Change in direction puts development ahead of the Environment.

January 20, 2023 – As the Ford government faces increased scrutiny over its decision to open up parts of the Greenbelt for housing development, the head of an advisory group that was once seen as a key defender of the protected land has thrown her support behind the controversial move.

Hazel McCallion, the longtime former mayor of Mississauga, who was recently appointed chair of the Greenbelt Council, called the government’s decision “brave, important, responsible and necessary” in an open letter.

Critics are surprised by her support, as McCallion presided over explosive, low-density growth in Mississauga that earned her the nickname “Queen of Sprawl” and the council, which was created to provide impartial advice to the province on how to manage the protected land, has previously opposed proposals that could put it at risk.

In late 2020, seven members resigned in protest of legislation that limited the mandate of Ontario’s local conservation authorities to protect the environment from development.

Environmental Defense Group and other critics are shocked by her change of stance and argue that there is a lot of land within existing urban boundaries that can be used for housing development instead of taking land from the Greenbelt, which was created in 2005 to curb sprawl and encompasses 800,000 hectares of farmland, forests and wetlands.

The government’s decision is currently being investigated by the integrity commissioner and auditor general amid concerns of developer’s advanced notice of the plan.

What is the Greenbelt?

The Greenbelt is a protected area of land that surrounds the Greater Toronto Area, created in 2005 to preserve and protect valuable farmland, wetlands, forests, and natural heritage systems.

It encompasses 800,000 hectares of land, and its goal is to limit urban sprawl and promote sustainable development.

The Greenbelt is considered a vital ecosystem that provides many ecological and social benefits, including clean air and water, wildlife habitat, and opportunities for outdoor recreation.

The Greenbelt is also an important economic asset, providing a significant amount of Ontario’s agricultural production and supporting a diverse range of businesses and communities.

The Greenbelt Act, passed in 2005, established the Greenbelt Plan, which defined the boundaries of the protected area and established policies for its permanent protection and stewardship.