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23-14-DESTRUCTION OF PRIME AGRICULTURAL LAND

A key BFO lobby priority we regularly communicate with the provincial government is to commit to preserving farmland through sound provincial land use policy that sees agricultural lands, including marginal lands used for livestock grazing and carbon sequestration, protected as the highest and best use of our province’s arable land. Increasing protections for Ontario’s agricultural land base is also identified within BFO’s new Strategic Plan.

BFO has long highlighted the ongoing trend of agricultural land loss in Ontario with the government, especially the loss of land used for pasture and hay production. Approximately seven per cent of Canada’s land base is used for agricultural purposes and it is widely known that with Canada’s growing population and expanding urbanized communities, agricultural lands continue to be converted to other uses. In fact, from 1941 to 2016 agricultural land in Ontario decreased by approximately 50 per cent, according to Statistics Canada Census of Agriculture. The latest Census of Agriculture data showed from 2016 to 2021 another 582,392 acres of farmland were lost in Ontario.

Ontario adopted its first land use guidelines for protecting agricultural lands in 1975. In 2005, the Ontario government established a framework of land use policies many of us are familiar with today, such as the Provincial Policy Statement, the Greenbelt Plan, and the A Place to Grow Growth Plan. In regards to protecting agricultural lands, these policies outline various protections for prime agricultural areas or limitations for using prime agricultural lands for non-agricultural purposes. These policies establish what municipalities can and cannot do and/or provide guidance for municipalities to interpret and apply the policies with some flexibility. Despite the existence of Ontario’s land use legislation, policies and on-going commitments from government to protect Ontario’s agricultural land, the continued erosion of Ontario’s agricultural land base raises questions about the quality and effectiveness of our land use policies.

Over the past year, there has been growing attention and concern around Ontario’s land use policies and protections, or lack thereof, for agricultural lands. The growing attention and concern were largely a result of two pieces of legislation the government put forward to increase housing development in Ontario and meet the government’s goal of building 1.5 million houses by 2031.

In October 2022, the provincial government introduced Bill 23, More Homes Built Faster Act. The Act received Royal Assent on November 28 and, in an effort to increase opportunities to build more houses, made changes to the Planning Act, the Conservation Authorities Act, natural heritage policies, and examined the possibility of combining the Provincial Policy Statement and the A Place to Grow Growth Plan, which are currently the provinces two main land use policies. At the same time, the government released its proposal to remove lands from the Greenbelt following two previous public consultations held in 2021 and earlier in 2022. During this time, BFO worked closely with our industry partners to better understand the impacts of the proposed changes and in further raising our concerns to the government. BFO’s detailed comments to a number of the public consultations associated with Bill 23 and the changes to the Greenbelt can be found on the BFO website.

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