By MPP Bobbi Ann Brady
Just before the Easter holiday weekend, the Ontario Government announced more changes to development policy that would change the longstanding policy of not allowing lot severances off farms.
The changes were wrapped up in Bill 97 — the Helping Homebuyers, Protecting Tenants Act, as well as a new provincial planning statement, which will, for the third time since last October, alter Ontario’s approach to growth. If you’ve been following along, the government is determined to build 1.5 million new homes over the next 10 years and has been rewriting urban development policy that has many concerned – me included. The changes witnessed under this government are the biggest seen in a long while. Undoubtedly, municipal planning departments are struggling to keep pace with the myriad of modifications.
I campaigned on the idea of saving Ontario’s most productive farmland because as I see it, you cannot allow more and more people to call Ontario home if we don’t have the necessary infrastructure to serve them. Having food grown close to home is vital as relying on other countries for more of our food is a bad idea.
The original concept of not allowing severances off farms was to thwart too many people from urban areas moving into the country and complaining about normal farming practices. Was it too restrictive? Many farmers wanted to sever a lot off the farm for their children to continue to work on the farm, which in my opinion is a good idea.
My Private Member’s Bill would have created a committee to look at these situations one by one. The committee could have looked at each of these situations and determined if a severance was needed. Perhaps the solution in a lot of cases is to allow another residence without a severance.
To be clear, though, there is no connection between my private member’s bill and the proposal to allow three severances. The proposal for three severances came from the government currently rewriting and merging its growth plan and provincial planning statement to speed up approvals for housing development across the province.
I asked the government recently, during Question Period, how they had arrived at three and not one or two. While the Premier assured me he would take care of Ontario’s farmers, the question was never answered, and I remain suspicious about the significance of three. The Premier backed down on the idea that same week and has extended consultation on the planning statement until August 4th despite Bill 97 being passed prior to the summer break.
I urge all farmers to comment at https://ero.ontario.ca/notice/019-6813.
Bill 97 has passed – which I did not vote in favour of because the comment period is still open and I don’t know what the final regulations will look like. With the passage of the bill, this policy is now in the hands of the Environmental Registry process and Cabinet, meaning it won’t be back before the Legislature.
As I said earlier, I campaigned on saving Ontario’s most productive farmland. I am not opposed to a farm family being able to sever for a succession planning home, or perhaps the sale of a lot so a reinvestment in the farm can be made – something I reiterated in debate of my Private Members Bill. However, I fear this policy will not be extended equally to all farmers, and as a result we will see the pitting of farmer against farmer – that’s never a good thing. I’d much rather see government provide the necessary incentives and supports to our farm families so that there is no need or desire to pave over agricultural land. Who can begrudge the family offered millions of dollars to sell to the speculator who comes knocking?
I had some heated debate on this issue with a farmer I’ve known a long time who felt I shouldn’t have questioned the government – I’ve always respected his view but feel there is more to be discussed. To that end, I want to hear exactly what all farmers are feeling with respect to this carrot that has been dangled. I will be hosting a townhall meeting on Thursday, June 22 in the Port Rowan room at the Simcoe Travelodge at 7 p.m. to hear input. If you are interested in attending, RSVP to [email protected].
Bobbi Ann Brady is the MPP for Haldimand-Norfolk