By John Bacher
On April 11, 2023, the provincial government proposed changes to the Provincial Policy Statement (PPS), subject to a public comment period through the Environmental Registry. The comment period was supposed to be concluded on June 8th, 2023. It has been extended to August 4th, 2023.
To read this article, first posted in the Sierra Club of Canada, Ontario Chapter, just click on the image
By Peggy Brekveld, President, Ontario Federation of Agriculture
In bringing a message, it often isn’t about one voice. It is many voices, one message.
Ontario’s farmers have been vocal – and united – in recent weeks in asking the provincial government to take a pause on its recent proposed Provincial Planning Statement and proposed Bill 97. We are thankful that government has listened to our most significant concern and is taking steps to address it.
The Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) was joined by Ontario’s other two general farm organizations, 11 commodity and agricultural groups and 30 of OFA’s local county federations of agriculture in a broad-based coalition to urge the government to reconsider proposed actions that would severely threaten local farmland protection.
In particular, this coalition has been strong in its opposition to a proposal from the government to allow up to three new severed residential lots on an existing farm property. Creating residential housing lots in agricultural areas has long been controversial, and the negative impacts for farming are well demonstrated.
Ontario boasts some of Canada’s richest and most fertile farmland, and the proposed severance plan poses risks to that farmland, including permanently taking it out of agricultural production, which threatens the long-term sustainability of both farming and the food system we all depend on.
Our coalition is also extremely concerned that increased residential lot creation in prime agricultural areas will create conflict between farmers and their non-farming neighbours for all aspects of regular farm activities.
This includes applying crop nutrients to the land, conflict about odours and noise, wildlife control and more. We also don’t want to lose the current Minimum Distance Separation requirement, which requires minimum distances between houses and livestock barns and works well to minimize conflict between livestock farmers and residential areas and protect water resources.
Simply put, this united coalition of farmers and agricultural leaders has spoken up with a single voice against legislation that could make it difficult or impossible for farmers to manage and expand their farm businesses in the future.
That’s why the news that the provincial government has heard our concern and will not be moving ahead with the three-lot severance proposal is so welcome. The government has also announced it will extend the consultation period that is currently ongoing regarding the proposed Provincial Planning Statement and agreed to work with the agriculture sector to find solutions to this issue.
Conversations will continue between government and agricultural stakeholders. And that is important.
We recognize that Ontario is facing an affordable housing crisis and that solutions must be found, and we’re more than willing to be part of that process. Ontario’s farmers are not opposed to urban growth and development – we also want housing options to support youth, seniors, families, workers, and newcomers in our communities.
The answer lies with responsible land-use planning that prevents further farmland loss, encourages ongoing investment in farms and farm-related businesses and helps communities reach intensification targets.
This includes directing growth to urban and rural settlement areas where housing needs can be met in serviced areas using much less land. It also ensures efficient use of municipal infrastructure investments and reduces costs to provide services.
Meaningful dialogue between government, farmers, and municipalities will help find ways to support the provincial government’s housing goals, and we look forward to actively engaging in that dialogue in the days and weeks ahead.
To government, we appreciate the change in direction and look forward to the conversations ahead. To the farm organizations and farm representatives who represent our great sector: thank you for your united voices on this issue.
Here’s to Farms and Food Forever.
For more information, contact:
Ontario Federation of Agriculture
Response by Preservation of Agricultural Lands Society to Proposed New Provincial Policy Statement
May 13th, 2023
By Dr. John Bacher (PhD), Researcher, Preservation of Agricultural Lands Society.
Preservation of Agricultural Lands Society (PALS) was formed in 1976, and since then has been involved in every revTheiew of the Provincial Policy Statement (PPS). Compelled by the situation in St. Catherines, which is bordered by the Niagara Fruit Belt and surrounded by some of the best agricultural lands on the North American continent, we understand the need for a strong provincial land use planning framework..
