Show us the money, greenbelt panel told
The Standard (St. Catharines)
Friday, June 11, 2004
Karena Walter

Caroline Hughes says if she loses money growing grapes on her Beamsville farm, the government shouldn't be allowed to stop her from planting another type of crop.

But if a greenbelt plan is adopted, she believes it will do just that by designating her land for grapes only.

"If I can't make money selling grapes, I should be able to move into something else," she said.

Hughes was one of 200 concerned citizens at the CAW Hall Thursday night for the province's Greenbelt Task Force meeting.

The task force is gathering public opinion on a proposed greenbelt area in the Golden Horseshoe. In December, the government introduced Bill 27, the Greenbelt Protection Act, which was the first step towards protecting agricultural land. It has yet to be passed by the legislature.

Over 30 farmers and representatives from large agricultural associations, wineries and environmental groups spoke on the controversial plan and the task force's discussion paper.

It was the fifth meeting for the task force, which will wrap up its two months of sessions at the end of June and send its recommendations to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing.

The biggest worry among citizens who spoke during the three-hour session was that the government will limit their rights by freezing development on their lands without any compensation plan.

Hughes said the government wants to take land that is her future and her children's without compensation.

Last year her family sold their grapes at break even prices. She figures they'll have to do it again this year and likely next year too. The prices have gone down 30 per cent since she started 10 years ago, she said. So even if she got out of the business, anyone else purchasing the farm would be in the same predicament if required to produce grapes.

"If I can't make money growing grapes, no one else is going to make money growing grapes," she said afterwards.

Imposing restrictions on private land without any benefit was a common complaint.

"It is hard not to become upset and mistrustful," said Doug Whitty, owner of a farm on Seventh Street in St. Catharines. His experiences haven't made him confident the provincial government knows what it's doing. The greenbelt legislation is so poorly written, he said, that the city interpreted the wording restricting new structures to mean that he could not improve his roadside produce stand tent.

Gracia Janes of the Preservation of Lands Society also told the panel there has to be compensation for landowners. "We don't just believe in saving the land, we believe in saving the farmer," she said.

One of the few who spoke out in favour of the plan was Melissa Tkachyk of St. Catharines, a member of Earthroots environmental group. "I think this plan isn't just about protecting the environment, but protecting farming," she said.

She asked how many people remember clean waters in Port Dalhousie, adding she doesn't because that opportunity was taken from her generation.

The same could happen with farm lands, she warned.

"I don't want to be part of the generation that takes those opportunities away from the next generation."

The 13-member task force, chaired by Burlington Mayor Rob McIssac, had six of its members in attendance Thursday, including Inniskillin president Donald Ziraldo, former Niagara planning and development director Alan Veale and Niagara farmer Mary Lou Garr.