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Federal government’s new study could pause Ford’s Greenbelt plans

Updated: Mar 27, 2023

Federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault announces a study to examine the Greenbelt development’s impact on at-risk species.

Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Steven Guilbeault, rises during Question Period in the House of Commons
Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Steven Guilbeault, rises during Question Period in the House of Commons [CANADIAN PRESS/Patrick Doyle]

Canadian minister of environment and climate change, Steven Guilbeault, announced on Tuesday the federal government will launch an environmental study on Rouge National Urban Park which could potentially put a pause to Ontario’s Greenbelt developments.


Guilbeault said in a media conference at the park that the study will be conducted as soon as possible and if it finds a negative impact on at-risk species, Ottawa would consider using all possible measures to halt Premier Doug Ford’s plan.


“If we come to the conclusion that they have irreversible impact on species at risk, then these projects won’t be allowed to go forward. That’s very clear,” Guilbeault said.


Premier Doug Ford spoke on the potential conflict at a press conference in Vaughan on the same day. While he was unaware of the study, he said that he was not concerned that it would affect the development.


“It wouldn’t slow down our development plans. It’s adjacent, it’s not right there, but good luck to them and we are going to build a beautiful community,” Ford said.


Guilbeault acknowledged the necessity for the study, as he felt the provincial government had shown a lack of concern for the potential impact of these Greenbelt plans.


“[The province] made it very clear they have no desire for public consultation, no desire for transparency, and no desire to understand the impacts,” he said.


He said that he has put a stop to previous development plans when impact studies show the potential to harm at-risk species.


Following the advice of Guilbeault, in 2021 the federal government put an emergency order in place to protect 20 hectares of land in Longueil, Que., according to a report released by the Department of Environment.


This had previously been the location of a development which threatened habitat that was critical to the survival of the western chorus frog.


In a letter released on Dec. 4, Parks Canada warned the province of the potential damage that could be caused by removing the Duffins Rouge Agricultural Preserve from the Greenbelt.


In the letter, Park Canada made it clear that removing the land surrounding Rouge National Urban Park had the potential to cause “irreversible harm to wildlife, natural ecosystems and agricultural landscapes.”


Jim Robb, general manager of Friends of the Rouge Watershed, said the park is currently home to more than 35 species considered at risk. He feels the location of these Greenbelt plans will be detrimental to the area’s endangered species.


“It will damage the biodiversity of the park which goes against the legislative purpose of Rouge Park, which is to protect and restore ecological integrity,” he told Humber News.


The director of conservation and education for Ontario Nature, Ann Bell, acknowledged Ontario’s need to develop housing, but questioned the decision to do so on Greenbelt land.


“We all understand and support the critical need for affordable housing in Ontario, but housing needs can be adequately addressed through building and investing in existing communities and within the thousands of hectares that are already designated for development outside the Greenbelt,” she said.


Guilbeault expanded on the dangers of putting a development so close to an area known for its biodiversity, and why he would considering using federal protections to stop it.


“While this is an urban park, we know the dynamic and enduring ecosystem don’t exactly flourish next to fences, asphalt roads, wastewater ditches, and urban sprawl,” he said.


Ford’s plan to develop the Greenbelt would open up 3,000 hectares of previously protected land in the Greater Golden Horseshoe in order to develop 1.5 million new homes.

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