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OFA to Queen’s Park regarding proposed urban policy changes: “Farming is the best use for farmland”

Any changes to provincial planning policies must prioritize long-term preservation of prime agricultural land, including Norfolk’s “specialty soils”, says the Brant-Haldimand-Norfolk representative for the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA).


“The Ontario agri-food industry generates $47 billion per year and employs 10 percent of Ontario’s workforce or 750,000 jobs,” said Davis recently.  “I assume that Norfolk’s food and employment rate is above the Ontario average.  Norfolk has Class One, Two, Three and specialty soils which produce   high-value vegetables, tobacco and ginseng.”

Davis discussed Bill 185, currently known as the Cutting Red Tape to Build More Homes Act, 2024. It proposes amendments to various Acts with the aim of accelerating the development process to create 1.5 million new homes in Ontario by 2031.  After passing its second reading this spring, the Standing Committee on Finances and Economic Affairs adopted the bill for a third reading on May 29. 


Bill 185 aims to streamline 15 Acts with varying amendments in order to clear the “red tape” which the Province alleges slows down new housing starts and commercial developments. 

Critics argue that the bill, particularly the parts related to the Planning Act concerning farmland, and new proposed powers for the Ontario Land Tribunal, seemingly favours developers and lower levels of government over the protection of prime farmland, and could permit low-density residential housing in any location.


They allege that the “red tape” is the voice of landowners, farmers, community groups and various government protections that were put in place to protect farming and food. 

The OFA issued its own submission to the Provincial Planning Policy Branch of the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing on May 10. With farmland being a “shrinking resource” constituting less than five percent of Ontario’s land mass, the federation concludes that “farming is the best use for farmland”. They advocate that any changes to the provincial land use policy framework must ensure the protection of agricultural areas across Ontario.

The organization supports future growth within existing urban areas “in the context of complete and livable communities” through infilling and densification within existing urban boundaries before expanding municipal boundaries or building houses or factories on prime farmland. 


“The big thing is that farmers produce food, fiber and fuel,” said Davis. “There is good quality farmland in Norfolk County. No matter where they expand, it will be on arable farmland; if you expand for a new landfill, it will be on arable farmland. And gravel pits are located under prime farmland.”


“Yesterday a Norfolk farmer, who is third generation with a fourth entering, told me that the new settlement boundary line (for a nearby town) was drawn right onto the farm,” said Davis. “He told me, ‘I don’t know if we can keep on farming now.’”

 

Davis added that farmland offers multiple ecological goods and services such as carbon sequestration which benefits all citizens. 


“People have to live somewhere.  I know people are envious of those of us who farm, with only one or two houses on the property and surrounded by space, but it’s a business.”


The OFA encourages the regeneration existing urban communities with an ideal density of 85 people per hectare, said Davis.  


“Most cities have plenty of room downtown for denser building. Developers should be encouraged to develop and rejuvenate urban cores while keeping downtown economies going,” said Davis. “I assume there are lots of people who would love to live in a place where they don’t have to worry about cutting the lawn and weeding the flower beds.” 


Similarly, new industries need to be properly located, preferably on low-quality soils that are “not conducive to farming” either within or near existing cities, said Davis.  “That would provide workers with more immediate recreation and lower commuting levels which are good for lifestyle and lower carbon levels.”


“Some say that moving agriculture up north is the solution,” said Davis. “We don’t have the Norfolk County climate, sunshine and soil anywhere else in Ontario -- that cannot be repeated anywhere.” 


“There is only one Ontario landscape. The full range of urban, rural, agricultural, natural heritage, cultural heritage, and mineral extraction land uses must coexist across this landscape. Intensification of residential development within the existing urban footprint, in the context of complete and livable communities, along with the distribution of economic development province wide, addresses housing needs. Intensification will boost economic growth, create new jobs, provide new affordable housing options, support municipal infrastructure systems, ensure food security, and contribute to environmental stewardship.”


Taken from the OFA May 10, 2024 submission to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing. 

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