Federal Minister sends key message to Greenbelt Gobblers

April 3, 2023
Gord Miller

Federal Environment and Climate Change Minister, Steven Guilbeault, recently intervened in Premier Ford’s plans to cede lands, ostensibly protected by the Greenbelt, to developers.

Guilbeault announced that the federal government will commission a study to assess the impact of the development on the biodiversity, ecological connectivity and other natural features of the adjacent Rouge National Urban Park. Earthroots (and others) had had appealed to the Minister to do just that and he did!

Aside from the obvious value in interjecting some rational analysis based on real data into what was clearly an impulsive political decision the Minister’s action imparts another important message to the debate over protecting natural heritage lands. As Ford’s supporters would see it, the Greenbelt lands are just parcels delineated by lines on a map. They only have value in their proximity to existing transportation, sewer and water systems and thus for their development potential. Their highest value is to be “used” to create seas of suburban home scrunched in across the terrain. But it must be recognized that these lands are much more than that.

The Greenbelt must be seen as a living tapestry, a functioning ecological and cultural landscape where, despite the current level of human occupation and agricultural activity, biological life thrives to the betterment of all Ontarians. Residual hedgerows, woodlots, conservation areas and floodplains sew this tapestry together by providing linkages and corridors where plants and animals can disperse, migrate, and genetically interact. The objective is to cultivate that tapestry not to sever chunks from it and substitute alternative parcels in other locations that have current lower “development value.”

The Minister’s action has sent the message that land use decisions like those proposed for the Greenbelt have impacts and implications, not only to the lands to be developed, but to those lands adjacent, linked and entwined across the ecological tapestry. These effects must be evaluated and assessed before changes are approved. Even if there is an overwhelming imperative to go forward with such actions, Ontario society ought to know the what they are sacrificing to achieve it. Minister Guilbeault did not stop the Ford government initiative, but he at least is supporting our right to know the cost.

Rouge National Urban Park

Header photo by Benjamin Davies on Unspash
Rouge Park photo by Jordan87 on Flickr

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