fated housing plan for prime agricultural land — left Housing Minister Steve Clark bruised and critics saying a government with MPPs across rural Ontario is “clueless” on a key farm issue.

“I respect it,” Clark said Wednesday in the wake of the policy change that followed a backlash from more than a dozen farm groups, including the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, and beef and dairy farmers.

The National Farmers Union and other organizations had voiced their “strong opposition” to proposals in a broader government effort to build more housing, allowing farmers to sever three lots from their farm properties for homebuilding.

“Ontario’s productive farmland is a scarce resource … these policy changes put the sustainability of that land and the food system it provides at great risk,” they warned earlier this month in a joint statement.

“We’ve now moved away from that,” confirmed Clark, who weeks ago boasted the proposal would allow farmers to sever lots for children or workers to build homes on as Ontario tries to reach a target of 1.5 million new homes by 2031.

The policy bungle is telling because Ford’s PCs dominate the southern Ontario farm belt, suggesting the government is out of touch, opposition parties said.

“It’s clueless,” Green Leader Mike Schreiner told the Star, noting prime farmland makes up less that five per cent of all land in the province and calling the proposal a “frontal assault on agriculture.”

Farm groups had warned it would fragment farmland, make it harder for farmers to do their jobs, limit the growth of farms, drive up the price of farmland, lead to conflict between farmers and neighbours — particularly over odours and noise — and permanently take valuable land out of food production.

Ontario Federation of Agriculture president Peggy Brekveld said that would threaten “the long-term sustainability of both farming and the food system we all depend on.”

New Democratic Party Leader Marit Stiles said the proposal was “terrible,” and that the reaction shows the government had not consulted with the agricultural community before making it. “I don’t know where this idea came from,” she said.

Agricultural groups welcomed the government’s reversal.

“We understand — and support — the need to increase the housing supply in Ontario, but we also want to ensure that housing is developed without encroaching on Ontario’s farmland, which is our most precious natural resource,” they said in a statement.

Brekveld said the best strategy for more housing is directing growth to urban and rural areas that are already settled and close to sewer and other infrastructure, not carving space out of farmers’ fields.

“Housing needs can be met in serviced areas using much less land,” she said.

The provincial budget in March forecast about 80,000 new housing starts annually over the next three years, well below the 150,000 needed annually to meet the government’s 2031 goal.

Read the article here

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