With Ontario voters going to the polls tomorrow, the battle is still on to protect the province’s rural communities from urban sprawl, amped up by Ministerial Zoning Orders (MZOs) that have enabled the Ford government to rezone land without a municipal council’s permission.
“In some cases, MZOs have been used to increase density. But environmental advocates, farmers, and residents insist that MZOs can also be used to turn farmland into subdivisions,” Global News reports. The net result is that “the future is uncertain for a lot of farmers in the ‘urban shadow’—as cities are pushed to expand, and more farmland is at risk of getting gobbled up. Some are resigned to the fact they’re being squeezed out; others are fighting sprawl, and provincial policies they say enable it, with all they’ve got.”
Global profiles a farmer and a reluctant community organizer in Hamilton who’ve been part of the city’s epic battle to put a lid on sprawl. The movement “has now spread to other municipalities like Oakville, which is clinging to its last remaining acres of farmland,” the TV network says. People in Halton Region and Burlington are pushing back, as well, though new construction and soaring land values are making it tough for local farmers to stay on their land.
“I don’t see how the next generation is going to be able to survive here,” said 32-year-old Halton farmer Brandon Saliba. “I just had a newborn son that I’m hoping one day can do the same thing that I do, and have the passion for it and enjoy it as much as I do.”
But “with the way things are, it’s very difficult to farm here, within the urban shadow,” he told Global.
The news story connects the issue of sprawl and declining farmland to Ford’s determination to push through construction of Highway 413, a new super-highway through the province’s Greenbelt that three-quarters of suburban residents say they don’t even want.
“The Ford Conservatives have staked their electoral chances on the notion of ‘fixing’ Ontario’s roads,” Global writes. “That includes building more highways around the Greater Golden Horseshoe area,” even though increasing highway capacity is no antidote to traffic gridlock.
“There is conclusive evidence that more roads don’t solve traffic problems. The concept attached to it is called ‘induced demand’ and some of the most detailed research on the subject was done by two former University of Toronto researchers, Gilles Duranton and Matthew Turner,” who “found that building more roads only led to more congestion, as more drivers were ‘induced’ to drive on them.”
But that hasn’t stopped Ford from pushing an issue that resonates with his own political career and strikes a chord with voters.
“That’s a sweet spot for him,” communications strategist Daniel Tisch told Global. Ford “came to prominence in politics at Toronto city council, when he would rail on about the war against the car, so this is very natural territory for him.” As for the swing voters he’s been trying to woo, “in that moment when the driver’s stuck in traffic, there’s a lot of visceral appeal to what Mr. Ford is offering.”
That thinking connects to the Ford government’s use of MZOs to get around environmental regulations and consultation requirements—a purpose for which former provincial environment commissioner Gord Miller says they were never intended.
“In the past, the province would invoke these when a community needed a hospital—fast—or when a major car manufacturer wanted to set up shop in Ontario, creating thousands of jobs,” Global writes. “They were never intended, Miller says, for standard development applications that have a huge impact on the landscape and require robust public input.”
This is just a short summary of Global News reporter Kamyar Razavi’s deeper dive on urban planning issues, farmland protection, and MZOs. Click here for the whole story.