Ag reserve would be better plan for Ontario’s greenbelt says ALC chair
By Jim Meyers
Ag reserve would be better plan for Ontario’s greenbelt
By Jim Meyers
There’s a chance Ontario’s
greenbelt would have been more acceptable to farmers if it had been
called an agricultural reserve, recognizing farming as a priority use,
says Kirk Miller, chair of British Columbia’s Agricultural Land
There’s a chance Ontario’s greenbelt would have been more acceptable to farmers if it had been called an agricultural reserve, recognizing farming as a priority use, says Kirk Miller, chair of British Columbia’s Agricultural Land Commission (ALC). He added that B.C. refers to its “greenbelt” as an ag land reserve and has been fine tuning the system for the past 32 years under a number of diverse governments, making it a part of life that’s acceptable to stakeholders.
Miller began working for the province’s ALC 29 years ago as a summer student and has served as its chairman and CEO.
“It recognizes agriculture as a primary use and regulates all non-farm uses,” he said at a panel discussion at the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Convention in mid-February, a week before Ontario’s Greenbelt Act was passed on Feb. 24.
“It’s the most powerful legislation in the province as all other ministers must recognize the ALR (Agricultural Land Reserve),” Miller said about the clout of land-use legislation in his province.
There are six regional panels and 19 commissioners, of which 15 are farmers. Agricultural growth has outpaced the national average and the reserve has grown by 43,000 hectares to 4.7 million hectares (compared to 720,000 hectares in Ontario’s greenbelt) that comprises 50 per cent Crown land and also includes native reserves.
“We didn’t look at ownership, but at land use,” Miller said. British Columbia has less quality farmland (just one per cent prime Class 1) than Ontario and that may be a reason it has increased and not decreased in value.
Like Ontario, B.C. created an agricultural preserve rather than lose farmland to development. “In 1972, we were losing 6,000 acres (2,400 hectares) a year in the lower mainland and Okanagan,” Miller said. “It was the political will of the NDP government that made it possible.” (See ALR web site: www.alr.gov.bc.ca)
Greenbelt losses and gains
The two other members of the greenbelt discussion panel were Len Troup, chairman of the Ontario Tender Fruit Producers’ Marketing Board, and London area cash crop farmer Bob Bedggood of the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario. He was half of a two-man task force (former federal agricultural minister Lyle Vanclief the other) appointed by provincial agriculture minister Steve Peters to advise his government on specific matters pertaining to agriculture
On March 1, Premier Dalton McGuinty sought the safe confines of an art gallery in environmentally sensitive Kleinberg before an audience of school children and environmentalists to reveal the final boundaries for what he has called “a green necklace for Toronto.”
After the arithmetic was done, some 3,600 hectares were added to the greenbelt to bring the total to 723,600 hectares, stretching in a 325 km arc around the western end of Lake Ontario from the Niagara River almost to Peterborough.
(Almost 7,000 hectares were added and 3,300 subtracted. The biggest loss was in Niagara where some 3,000 hectares above the Niagara Escarpment was taken out of the greenbelt; the biggest gain was 1,200 hectares added to the western drainage area of the Holland Marsh, and 1,600 hectares north of Oshawa,Whitby and Pickering east of Toronto.)
No “political insurance”
Niagara fruit grower Len Troup agreed that calling the greenbelt an agricultural reserve would have helped.
“The fact it is not an agricultural preserve is scary. It’s Toronto-made and imposed on us. We lost before we started,” he said about the limited voting power of some 1,500 grape, tender fruit and other farmers in the Niagara section of the greenbelt below the Niagara Escarpment.
“We can insure against the weather, not politicians,” he lamented.
He sounded weary after spending the last year reiterating to policy makers that the viability of farming in a greenbelt was never considered. “The forgotten farmer,” he said “Everybody wants our land and it appears this time it (a greenbelt) will stay.
“After two-and-a-half years (including time spent formulating a Niagara Region land-use policy) we’re at the point where we started. There’s no commitment to agriculture. Farming can only succeed if land-use and farm viability are dealt with as the same issue,” he said.
Farming’s “societal contributions”
Bob Bedggood, who farms outside the greenbelt, said farmers have little time to give the proper attention to urban intrusions such as severance applications and other land-use hearings.
“It’s hard to step out of a combine and listen to lawyers,” he said.
The 15 recommendations his task force made to government boil down to setting distinct rural/urban boundaries the permit accepted farm practices while recognizing the “societal contribution” farmers make to protecting the environment and wildlife.
“There should be a fee charged to non-farms to compensate for these services,” he said, giving as examples wetland preservation and wildlife protection. Farmers should also be allowed to harvest the wildlife they feed by being able to sell deer hunting tags, he said.
More tax incentive should also be given to farmers developing related businesses on their farms as a source of secondary income and there should be less municipal red tape, he said.
Attention should also be given to development that “leapfrogs” over the greenbelt, giving as an example a 100-acre farm in Simcoe County selling for $311,000 almost five years ago which is now valued at $967,000. “Residents will want a six-lane highway through the greenbelt,” he said about the effect that growth just beyond the boundary can have.