1. Situation of Niagara Fruit Belt Shows Need for Strong Land Use Planning Framework.
A framework for land use planning throughout Ontario goes back to the passage of the Planning Act of 1946, (although in urban areas individual municipalities had special land use planning acts passed much earlier) however, the unique situation in St. Catharines, where urban expansions could destroy the commercial viability of the Niagara Fruit Belt, made it necessary to have provincial guidelines to direct the land use planning actions of municipal governments.
For over a quarter century after the passage of the Planning Act, there was little provincial guidance in land use planning given to municipal governments. Predominately, rural municipalities in many instances had no land use planning and early attempts were dismissed by the courts. One of PALS founders, Mel Swar,t helped to craft the first comprehensive zoning by-law of a rural municipality, Thorold Township, which was approved by the Ontario Municipal Board, (OMB) in 1958.
Early efforts at provincial land use planning during the 1950s were shaped by road studies of the then Department of Highways, which eventually helped highlight the distinctive nature of planning challenges for the tiny Niagara Fruit Belt , where today the production of grapes, plums, apricots, peaches, pears, and cherries, throughout Canada is overwhelmingly concentrated. This is because of a complex microclimate caused by air currents between Lake Ontario and the Niagara Escarpment and a unique air drainage pattern on the adjacent Fonthill Kame. The air currents delay the onset of fruit bud killing frost. This gives the Niagara Fruit Belt, defined in the 1970s by its foremost scholar and Geography Professor, Dr. Ralph Kruger, as extending a half mile south of Provincial Highway 20 from Niagara Falls to the Fonthill Kame and north to Lake Ontario, a climate for tender fruit better than the American Peach State of Georgia.
In 1965 the City of St. Catharines obtained provincial funding for a transportation study. This came to the alarming conclusion that urban expansions for the city threatened to pave over a third of the unique fruit land area of the province. This dire situation helped to spark the onset of provincial planning through the work of Dr. Leonard Gertler, whose studies of the Niagara Fruit Belt, the Niagara Escarpment, and the Toronto Centered Region Plan were funded by the province.
Although he did not have the title, Dr. Gertler was, in effect, the Chief Planner for the Province of Ontario. The land use planning framework that evolved by 2022, before the current reviews, is basically in keeping with the visions of Dr. Gertler, and his colleague at University of Waterloo, Dr. Ralph Kruger.
Later, nowhere was this as well expressed in what had been a cornerstone of the Greenbelt Plan, was that urban boundaries adjacent to Specialty Crop lands, should be considered permanent. These are defined through the Greenbelt Plan as the Niagara Fruit Belt, and the Holland Marsh.
2. PPS Should Prohibit Urban Expansions onto Specialty Crop Lands
The limited area of lands for intensive vegetable growing in the Holland Marsh, and fruit growing in Niagara, should make it clear that the boundaries of these areas established by current zoning and official plan designations should not be changed. Although in the past this was believed to be established by the Greenbelt, it now needs to be established clearly in the PPS, because of a recent provincial decision to remove two areas in Grimsby from its protection that are designated as Fruit Land in the Niagara Regional Plan and Greenbelt Plans.
Therefore, PALS is pleased that the proposed changes to the PPS will continue long established prohibitions of urban expansions onto Specialty Crop lands. This is clearly established in Policy 4.3.5. which requires Planning authorities to ensure that lands proposed for urban expansion “do not compromise specialty crop areas.”
3. Province Needs to Delay Changes to PPS Until all Policies for Review are Put Forward
The proposed PPS states that its various policies are supposed to be considered, not in isolation, but comprehensively. The draft states that the PPS “is to be read in its entirety and the relevant policies are to be applied in each situation by the decision maker.” When land is impacted by “ more than one policy” it is stated that “the decision maker should consider all of the relevant policies to understand how they work together.”
Given the benefits of comprehensiveness praised in the draft PPS it was an error to propose a new PPS at this stage, while leaving its Natural Heritage polices to a later stage. This would apparently happen sometime after the deadline for this consultation, which is June 8, 2023. Public discussion of this latter extremely important policy will only take place after that of all other aspects of the PPS have been completed. We cannot, at this stage, know how the new Natural Heritage policies will work together with the PPS, which is to be approved without the finalization of Natural Heritage policies.
