Anti-food policies cannot continue - Keith Roulston editorial
Living in the country, as I do, brings constant reminders of the changing of the seasons. Lately there are regular indications that it’s planting season, whether it’s neighbours travelling down the road with equipment or the fields around our house being planted for the season ahead.
But lately, all this activity around us is also a reminder of what we can lose if growth in Ontario continues and leaders like Premier Doug Ford remain in office. Earlier there was word that Premier Ford had altered the Green Belt on prime farmland around Toronto to allow 50,000 more homes to be built to accommodate the nearly half a million immigrants the federal government is welcoming to Canada each year.
That news in itself might have been unsettling, but then the word began leaking out that before this news hadn’t become public, several developers had purchased large parcels of land in the parts of the Green Belt that the Premier was about to free up. When he was criticized for this, Premier Ford lashed out saying the Green Belt was a crazy Liberal government idea (created by former Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty) in the first place. His comments gave little confidence in the future of the Green Belt under this downtown-Toronto Premier.
Since Ontario has become so dominated by the growth of the Toronto area, with so many urban ridings and so much focus on difficulties finding urban housing, however, the government is probably safe on this issue.
But hidden behind all this was another proposal of the provincial government to allow more residential development in all rural areas of the province. Going back to the 1970s, a previous Progressive Conservative government had voted to protect farmland by allowing only one house for each farm lot. The proposed rule change from our current government would potentially allow nearly 25,000 houses to be built on Huron County’s farmland, officials of the county’s Planning and Development Department told Huron County councillors recently.
This sort of growth must seem inviting to those in urban areas of Huron County. With, say, two people per household the population of the county would nearly double. When I first started covering political meetings many years ago, we had two MPs and two MPPs in Huron County. Now, Huron shares both federal and provincial representatives with more than half of Bruce County. With a larger population, perhaps we could get better political representation.
Ah, but there’s a bigger problem. Former Huron County farmer Don Lobb addressed the federal government’s Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry Status on soil health earlier this year. He told Senators that our province has lost 15.7 million acres of its best farmland for development between 1971 and the 2021 Census. Lately, that toll has reached nearly 1,200 acres per day.
Just mentioning the total acreage, no matter how large it is, is hard for us to grasp – especially since every supermarket has shelves overflowing with food. But at the same time our population is expanding, we are losing the land on which to grow the food to feed those people. Each of those acres lost in a single day could grow about 170 bushels of corn a year or 50 bushels of soybeans or 100 bushels of wheat. So, each day we lose enough land to grow about 200,000 bushels of corn, or 60,000 bushels of soybeans, or 120,000 bushels of wheat. And that’s one day’s farmland loss of 365 days per year of growth.
What’s more, land lost under a house, apartment building or road, is lost forever, as far as growing food is concerned. So, every year we add more people to feed, and we have 438,000 fewer acres on which to grow that food. And now this latest government proposal could mean that we can lose thousands more productive acres in the countryside.
I’m sure that a downtown-Toronto Premier like Doug Ford doesn’t even see the problem. Sitting where he is, the farmland that separates one city of the province he visits from another seems endless. I’m sure he also doesn’t see the difference between the productive farmland of southern Ontario and the bush of northern Ontario. Land without a house on it is just vacant land.
I have no problem with Ontario, or Canada, having a bigger population, but I do have a problem with that growth coming at the cost of precious farmland. Don Lobb told the Senate committee that just two per cent of the earth’s land area produces 40 per cent of its food.
If we can shift growth from prime food-growing land in southern Ontario to land incapable of growing food farther north, the whole country could benefit. But we can’t lose food-growing land forever, and expect our prosperity to continue.