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Ontario farmers group speaks out on Greenbelt, saying 'farmland needs to be protected'

Premier Doug Ford drives a tractor at the annual International Plowing Match on Sept. 19, 2023. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Premier Doug Ford drives a tractor at the annual International Plowing Match on Sept. 19, 2023. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press - image credit)

A major Ontario farming group said Tuesday that the Greenbelt doesn't need to be developed to solve the province's housing crisis.

The Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) shared a statement to its members as political leaders from all provincial parties attended the annual International Plowing Match in Bowling Green, Ont.

The OFA, which represents more than 38,000 farmers and industry workers, previously said in a 2021 open letter to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing that "the province should take a holistic, systematic, province-wide approach that identifies the most appropriate areas for growth."

In a statement released Tuesday, the OFA said it wanted to clarify the organization's stance on the controversial Greenbelt land swap.

"Ontario's farmland must be protected," the statement said.

The OFA is the latest high-profile organization to express concern over the development of previously protected lands in the Greenbelt.

A coalition made up of 125 organizations and 100 people — which included environmentalists, labour unions, farmers, and housing advocates — signed a statement condemning the opening of the Greenbelt for development back in 2022.

The Ford government removed approximately 2,995 hectares of land from 15 different areas of the Greenbelt in December — while adding more land elsewhere — to build 50,000 homes. The government said the changes were part of its plan to build 1.5 million new homes in the next decade.

Build within existing urban boundaries, group says

The OFA said it prioritizes protecting Greenbelt land, but that its stance doesn't mean it is anti-development.

"The housing crisis facing Ontario is real, and we understand the government's need and plan to add more housing stock to the market. We also think this plan can be achieved by building within existing urban boundaries — utilizing underdeveloped areas, reclaiming abandoned industrial lands and building up instead of out."

The OFA said it will remain "a willing partner" with the government to find solutions to address the housing crisis without having to develop on farmland.

Farmer Brandon Crow plowing a field at the Chatham-Kent Plowing Match.
Farmer Brandon Crow plowing a field at the Chatham-Kent Plowing Match.

A farmer plows a field at the Chatham-Kent Plowing Match. (Brandon Crow)

Premier Doug Ford was among politicians that made the annual trip to the International Plowing Match on Tuesday. The expo — being held at Bowling Green, Ont., north of Guelph — is billed as celebration of agriculture and rural living.

Legislature usually shuts down for the day so politicians can attend, but this year the return from the summer break was pushed back a week to accommodate the expo.

Premier confident he has support in farming community

Ford received a polite welcome according to the Canadian Press, despite some attendees not entirely being on board with the plan to develop the Greenbelt.

Ken Reed, from Kitchener, Ont., said while he generally supports the Progressive Conservatives, it seems like the Greenbelt decision was taken to benefit "big money" developers and he doesn't like it.

Mona Blain was also among those attending the Plowing Match and says she found it hard to watch Ford on the parade route.

"It was very hard to stand here and not flip him the bird. So I just stood and stared."

The Premier said Tuesday he is confident that he has support in the farming industry.

"No one's done more for farmers than our party has. They appreciate what we do and we have a great working relationship with all the associations."