4. PALS Disagrees with Proposal to Eliminate the Requirement to Use the Provincially Mapped Agricultural System.
Among the proposed changes to the PPS that PALS had found the most vexing, was the elimination of the requirement for municipalities to use the provincially mapped agricultural system. PALS took part in two consultations on this system, one of which took place in Guelph, which was followed by another at the Vineland Research Station. There was little debate over the proposals prepared by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs. It proceeded basically on a consensus basis among stakeholders, which makes its proposed elimination most surprising. What criticism there was at the time, was not based on its actual content, but from environmentalists, who wished that a similar provincial mapping be made of Natural Heritage features.
PALS had quite direct experience of the impact of the provincial mapping in Niagara, where it was incorporated into the new Niagara Regional Official Plan. We found that it promised to end low density sprawl on lower quality agricultural lands, suitable for pasture, in southern Niagara. The one downfall with this mapping was that it was used to legitimate urban boundary expansions on full services through the new Niagara Official Plan. It would appear that less than a year after these designations were changed and used to legitimate urban boundary expansions, they will likely return to their original Rural designations as opposed to Agricultural definitions, thus allowing extensive severances, and nonfarm development. In such situations, generally the only check to a variety of nonfarm uses is compliance with the minimum lot size, generally 15 acres for a septic system to be approved by a regulatory district health unit. This encourages a wide variety of land uses to be established in a wasteful manner, which cannot be serviced by public transit.
5. No Changes Should Be Made to Restrictive Agricultural Severance Policies of the PPS.
PALS origins began at the same time as the review of the Planning Act was being undertaken by the Planning Act Review Committee, chaired by Eli Comay, from 1975 to 1976. It was the conclusion of the committee that planning by consent, i.e., severances, constituted the “weak link” in land use planning in Ontario. For the past twenty years, such bad planning has been largely prohibited in the province through the Agricultural Policy of the PPS, which requires that in Agricultural Areas, such severances be confined to those required for purposes of farm amalgamation. This is done to facilitate the purchase of farmland by farmers, so that agricultural operators do not have to acquire farms to obtain additional farmland.
The proposed changes to the PPS, would if approved, permit 3 residential severances on a 100-acre farm lot. This will encourage significant loss of prime Class One to three agricultural lands, currently protected from such fragmentation by the PPS. The prohibition of severances was widely accepted by the agricultural community and other land use planning stakeholders, and the announcement of the proposed change of policy has come as a great shock.
It is difficult to enumerate all the harm that residential severances in agricultural areas cause . Farmers can become embroiled in complex legal disputes that result in difficult hearings before the Farm Practices Review Tribunal, for simply doing beneficial actions such as spreading manure as fertilizer. Slow moving drivers of tractors in crowded roads can a become fatal victims of road rage. Although normally severances take place in only a 100 acre lot, there are scattered through the countryside smaller lots, which could become further fragmented by three severances under the proposed changes
Additionally, development in this fashion will inevitably degrade environmentally significant features of the rural landscape, even if it is directed away from the most productive farmlands. The failure to examine the Natural Heritage Policies of the PPS at this time arouses concerns that such severance activity will be encouraged in what the current PPS defines as significant woodlands. This could cause horrific consequences to wildlife in rural landscapes.
5.PALS Opposes Removal of Language in Agricultural Policies of PPS Requiring Search for Alternative Areas
It has been PALS’ experience that one of the most effective aspects of the current Agricultural Policy of the PPS, has been to require an examination, on an upper tier planning basis, of alternative areas before any urban expansions can be permitted. This feature is not contained in the current PPS, and its absence will encourage the loss of prime agricultural land in situations where development needs could be accommodated in lower agricultural capability Rural lands, adjacent to urban boundaries.
In conclusion PALS stresses that the development of the new PPS is proceeding in haste. It could have quite negative consequences for future generations, and the province should have a pause so that all policies can be considered simultaneously. .