Farmers speak out against Greenbelt

PATTI FOLEY, For The Banner
12/07/04 00:00:00

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.

Van 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.

Bob 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."

To applause from the audience, he added that this "eleventh hour consultation is not enough."

FARMS ARE RRSPS

The 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.

"If 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)."

An 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?"

EMOTIONAL MESSAGE

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.

Speaking 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".

Peel 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."

Earthroots' 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."

One 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."

COMPENSATION

Philip 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 decrease."

"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."

De 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."

Other 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.

Karen 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?"

The meeting ran over its 10 p.m. scheduled ending, with one farmer warning: "We will not go quietly into the night."