Farmers speak out against Greenbelt
PATTI FOLEY, For The Banner
In the final scheduled Town Hall meeting regarding the proposed
Greenbelt Act 2004 (Bill 135), provincial government representatives
got an emotional and angry taste of what farmers and environmentalists
think of the plan in its current form.
Last Monday night, the 500 available seats in the Caledon Community
Complex were filled before the 7 p.m. start and late-comers lined
all accessible wall space until the surplus finally spilled over
into a room downstairs.
A panel consisting of Victor Doyle of the Ministry of Municipal
Affairs and Housing, Mike Toombes of the Ontario Ministry of
Agriculture and Food, and Maria Van Bommell, MPP for Lambton/Kent/
Middlesex and the parliamentary assistant for rural affairs for
the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing John Gerretsen,
presented the case for the Greenbelt Plan.
Bommell acknowledged the huge growth expected for the Golden
Horseshoe area of Ontario as a challenge that "needs to be handled
in a careful and planned way in order to preserve green space
and protect sensitive ecosystems." Van Bommell, who owns a farm,
said the Greenbelt Plan would identify where urbanization is
not to occur and would put an end to "subdivisions being
paved over our farmlands and shopping malls being carved
out of our woods."
Doyle touched on key points from the greenbelt draft plan, a
copy of which had been circulated to the audience.
But the night belonged to the farmers, environmentalist groups
and concerned citizens who lined up for hours for microphone
access. Despite a round table earlier in the day that allowed
preregistered stakeholder groups to state their case in brief,
they still had a lot to say.
Marry, a Halton farmer with about 250 acres, three-quarters
of it within the proposed Greenbelt, said "This
government is closing the gate after the cows are out. They've
already allowed roads and subdivisions to surround us. Our
youth have left for the towns and cities because they know
they won't be able to earn a living by farming."
applause from the audience, he added that this "eleventh
hour consultation is not enough."
FARMS ARE RRSPS
president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA), Ron
Bonnett, labeled the proposal a "greenbelt dream."
"This is not yet a plan," said Bonnett. "It does not spell out
goals or obstacles as a plan should do. There are also many mapping
issues to be considered here. And you people need to remember
that farmers don't have RRSPs. Their equities are in their farms
-- their properties." Bonnett's suggestions included extending
the consultation period, allowing full committee meetings
and equity monitoring.
you don't think farmers stand to lose anything, then put your
money where your mouth is and monitor our land values (and
watch them go down)."
angry Bert Andrews of Halton Hills fired out "This
is our life, our livelihood you're talking about! Our farms
are our retirement packages. Can you just imagine what would
happen if you guys told teachers that their retirement plans
were going to be cut in half? You're doing this without any
real consultation with us. Is this a democracy?"
An emotional daughter of farmer George Evans told how her dad,
80, after suffering a stroke, had finally decided to retire and
sell his farm.
"He had an offer on the table which was cancelled as soon as
the Greenbelt Plan was announced. You keep saying you want to
do the right thing, well then do it -- compensate my dad and
these other farmers," she urged.
directly to Doyle, she added "I'm going to give you
this picture of my Dad and every time you tell another farmer
that there will be no compensation, I want you to look at my
Dad and remember that he worked all his life and now has nothing".
dairy farmer Lynne Moore commented that "farmers
are the ones paying for this Greenbelt because we're the
ones who own the land. If a Greenbelt is desired by 82 per
cent of the GTA then let them all help pay for it, not just
a small handful of farmers and landowners."
campaign director, Josh Matlow, expressed how glad he was that
the government was "moving forward to
protect these environmentally sensitive areas."
"But," he added, "the
farmers are really the stewards of these lands, and we need
to give them the means to stay viable."
Terra Cotta resident believed that the Greenbelt should start
at Mayfield Road, "because you can already see
Brampton's urban sprawl encroaching on the south end of Caledon."
Armstrong of the Caledon Chamber of Commerce urged the province
to "follow natural boundaries like the Oak Ridges Moraine,
which will remove a large number of farms," and to find a way "to
offer compensation for landowners whose property values do
"Something must be wrong when you see people who have never
protested anything in their life turning out in force to public
meetings," concluded Nick de Boer, president of the Peel Federation
of Agriculture. "The government has seriously underestimated
the resolve of the farming community if it thinks farmers
are just going to roll over and take this."
Boer, also a Caledon councillor, said "the
government's Greenbelt process is seriously flawed. Government
must stop now and slow down and take the time to get it right
or the only legacy this will leave is poverty for retiring
farmers and a playground for a limited number of people."
issues that surfaced included one resident's perception of "unfettered activities still being permitted for aggregate
producers," the need for provisions for allowing specific properties
to be added or removed from the mapping, and the necessity for
allowances for "renewable energy generating facilities" (such
as wind farming) within the Greenbelt areas.
Hutchinson of the Caledon Countryside Alliance said simply: "Food
and agriculture are fundamental to sustainability. With rising
oil prices, we have to ensure we have a secure, local food
supply for our future. We can secure the land, but if we
don't do something for the farmers how can we be sure someone
will be here to farm it?"
meeting ran over its 10 p.m. scheduled ending, with one farmer
warning: "We will not go quietly into the night."